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Five things to watch: Texans at Vikings


Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the defense will look to contain Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

The Texans (3-4) will make their first visit to the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" when they face the Minnesota Vikings (3-4) on Sunday. Houston plays a road game for the first time since Week 4 and is looking to extend its three-game winning streak with a victory in the hostile Metrodome.

1. Slaton vs. Williamses: Steve Slaton is off to the fastest start by a rookie running back in Texans history with 476 rushing yards in the first seven games. But he is about to meet a huge road block – two, actually – in defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams.

The Williamses, who both started in the 2008 Pro Bowl, have combined for 58 tackles this season. Kevin has notched a team-high six sacks. They both plug the middle and make it nearly impossible for teams to run the ball. The Vikings rank second in the NFL in run defense, giving up only 70.7 yards per game.

With running back Ahman Green questionable with a groin injury going into the game, the bulk of the load will fall on the shoulders of Slaton.

"You just have to take what they give you," Slaton said. "Hopefully, they slip up and give you a little bit more. You have to be smart on your decisions because they are already good enough and aren't going to give too much away."

Running it up the gut won't be easy for Slaton, but he has proved that he can get to the outside corners and catch passes out of the backfield.

In fact, Slaton ranks third among rookie backs in combined rushing and receiving yards per game with 601, an average of 85.9 total yards per game. He'll need to get creative to get past the two Williamses on Sunday.

2. Jones could go all the way: The Vikings have given up five touchdowns on special teams in only seven games. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones has returned two punts for touchdown in the last three games. The odds favor Jones to have a big game, or at least make special teams a factor in the outcome.

"Yeah, they've given up some touchdowns," coach Gary Kubiak said. "A couple of them have been really crazy with dropping a snap and a punt hitting a kid in the back and some things like that. So special teams are huge, and I'm sure they'll be big in this game. I just know one thing: When our football team makes a big play on special teams, we usually play well."

Jones' 73- and 70-yard touchdown returns have helped him earn a 14.7-yard average over 15 returns. That is second only to Saints running back Reggie Bush's 20.4 among all returners with more than seven attempts.

{QUOTE}Not so coincidentally, Bush took advantage of the Vikings' porous return coverage and returned two punts for scores on Oct. 6 at the Superdome.

"I saw where Reggie Bush could have had three on them, but he took two back on them," Jones said. "There's some tweaks in there. Maybe they fixed them, maybe not, but we're going to try."

3. "D" must contain AD: Since most teams aren't able to stop Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, they aim to contain him. The Texans will take the same approach.

Peterson ranks second in the NFL in rushing with 684 yards behind Washington's Clinton Portis, who has 944 yards. Peterson has five rushing touchdowns this season, good for ninth in the league. His career average of 96.4 rushing yards per game in 21 pro games ranks the highest in the NFL over the past two seasons.

"After he gets past the front line, when he gets to the secondary, it's trouble,'' cornerback DeMarcus Faggins said. "He's very hard to tackle in the open field. He's big and also, if he gets a step on you, he's gone. He can run you over. He can run past you."

Bringing Peterson down will be a group effort for a Texans defense that ranks 21st in league against the run.

"It's going to be a task," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It's going to be an all-day thing because they are going to run it and continue to run it because they have such a workhorse back there. He's a good back. It's going to be difficult to stop him, but I think we just have to play physical and everybody will have to be in the right place. When we get a chance to tackle him, we really have to gang tackle."

Peterson possesses a rare combination of speed and power and has been getting increased work in passing situations.

"He's a big back, but he's fast and he has the ability to make those cuts that a lot of big backs can't do," Ryans said. "He has the speed to take it to the house. So if you're wrong, he will take advantage of you."

4. Protecting Schaub crucial: The Texans started the season a little shaky in pass protection. In the season opener against the Steelers, quarterback Matt Schaub was sacked five times.

Things have been improving for the offensive line, especially for rookie left tacke Duane Brown. In last Sunday's win over Cincinnati, Houston gave up just one sack in 29 pass plays.

That kind of protection helped Schaub complete 24-of-28 passes and rack up 280 passing yards.

Brown and the Texans' o-line will face a much bigger test in the Metrodome by the name of defensive end Jared Allen, the NFL sacks leader in 2007. The Vikings acquired the Pro Bowler through a trade with the Chiefs in the offseason, and Allen already has recorded 22 tackles and five sacks this year.

"His length and speed and power combination really gives guys trouble," Brown said. "I think just their overall talent on the defense is what makes them better. You can't send too many guys out to block them because they've got other guys across the defensive line that you've got to account for. So a lot of the times the tackle is left out on an island with him, and he's very talented and good with his hands, an experienced guy. You've just got to try to find a way to block him."

Doubling up on Allen leaves Kevin Williams open, and he leads the team in sacks with six.

The good news is that Brown has gotten experience against some of the best defensive ends in the league, including Dwight Freeney and Kyle Vanden Bosch. He's also played in hostile environments on the road in Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Jacksonville.

"It's not like he hasn't been there," Kubiak said about Brown. "He just hasn't been there in a month, and he'll find out real quick in this game how difficult it's going to be just from a noise standpoint and how good a player that he (Allen) is."

Brown also will be helped out by Ephraim Salaam, who has been going in for Brown on every third series. Salaam has been especially effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

"Normally, you're sitting there as a coach grading 65 snaps and for Duane, 45 of those have been graded very good and 20 of them have been graded not good enough," Kubiak said. "So that's what we're trying to get him to do is be a full-time guy, and I think it's helping."

5. 'Dre could have his way: Andre Johnson is on the verge of setting two NFL records in Sunday's game at Minnesota. The wide receiver can become the first player to have five consecutive games with more than 130 receiving yards and the first to record 10-plus receptions for four consecutive games.

"I think if it was to happen, after the season was over, it would be a great accomplishment for a person to do something like that," Johnson said. "But that's something that you can't worry about. You just have to go out and play. You can't worry about records and things like that, because when you worry about those things, it kind of takes away from the game."

His four-week totals in October are mind-boggling: 41 receptions, 593 yards and two touchdowns. For the season, Johnson has 56 catches for an NFL-high 772 yards, making him the top player at his position and helping the Texans win three consecutive games.

To continue his hot streak in November, 'Dre will have to outplay a Vikings secondary that includes cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield and safety Darren Sharper. The Vikings' pass defense ranks 20th in the league, allowing 219.4 yards per game, but those three have the potential to shut down receivers.

Johnson may not care about records, but he is hungry for the Texans' first road win.

"I think it's going to be a real big challenge for us," Johnson said. "They have a great defense, starting with that defensive line. They have a great front seven, and then they have Darren Sharper and Antoine Winfield, who's probably playing some of the best football he's played.

"It's going to be a very physical game. I can remember the last time that I played them, I was pretty sore after the game. The last time we played against those guys, they were a very physical football team, and we're going to have to go out and play a very physical game with them and hopefully we can come out on top."

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