Five things to watch: Texans vs. Vikings

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Fans are encouraged to arrive early before the 7 p.m. kickoff on Monday night to beat expected heavy traffic. Parking gates open at 3 p.m., and the stadium opens at 5:30.

Here are five major storylines and developments to watch for when the Texans (1-1) face the Minnesota Vikings (2-0) on Monday Night Football at Reliant Stadium.

Starters vs. starters: The Texans' starters will play for a full three quarters on Monday night against the defending NFC North Champion Vikings. The first unit played for one quarter at Kansas City and for a quarter-and-a-half against New Orleans.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak has been preparing the team this week as if it were approaching a regular season game. With several starting spots up for grabs, Kubiak expects a much better effort than the one he saw in the Saints game.

"We were really having a great camp, progressing along, feeling pretty good about what we were doing, and then boom: You get a dose of reality," Kubiak said of the 38-14 loss to New Orleans. "I want to see us respond to that. I think we've had a good camp. It's time for all the starters to stand up and say 'I'm ready to go.'

"We are playing an excellent team, one that a lot of people are picking to win the NFC this year. So it's a good measuring stick for our football team."

Defending the run:In the words of linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the Texans' defense "got gashed" by New Orleans. They allowed 173 rushing yards on 6.4 yards per carry to the Saints, who had the fifth-worst rushing offense in the league last season.

The Vikings had the fifth-best rushing offense in 2008. All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson led the NFL with 1,760 rushing yards.
"He's a violent runner," Ryans said. "He is a guy where you really have to bring it when you're going against him. You can't go over and try to arm tackle him. He's going to run through it."

Defensive tackle Shaun Cody will get significant reps with the starters on Monday, and the Texans will find out whether he can help them stop the run. Incumbent starter Travis Johnson will be a gametime decision. If healthy, he'll vie for snaps with Cody, DelJuan Robinson and Frank Okam.

Running against the best:Just how good is the Vikings' run defense? They were No. 1 run in the league last season with only 76.9 rushing yards allowed per game, and it was a down year by their standards. Over the past three seasons, Minnesota has limited opponents to 70.9 rushing yards per game.

The Texans' offense depends on a successful ground game to set up the play-action pass. The team averaged a franchise-record 4.3 yards per carry last season, and they hope to even better this year in Alex Gibbs' second season with the Texans.

They'll have a pretty good idea of their progress after facing Minnesota's "Williams Wall" of Kevin and Pat Williams, defensive tackles who have seven Pro Bowls and 628 pounds between them, along with defensive end Jared Allen.

"(They're) probably the best front four, as a whole, that we'll see," said guard Chester Pitts, who will make his first preseason appearance on Monday. "Nobody gets a break. They're all good players, Pro Bowlers. We just have to go out and block them. The best thing about it is we'll know exactly where we are. We'll know exactly how good we are, where we are. It's a great challenge."

Schaub/Jared Allen: Allen dove at quarterback Matt Schaub's left knee last season on an illegal hit, causing Schaub to miss four games with an MCL injury. Allen, who made it a point to apologize to Schaub after the game, was fined $50,000 by the NFL for his actions.

Several Texans offensive linemen expressed resentment about the play last week, but Schaub said he harbors no animosity toward Allen.

"It's in the past," Schaub said. "I'm moving on. It's a new year. We're just going to go out and play a good football team. It's going to be a good team, a good matchup, and we're excited to go play."

Left tackle Duane Brown, who will line up against Allen on Monday, feels much more up to the challenge this year than he did as a rookie.

"Last year, I was out there still trying to learn the position a little bit," he said. "I feel a lot more comfortable now technique-wise, and I have to use that to my advantage."

Favre, Sage in the spotlight:Former Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels was dealt north in February in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2009 Draft. After competing with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job during OTAs and the start of training camp, Rosenfels was relegated to backup duty when the Vikings signed future Hall of Famer Brett Favre on Aug. 18.

Favre debuted last Saturday by completing just one pass in four attempts. He'll play for a full half against the Texans on Monday Night Football, and numerous Texans can't wait to face him.

"It's exciting," said Cody, who faced Favre multiple times as a member of the Detroit Lions. "He's going to bring a lot of media attention, so that's always a good thing. You can get your name out there if you get a sack or something."

Rosenfels, meanwhile, will be back at Reliant Stadium for the first time since the trade. He was 6-4 as a starter in 2007-08 in place of Matt Schaub. Even though his plans to vie for a starting quarterback job have been put on hold, he's looking forward to the game ahead on Monday.

"I loved playing in Houston and loved playing for those fans," Rosenfels said. "I'm not sure how much I'm going to play in the game, but it's going to be great to be back out there at Reliant Stadium."

Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at *twitter.com/NickScurfield or find him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at imatexan.com/profiles/Nick_Scurf/.*

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