Know Your Foe: Minnesota Vikings

It's been quite a while since the Texans have made the trek up into NFC North territory. In fact, the last time the Texans traveled that far north was in December 2008 when the Texans scored a thrilling win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

The trip to face the Minnesota Vikings will be the Texans first Sunday road trip of 2016. Furthermore, it'll be the first opportunity to play in the Vikings brand new stadium. The Vikings last game at University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, a playoff loss to Seattle, was played in frigid conditions, while this one will be played at a balmy 72 degrees, or whatever the air conditioning temperature the Vikings' faithful desires.

That loss to Seattle came in such excruciating fashion and it has motivated this group all offseason long. That has propelled the Vikings to a 4-0 start, even without three former first round draft picks on the offensive side of the ball - running back Adrian Peterson, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and left tackle Matt Kalil.

My Know Your Foe series continues with a team the Texans haven't faced since 2012, the undefeated Minnesota Vikings.

OFFENSE
2015 Unit Profile
Rush Offense - 138.2 ypg (4th in the NFL)
Pass Offense - 183.0 ypg (31st) *
*Total Offense - 321.2 ypg (29th) *
*
Scoring Offense - 22.8 ppg (16th)2016 Unit Profile (through four games)

Rush Offense - 64.2 ypg (32nd in the NFL) * *Pass Offense - 226.2 ypg (24th) * *Total Offense - 290.5 ypg (31st) *
*
Scoring Offense - 22.0 ppg (16th)

Here's what the Vikings offense looked like in that playoff loss to Seattle in 2015.

WR - Stefon Diggs
LT - Matt Kalil
LG - Brandon Fusco
C - Joe Berger
RG - M. Harris

RT - T.J. Clemmings
TE - Kyle Rudolph
QB - Teddy Bridgewater
RB - Adrian Peterson
TE - MyCole Pruitt *
T - Austin Shepherd

Here's what the Vikings offense looked like in the win over New York on Monday night.
WR - Stefon Diggs
LT - T.J. Clemmings
LG - ALEX BOONE
C - Joe Berger
RG - Brandon Fusco
RT - ANDRE SMITH
TE - Kyle Rudolph
TE - RHETT ELLISON
QB - SAM BRADFORD
RB - JERICK MCKINNON *
FB - ZACH LINE

**ALL CAPS INDICATE POTENTIALLY DIFFERENT STARTER

Most significant improvement on the offense: Back in the spring when I wrote the first version of Know Your Foe, I highlighted Laquon Treadwell as the biggest improvement. Treadwell, as of this date, hasn't seen much time on offense. The most significant improvement has to be at quarterback with Sam Bradford replacing an injured Teddy Bridgewater. When Bridgewater went down, there was a pall over Minneapolis, so to speak, because Vikings fans felt like this was a Super Bowl contender. Bradford, however, has been more than up to the task, throwing the ball as well as any time in his career.

Most impactful players that teams didn't face in 2015? Bradford. The Vikings made the deal for Bradford after Bridgewater's injury and it couldn't have worked out better, at least, through the first four weeks of the year.

What will worry Texans fans the most? McKinnon's quicks in space. The Vikings are dead last in the league in run game production, but McKinnon is a threat when he has the ball out in the open. Diggs has been the biggest beneficiary of Bradford's progress, as well as Rudolph at the tight end position.

What will worry Vikings fans the most? The run game. Last in the league and no Adrian Peterson for a significant period of time. This will catch up to the Vikings at some point, but it hasn't slowed them early in the 2016 season.

DEFENSE
2015 Unit Profile
Rush Defense - 109.2 ypg (17th in the NFL)
Pass Defense - 234.9 ypg (12th) *
*Total Defense - 344.2 ypg (13th) *
*
Scoring Defense - 18.9 ppg (5th)

2016 Unit Profile (through four games)
Rush Defense - 82.5 ypg (8th in the NFL)
Pass Defense - 223.5 ypg (9th) *
*Total Defense - 306.0 ypg (7th) *
*
Scoring Defense - 12.5 ppg (2nd)

Here's what the Vikings defense looked like in that loss to Seattle in the 2015 Wild Card playoff round.

DE - Brian Robison
DT - Sharrif Floyd
NT - Linval Joseph
DE - Everson Griffen
OLB - Chad Greenway
MLB - Eric Kendricks
OLB - Anthony Barr
CB - Terrence Newman
S - Andrew Sendejo
S - Harrison Smith
CB - Xavier Rhodes

Here's what the Vikings defense looked like on Monday night against the Giants.
DE - Brian Robison
DT - SHAMAR STEPHEN
NT - Linval Joseph
DE - Everson Griffen
OLB - Chad Greenway
MLB - Eric Kendricks
OLB - Anthony Barr
CB - Terrence Newman
S - Andrew Sendejo
S - Harrison Smith
CB - Xavier Rhodes

**ALL CAPS INDICATE POTENTIALLY DIFFERENT STARTER

Most significant improvement on the defense: The Vikings start ten guys from last year's defense and the only reason it's not 11 is because Sharrif Floyd injured his knee and is out another four or five weeks. It's HIGHLY evident that continuity has allowed this defense to flourish thus far in 2016.

Most impactful players that teams didn't see in 2015? Trae Waynes is probably the one player that teams will see the most that didn't get as much time on the field in 2015. He struggled against the Packers until his game sealing interception in the fourth quarter. When the Texans put 11/10 personnel on the field, he'll be on the field in sub-package looks.

What will worry Texans fans the most? Take your pick. The pass rushers - Griffen, Robison and Danielle Hunter - are extraordinary. Barr is a menace, similar to Patriots star linebacker Jamie Collins. Harrison Smith is one of the best safeties in the league. It's one of, if not the best, and more opportunistic, defenses in the league.

What will worry Vikings fans the most? If this group can't, or doesn't, generate turnovers consistently, will the offense be able to score consistently on long fields? The Vikings are 10 in turnover margin and the defense has scored or set up a score in nearly every game. As such, if the Vikings don't turn the ball over, the concern isn't so much the defense as it is the offense having to pull more weight. That's not how this team will win games. It's imperative that the Texans not lose the field start competition, if you will. The Vikings defense will make that awfully difficult with how often it takes the football away from opposing offenses.

Check out the best practice photos from Wednesday's practice presented by Houston Methodist.

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