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Vikings insider previews game


Texans punt returner Jacoby Jones poses a dangerous threat to Minnesota's shaky special teams coverage units.

Minnesota Vikings beat writer Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star Tribune joined Nick Scurfield of for an exclusive interview to preview the Week 9 matchup between the Texans and Vikings, two 3-4 teams fighting to stay in the playoff race.

Zulgad has been covering the Vikings since the 2005 season and has been covering the NFL for the Star Tribune since 2003.

Nick Scurfield: There were high expectations for the Vikings going into the season. On paper, they look pretty solid, even statistically this season. What do you think has held them back?

Judd Zulgad: Mistakes have been a major problem. The Vikings are tied for 24th in the NFL with a minus-4 in turnover differential, have given up five special teams touchdowns in seven games and have been assessed 49 penalties. Minnesota must clean up things in the second half to have a shot at winning the NFC North.

Nick Scurfield: Have you noticed any improvements in Adrian Peterson's all-around game this season?

Judd Zulgad: Peterson is seeing a bit more action in passing situations, but Chester Taylor still sees most of the work on third down. The Vikings spent the offseason working with Peterson on being more patient in reading his blocks and in becoming better in pass protection. Both areas remain a work in progress for this elite running back.

Nick Scurfield: What's the latest on defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams? Some Texans fans are wondering if they might be suspended for this Sunday's game.

Judd Zulgad: Both Williamses will be on the field for Sunday's game against the Texans. The reports by FOX Sports last Sunday that both were facing four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's policy on steroids came as the process was still playing out. The NFL has had no comment on the situation, and it remains to be seen if or when suspensions will be handed down.

{QUOTE}Nick Scurfield: What kind of an impact do you expect Vikings free safety Madieu Williams to make if he plays this week?

Judd Zulgad: Williams was signed to a six-year, $33 million free-agent contract this offseason but has not played this season after suffering a neck injury early in training camp. It remains to be seen how much Williams will play Sunday but long-term the Vikings feel they are getting a safety who is very capable in coverage and might free up veteran Darren Sharper to make some plays. Williams has played some cornerback, so his coverage skills are strong.

Nick Scurfield: The Texans have the fifth-ranked passing offense in the league, while the Vikings' passing defense ranks 20th. Can Minnesota stop Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson & Co.?

Judd Zulgad: The most interesting matchup is going to be Johnson against Vikings right corner Cedric Griffin. Griffin hasn't given up many big plays this season, but teams have continually gone at him on 7-to-10 yard outs that have been successful. Teams are staying away from veteran left corner Antoine Winfield, who has had an excellent season. Look for Schaub to take a few downfield shots against Griffin.

Nick Scurfield: The Vikings are giving up 18 yards per punt return, worst in the NFL. Texans punt returner Jacoby Jones leads the AFC with two punt return touchdowns. How much of a factor will special teams be in this game?

Judd Zulgad: It could be huge. As mentioned, the Vikings have given up five touchdowns on special teams in only seven games and the Saints' Reggie Bush returned two punts for scores on Oct. 6 at the Superdome. The Vikings lost linebacker Heath Farwell to a knee injury during the preseason and this has proven to be huge because Farwell was so good on special teams. The Vikings' coverage units just aren't that good at this point. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings have Chris Kluwe punt out of bounds rather than letting Jones get his hands on the ball.

Nick Scurfield: Where do you foresee matchup problems for the Texans in this game?

Judd Zulgad: Pro Bowl defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams always provide problems inside and make it nearly impossible for teams to run. The Vikings are second in the NFL in run defense and have been dominant in this area since Brad Childress took over as head coach in 2006. Another interesting matchup on the line will be Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen going against rookie left tackle Duane Brown. If the Texans slide help to Brown, that could mean a one-on-one opportunity for Kevin Williams, who has a team-leading six sacks this season.

Nick Scurfield: What's your prediction for the score?

Judd Zulgad: Can't say. The Star Tribune pays me the big bucks to save that information for them.

To read Zulgad's comprehensive Vikings coverage on the Star Tribune's website, including his year-round "Access Vikings" blog, click ****here***.*

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