Strong defensive play and the season’s best offensive performance propelled Minnesota over the New York Giants, 24-10; Houston jumped out to a 17-3 second-quarter lead and hung on to defeat Tennessee, 27-20.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two franchises. The Vikings won the previous three games. The most recent matchup occurred at Houston in December 2012 when the Vikings prevailed, 23-6.
The Vikings had more rushing yards Monday night against the Giants (104) than they produced during the first two weeks combined (95).
According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings held New York’s All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to 0.51 receiving yards per route on Monday night, ranking Beckham 63rd out of 73 wideouts.
For the first three games of the year, Minnesota averaged 14.3 first downs. On Monday night, the Vikings had 22 first downs. On first down, they averaged 7.39 yards and produced nearly 57 percent of their total yardage. All of the team’s five explosive plays (20-plus yards) occurred on first down.
For the fourth consecutive week, the Vikings defense proved powerful. The unit didn’t produce any points or highlight-reel sacks against the Giants, but they dominated New York. Eli Manning suffered another Minnesota meltdown, completing only 55.6 percent of his passes while throwing an interception and compiling a 63.3 quarterback rating. Coming into the game, Manning had completed 71 percent of his throws and posted an impressive 98.1 rating.
According to Pro Football Focus, Minnesota pressured Manning only 22.2 percent of the time on Monday (a season-low for the Vikes), but that was mostly because the veteran QB got rid of the ball too quickly for his own good. He averaged 5.8 yards per attempt (the lowest figure posted so far against Minnesota) and didn’t complete a pass thrown more than 15 yards. The Minnesota secondary, led by Xavier Rhodes, made superstar Beckham look like a journeyman, holding him to a career-low 23 yards on three catches. The Vikings did give up 4.3 yards per carry but posted their best third-down defense of the young campaign, allowing the Giants to convert only two of 12 attempts.
For the season, the Vikings defense ranks seventh in the league, surrendering 306 yards per game (223.5 passing and 82.5 rushing). Minnesota is second in points given up per game (12.5) and per drive (1.11). Six interceptions and 15 sacks have helped the unit hold opposing quarterbacks to a miserable 67.7 rating and 58.2 completion percentage.
A Texas-Size Challenge?
On paper, the Houston offense shouldn’t be a huge threat to the Vikings. The Texans are averaging 17.3 points a game (29th) and 1.27 points per drive (30th). Quarterback Brock Osweiler has completed 90 of 146 passes (61.9 percent) for 949 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s produced a 74.8 rating while being sacked seven times and averaging 6.5 yards per attempt.
Against, Tennessee, Osweiler discovered tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who snagged four passes for 48 yards and a TD. Pro Football Focus calculates that Osweiler had a 156.3 QB rating when targeting Fiedorowicz and a 153.9 rating when throwing to Will Fuller (seven catches for 81 yards and a TD). His two interceptions against the Titans occurred when he tried to get DeAndre Hopkins involved (one catch for four yards). For the season, Fuller (19 for 323 and two TDs) and Hopkins (17 for 227 and two TDs) have put up solid numbers.
The Texans’ ground attack is led by Lamar Miller, who carved out 82 yards on 19 carries versus Tennessee. Miller exploited the middle of the Titans defense for 38 of those yards. The fifth-year back has 351 yards on 93 carries (3.8 average) and has contributed to the passing game with 13 receptions for 78 yards. Miller faced the Vikings as a member of the Miami Dolphins in 2014. In Miami’s wild 37-35 victory, Miller ran for 92 yards (4.84 per carry) and caught five passes for 58 yards.
Don’t Mess with Texas
The Houston defense hasn’t enjoyed as many headlines as the new Purple People Eaters, but the unit has put up tremendous numbers despite losing All-Pro lineman J.J. Watt for the season. They are the league’s top-ranked passing defense, surrendering only 162.5 yards a game. While the Texans have only intercepted two passes, they’ve allowed just one touchdown pass and have held opposing quarterbacks to a 67.4 rating. Cornerback A.J. Bouye has been especially tough. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s allowed just six receptions for 38 yards on 15 targets this year.
Houston has struggled a bit against the run, giving up 4.6 yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns.
Overall, the Texans are eighth in points against (18.3 a game) and fifth in points allowed per drive (1.43).
Perhaps the Vikings can exploit Houston’s weakness against the run? After being dormant for the first three weeks, averaging 2.1 yards per attempt, the Purple ground game came alive versus New York with 104 yards (3.3 yards per carry). Shifty back Jerick McKinnon ran for 85 of those yards (4.7 a carry) as the Vikings’ offensive line easily had its best performance of the year. Nearly half of McKinnon’s yards came off the left side of the line. Thanks in part to the offensive line and running game, the Vikings were able to hold the ball for 12:36 of the third quarter against New York.
The line also did an outstanding job protecting quarterback Sam Bradford, permitting no sacks. Pro Football Focus calculates that the line allowed pressure on 18.7 percent of Bradford’s drop-backs, compared to 43.1 percent the previous two weeks. Bradford continued his turnover-free season by completing 26 of 36 for 262 yards and a touchdown. He connected with nine different receivers and proved effective going deep. He was 3-for-4 for 91 yards on passes of 20-plus yards, per Pro Football Focus.
For the year, Bradford has completed 66 of 95 passes (69.5 percent) for 719 yards (7.6 yards per attempt), four touchdowns and a 105.5 rating. He has plenty of weapons to choose from in attacking the tough Houston pass defense.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is becoming more of a factor every week and leads the team with three TD receptions among his 19 catches. Explosive Stefon Diggs paces the club with 25 catches for 372 yards (14.9) and one TD. Reliable Adam Thielen has contributed 13 receptions for 145 yards. Potential big-play receivers Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson also showed up versus the Giants. Johnson caught two passes for 70 yards and Patterson had five receptions after catching just two balls last season.
Both offenses have a pass-run split of 56 to 44 percent; the Texans have converted 43.55 percent on third down, and the Vikings are converting at a 37.5 percent clip.
Minnesota has a league-best 2.5 turnover margin per game. Houston is 26th in the league at minus-0.8.
Through four weeks, the Vikings’ best offensive output has been in the third quarter. They are fourth in the league, averaging 7.5 points in the third stanza. By comparison, Houston is 21st, averaging 2.5 points in the quarter.
According to the computer analysis of fivethirtyeight.com, Minnesota has a 73 percent chance of beating Houston.
WhatIfSports.com‘s NFL simulation engine had the Vikings winning 57.8 percent of the 501 simulated matchups versus the Texans. The average score was 22-19.null