The Vikings defense will have a tough test on its hands going against a Houston offense that is ranked fourth in the NFL and fifth in passing.
Minnesota has one of the league's best run defenses but is 20th against the pass. The return of veteran safety Madieu Williams from a neck injury that has sidelined him all season should help, but there is no doubt the Vikings defense has been hurt by the loss of middle linebacker E.J. Henderson.
Napoleon Harris, the Vikings' starting middle linebacker in 2006, was re-signed before the team's Oct. 19 game at Chicago and spent much of that contest playing in the middle. Harris likely will remain in that spot the rest of the season.
Look for the Texans and quarterback Matt Schaub to try to establish the pass early.
On offense, the Vikings put up 41 points against the Bears in their game before the bye, but quarterback Gus Frerotte threw four interceptions. The Texans have only five picks on the season and their defense is rated 16th in the NFL.
Look for the Vikings to hand the ball to running back Adrian Peterson early and often. The Texans are ranked 21st against the rush.
The Texans want to keep their offense on the field so that the Vikings can't rely on Adrian Peterson to move the chains and run down the clock. The Texans defense will be trying to force the Vikings into long third downs, in hopes of forcing a turnover. The defensive line will also rotate often to keep the players fresh and on top of their assignments.
Offensively, the Texans will try to run the ball, but because of the Vikings' defensive line, they may have to go with the pass early. The passing game has been their strength though, so the Texans will continue to look toward Andre Johnson first and then their other targets. Johnson and QB Matt Schaub are playing with as much confidence as they have ever had, so the Texans hope to build on that away from home.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie and RT Ryan Cook vs. Texans DE Mario Williams – McKinnie and Cook both could end up trying to stop the Texans' standout defensive end. Williams can play on either side and is tied for fifth in the NFL with seven sacks. There is a good chance Cook will need some help when Williams lines up on the left side. Failure to contain Williams could mean a long day for quarterback Gus Frerotte, who has been sacked 13 times in five games.
Vikings CBs Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson – Griffin and Winfield will be in for a tough test against one of the NFL's best receivers. Johnson has an NFL-leading 772 receiving yards on 56 catches and two touchdowns. Johnson could cause big problems for Griffin, who has been a frequent target of quarterbacks this season.
Vikings MLB Napoleon Harris vs. Texans TE Owen Daniels – Harris is expected to start for the Vikings after playing extensively against the Bears in the game before the bye week. Harris had been re-signed by Minnesota that week after his release from Kansas City. There is little doubt the Texans will test Harris in the middle with quarterback Matt Schaub looking for Daniels.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Texans strongside LB Zac Diles – Diles is dealing a lot with running backs these days. He is constantly ranking among the team's top tacklers, and a lot of the reason is because he is pulling down running backs. Diles will have his work cut out for him this week. Peterson is playing extremely well, and has been difficult for any defenders to slow this season. He already has four 100-yard outings and he should be rested since he is coming off his bye week.
Texans RB Steve Slaton vs. Vikings DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams – The two Pro Bowl defensive tackles for the Vikings have been outstanding again this season. They have lifted the Vikings to have the second-ranked run defense in the NFL. Slaton will have to know where they are at all times. He struggled a little against the run defense of Cincinnati Bengals, and he can't afford to have the same issues against a much better defense this week.
Texans QB Matt Schaub vs. Vikings DT Kevin Williams – Williams already has six sacks this season, and Schaub will be away from the comforts of Reliant Stadium. It won't be easy for him. In the past two seasons as a starter, he has won just one game away from home. But he's in the midst of the best football of his career, and the Texans hope no one, not even Williams, will be able to change that.
Vikings-Texans game plan
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