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ProFootballFocus, Three To Focus On -- Minnesota @Houston
3TFO: Vikings @ Texans, Week 16
Trey Cunningham | 2012/12/21
In this AFC/NFC showdown the 8-6 Minnesota Vikings travel to the 12-2 Houston Texans. The Vikings needs this win to keep their playoff hopes alive, but the Texans don’t want to lose that No. 1 seed in the AFC.
This game features two of the best running backs in the game today — Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster. Containing either of them is quite a task. However, the Texans’ only two losses, both of which were ugly, have come against two of the best QBs in the league (Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady); sophomore Christian Ponder is most certainly nowhere near that level, which should give Houston a significant advantage, as Matt Schaub is no slouch. But any given Sunday, anything can happen, especially with postseason hopes on the line. Here are some matchups that will play a pivotal role in this contest.
AP vs. Texans Run Defense
Adrian Peterson’s remarkable return from a devastating knee injury is one of the best storylines in the league this year. Peterson leads all running backs in yards by a healthy margin (1,812, with Marshawn Lynch’s 1,384 second best) and forced missed tackles on running plays (53, with Lynch’s 50 once again second best). The potential Comeback Player of the Year (or maybe even MVP?) will be facing a Texans defense that has had some trouble with opposing ground games lately, giving up over at least 100 yards in three of their past four contests.
Antonio Smith has been one of the weakest links in this area — among 3-4 defensive ends with at least 100 snaps in run defense, he owns our lowest Run Stop Percentage, with only seven stops on 192 snaps. Former Cowboy Bradie James has also been more of a liability than a strength in run support, especially last week where he was tormented by Colts rookie tight end Dwayne Allen. That being said, this squad still has Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt, who currently leads all 3-4 defensive ends in RSP, with 46 stops and only two missed tackles . NT Shaun Cody, OLBs Connor Barwin and Whitney Mercilus, along with safety Danieal Manning, should also make Peterson’s job a little bit tougher than it’s been recently.
Arian Foster vs. Vikings Run Defense
Houston also has a deadly HB on their roster — Arian Foster, currently fourth in the league with 1,313 rushing yards. The former undrafted free agent actually had his highest yardage total of the year last week (165 yards), but that was against the Colts’ porous defense. While the Vikings defense is more intimidating, they are still only three weeks removed from giving up 152 rushing yards to the Green Bay Packers, a team whose ground game hasn’t scared anyone in years.
It is a bit troubling that their most productive run defender is a cornerback, but what a run defender he is — veteran Antoine Winfield, who currently has the highest Run Stop Percentage of all CBs in the league (32 tackles, 24 of which are stops). MLB Jasper Brinkley has been one of the biggest disappointments among the starters in this area and currently ‘leads’ all inside linebackers with 12 missed tackles. Fellow LB Chad Greenway and rookie FS Harrison Smith have also had some problems, with a combined 17 missed tackles against opposing ground games. Despite these weaknesses, this is still far from a terrible defense on the ground, so this will be a matchup to watch.
Jared Allen vs. Duane Brown
Texans’ left tackle Duane Brown is one of our highest rated left tackles, but he will be tested against a pass-rusher who’s been one of the best for a while now, Jared Allen. Brown has given up only three sacks all year — against the Bills’ Kyle Moore, where he unsuccessfully tried a cut block, the Patriots’ Rob Ninkovich, on an inside move after another defender got initial pressure, and the Colts’ Dwight Freeney, who ran right around him to the outside. Overall, Brown has conceded only 20 total pressures, marking him with our sixth-highest Pass Blocking Efficiency rating among tackles. It is worth noting that two of those sacks came in the last two contests, though.
Allen started off without a sack in his first two games, but has accumulated nine since then to go along with 15 QB knockdowns (third best among 4-3 defensive ends) and 43 hurries. Only two of those sacks have come in the past six games though, and he wasn’t able to really take advantage of a weak Bears’ offensive line (only two knockdowns of Jay Cutler in those two games). Will Allen be able get to the signal-caller before the pass is thrown, or will Brown be able to end his two-game streak of giving up sacks?