When the Houston Texans face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Reliant Stadium, they will be looking to wrap up the #1 seed in the AFC and with it home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In order to do so, the defense will need to contain the league’s top rusher, Adrian Peterson, and Minnesota’s run game. Almost a year to the day that he tore his ACL on Christmas Eve last season, Peterson comes to Houston with his eye on not only the rushing title but on Eric Dickerson’s all-time single season rushing record.
With two games remaining, Peterson has 1,812 yards and needs 294 yards in those last two games to break Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards set in 1984. It has been a remarkable comeback for Peterson, who suited up on opening day less than nine months after his horrific injury and has not missed a game this season. He is a viable candidate for Comeback Player of the Year and MVP. In addition to getting the rushing record for Peterson, the Vikings also have an eye on making the playoffs.
At 8-6, Minnesota is currently holding the sixth and final playoff seed in the NFC. However, they do not control their own destiny and likely need to win both of their final games and get some help to make it to the post-season. There is no secret what the Texans will need to do to ruin the Vikings playoff aspirations: slow down or contain Peterson. Since Vikings star receiver Percy Harvin went down with a season ending injury, Minnesota has been as one dimensional as they come on offense Peterson has been more than able to carry the load.
In the past eight games alone, he has rushed for 1,313 yards, which is more than the 1,093 passing yards quarterback Christian Ponder has over the same span. As dynamic as he has been, Minnesota has needed every bit of it as they rank 32nd and dead last in the league in pass offense. It’s no doubt that Peterson will be the focal point for the defensive game plan of Wade Phillips. With such an anemic passing game by the Vikings, it should be easy for the Texans to stack the line of scrimmage, put eight or nine men in the box, and stop Peterson right? Easier said than done, as that is not necessarily the case.
All teams have that defensive game plan against Peterson and the Vikings, yet he is still the leading rusher in the NFL by a wide margin of 433 yards. That is due to the fact that he has accumulated a league leading 920 yards after initial contact. That is the main reason that the key to the game for the Texans on Sunday will be tackling. With Peterson’s violent, downhill running style and penchant for getting yards after contact, the Bulls on Parade will need to swarm to the ball, wrap up and gang tackle.
This aspect of the game will be one of strength vs. strength on Sunday. While the Vikings rank fourth in rushing at 160.2 ypg, the Texans are fifth in rush defense, allowing an average of only 93.2 ypg. They were the last team to allow a touchdown on the ground this season, not giving up one until week 12. Houston will also be bolstered by the return to the line-up of OLB Brooks Reed, who is set to start Sunday after missing three games with a groin injury. Reed is a key part of the Texans run defense, as he is adapt at taking on tight ends and setting the edge on the strong side.
He and fellow linebackers Bradie James, Darryl Sharpton, Tim Dobbins and Connor Barwin will be in for a busy day Sunday. It will be imperative that they don’t over-pursue and allow cutback lanes for Peterson to explode through. Expect J.J. Watt and the defensive line to cause problems for the Vikings offensive line, which will free up the linebackers to make plays in the running game. There should be high tackle numbers for the linebacker core. If the secondary is making a high number of tackles, that means Peterson is hitting big gainers and getting to the last level too often.
When he does break free into the secondary, it will be important that safeties Glover Quin and Danieal Manning make tackles in the open field. In order for Minnesota to win, Peterson will need to have a monster 175 plus yard game. Peterson is too good to say that the Texans solid run defense will stop him, but if they tackle well and slow him down they will be victorious.