No offensive player in the NFL is having a more impressive season than Adrian Peterson. He’s the NFL’s leading rusher by a 433-yard margin over Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, he’s set to challenge Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards over the season’s final two games, and he’s on a string of 8 consecutive 100-yard games and has rushed for the same number of yards (1,313) in that time that Houston’s Arian Foster has the entire season.
The Vikings are going to need the NFL’s best offensive player to be at his best on Sunday, though, because they are heading to Houston to take on the Texans. No defensive player in the NFL is having a more impressive season than Texans DE J.J. Watt. He is tied for the NFL lead with 19.5 sacks, and he’s the first player in NFL history to record 15.0 sacks and 15 passes defensed in the same season.
“His domination. He really dominates,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said when asked what stands out about Watt. “He’s hard to block one-on-one, he has outstanding quickness, he plays hard all the time and, not only is he good against the run, but he’s an excellent pass rusher with the sacks that he’s gotten and the way he bats down balls. He’s just a very, very good player who can take over a game. You don’t often see those guys and he’s one of them.”
Watt’s ability to dominate is best illustrated by pointing out the variety of statistical categories he leads for his team. Aside from sacks, Watt leads the Texans in tackles (100), tackles for loss (33), QB hits (38), passes defensed (15), forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2). According to information released by the Texans, Watt has been a part of 84 plays this season that have resulted in zero or negative yards. And it’s not just the number of impact plays he can make, it’s the situation(s) in which he makes them. Of those 84 zero or negative-yardage plays, 51 have come on passing plays, 33 on rushing plays, 25 inside FG range and 6 have come in overtime. Also, 42 of them have come on 1st down, which puts the opposing offense at a severe disadvantage on 2nd and 3rd down.
“He’s one of the best players in the NFL, especially at his position,” Vikings QB Christian Ponder said. “They’re going to put him in different spots to create plays, and whether he is inside at the tackle position or outside on the end and standing up or he’s down, he’s creating a lot of plays, obviously. He’s getting pressure but he’s also knocking balls down and he’s a guy that we definitely have to account for.”
On this week’s edition of Vikings Live From Winter Park, C John Sullivan called Watt the best defensive player the Vikings will see this season and stressed the importance for Vikings offensive linemen to stick with their blocks on Watt each play to prevent him from finding a way to impact the game.
As if defending Watt wasn’t enough, the Texans defense is filled with a bunch of other playmakers, especially along the defensive line. Shaun Cody is a run-stuffing nose tackle, Antonio Smith is an 8-year veteran at DE with 21.0 sacks in 62 games as a Texan, and both NT Earl Mitchell and DE Jared Crick provide more than adequate depth and production. Behind the talented front 7, the Texans feature a secondary that plays a lot of man coverage, and does it very well.
“We expect them to play man coverage and the defensive backs are good at it and we’re going to have to win outside,” Ponder said. “Obviously, I think their number one goal is going to be to stop Adrian (Peterson), obviously. So, we’re going to have to take advantage of that in the passing game and we’ll see what they end up doing.”
All-in-all, it’s a big challenge for the Vikings offense, and a challenge they’ll be up for on Sunday with so much on the line.
“I think everyone is focused,” Ponder said. “You can feel it in the locker room. It’s almost like a playoff atmosphere for us and it’s going to be a hostile environment, obviously, it’s a team with a great record, tough place to play. They’re playing for a lot. They’re playing for a bye and home-field advantage so they have a lot on their plate and we know they’re going to be focused and it’s going to be a fun one. It means a lot for this whole team and it means a lot for me. It’s probably the biggest game of my career and we’re excited for it.”
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder, John Sullivan, Leslie Frazier
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