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Final Thoughts: After Unique Week, Vikings Ready for Texans

EAGAN, Minn. — It's been quite the week for the Vikings.

Minnesota's team facility was closed Tuesday and Wednesday after multiple Tennessee players and coaches that participated in last Sunday's game tested positive.

The Vikings had to adjust their schedule — and increase their COVID testing and protocols — but appear on track for Week 4's road game in Houston.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer commended the effort and attitude of players, coaches and staff members, who haven't produced any positive tests in recent days.

"I'm really proud of the way they handled things," Zimmer said. "There hasn't been, really, any complaining.

"We've obviously had to do a lot of extra things that we don't normally do – point-of-care contact test, our normal testing — then you've got to sit in your car and wait until you get to go into the facility," Zimmer added. "We've had to adjust schedules at times, but they've handled it really well. Typically, you're going to get a lot of complaining and griping and things like that, but it's been good. I think the guys just are excited to play football again."

The Vikings held virtual meetings Wednesday and returned to the practice field Thursday and Friday. They will hold an elongated Saturday practice in advance of traveling to Houston.

Multiple Vikings players said Friday that they simply adjusted on the fly and will be ready to go by Sunday's noon (CT) kickoff.

"I think we all knew these things were possible throughout this season with everything going on. Just rolling with it," said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. "I think our organization did a great job, just getting the week organized and getting us as much study time and mental work as we could as well as on-field work. Coaching staff doing everything they can and players rolling with it."

Added running back Dalvin Cook: "I think the coaches did a great job of scheduling this week and making it about us and not about what was going on in the world. It's all about us going out and executing on Sundays. The coaches made it about that, specifically – going to get a win. We can't control what's going on on the outside. We only can just deal with the circumstances and bear with them. Coaches did a great job of getting us ready, and we've got one more day of preparation. I think we should be ready to go."

Minnesota will face Houston for just the fifth time in franchise history. The Vikings are 4-0 all-time against the Texans.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, as compiled by Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com:

Pound the rock | By @Eric_L_Smith

Through three games, both the Vikings and Texans have displayed leaky run defenses. Minnesota ranks 26th in the league, having allowed 147.7 rushing yards per game.

Houston's 188.3 rushing yards allowed per game ranks last in the NFL, and a full season of similar stats would put the Texans in poor company. According to stats provided by the NFL Media Research, the 188.3 rushing yards allowed per game would be the most allowed by a team since the 1980 Saints allowed 194.1 rushing yards per game and finished 1-15 on the season.

It's worth noting that Houston has played a pair of mobile quarterbacks so far in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, but that duo combined for just 13 carries for 57 yards in Week 1 and 2 (kneel downs were not counted), with Jackson amassing all of those stats by himself.

And while both defenses have been shoddy against the run, the same can be said for both of their rushing offenses.

Led by a career-high 181 yards from Dalvin Cook in Week 3 — which earned him FedEx Ground Player of the Week honors — the Vikings now rank eighth in the NFL with 147.7 rushing yards per game.

"I was having fun. That was first and foremost," Cook said. "I don't get caught up in checking the stats and seeing where I'm at. Doing that, you kind of get sidetracked. If you're doing that, you're not focused on winning the football game.

"And my main goal is to go get a W," Cook added. "If I have 20 yards, 30 yards and we got that W, I'm happy. But I'm having fun when I'm on the field."

The Texans? They have struggled to get their ground game going, and rank next-to-last at just 66.0 rushing yards per game.

To sum it up, the Texans haven't been able to stop the run or able to run the ball. The Vikings have also struggled to stop the run but have pounded the rock effectively.

If you're the Vikings offense, that's a matchup that favors your scheme and one of your best players in Cook. 

"That's our main goal. Be aggressive. Attack. And from Play 1 show them we're ready to come play. And that's been our goal every time we step on the field," Cook said. "It don't matter, the statistics, if they are last or not. They're still an NFL team and they got guy that can make plays.

"So, we got to go out there and treat them like they're first or whatever," Cook added. "We've got to go out there and just execute at a high level and go win this football game.''

Cook ranks third in the NFL with 294 rushing yards, and is tied for the league lead with four rushing scores.

Elementary, my dear (Deshaun) Watson | By @LindseyMNSports

The Vikings defense has seemingly had a tough QB test every game thus far to start the season. 

After facing Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Ryan Tannehill, Minnesota will see 2017 first-round draft pick Deshaun Watson in Houston on Sunday. The Texans have struggled out of the gate and will also be looking for their first win of the season; but the Vikings know what Watson is capable of. 

"Deshaun is, I heard his college coach describe him as Michael Jordan, and you see a lot of those qualities," Zimmer said. "The way that he can run and how strong he is, how strong of an arm he has, the things that they can do with him. He's really a special, special player." 

Through three games, Watson is 64-of-95 passing for 792 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Opposing defenses haven't made it easy on Watson, who was the second-most-sacked quarterback (13) behind Bengals rookie Joe Burrow (14) through Week 3. According to 

SportRadar, Watson has been pressured (sacked, hurried or knocked down) on 42 of 165 total plays this season. 

Being able to disrupt the passer likely will be key for the Vikings success on Sunday – but that also means they'll need to contain him. 

"Deshaun Watson can make any throw; he moves around in the pocket and can hit anybody on the run," Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer said. "So we've got to be great in our coverage on these guys, making sure we're in the proper leverage and maintaining that through the down when he starts to scramble around."

Preventing deep passes | By Craig Peters

The Vikings inexperience and shortage at cornerback, did not mesh well with an opening slate of Rodgers, Rivers and Tannehill.

Minnesota's defense allowed five deep completions (passes of 20 or more air yards) thrown by Rodgers in Week 1, as well as a pair of completions on intermediate passes (11-20 yards).

Rivers was more inclined to opt for intermediates, throwing four against the Vikings, compared to two completions on deep passes.

Tannehill delivered a nice blend, with three deep completions (a 44-yarder on the second player of the game to set up a field goal a 21-yarder on another field goal drive and a backbreaking 61-yard gain to set up a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter) and six intermediates.

Deep completions vs. MIN

Deep completions Weeks 1-3

Intermediate

Completions vs. MIN

Intermediate completions Weeks 1-3

Rodgers

5

10 (T-1st in NFL)

2

7 (T-30th)

Rivers

2

4 (T-12th)

4

19 (3rd)

Tannehill

3

3 (T-20th)

6

18 (T-4th)

Smith said Friday that the Vikings need to be better at preventing deep completions.

"There's areas where we've actually been strong all year — red zone, stuff like that, some situations. There's been other areas where we've been very poor, deep balls," Smith said. "So you just can't have that as a defense. So there is definitely progress in certain areas … but when you don't win — winning is really all that matters, and I understand you want progress and want to see things get better, but without wins, that's why we're here. We're here to win. That's it."

As for Sunday's opponent, Watson so far has 15 intermediate completions and four deep completions with a diverse and speedy group that is working together to replace DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded to Arizona.

Here's a look at Cousins' and Watson's rankings through three weeks:

Deep completions Weeks 1-3

Intermediate completions Weeks 1-3

Cousins

6 (T-6th in NFL)

9 (T-26th)

Watson

4 (T-12th)

15 (T-10th)

Notable Number: 1

Entering Week 4, there have been 97 teams that started 0-4 since 1990, the same season the NFL expanded its playoff format to 12 teams.

Only one of those teams — the 1992 Chargers — made the playoffs. And the Chargers, who were based in San Diego at the time, actually finished 11-5 and won the AFC West.

While the playoff chances for 0-4 teams in the past 30 years is 1.03 percent, the playoff chances for 1-3 teams is 14.3 percent (30 of 21 teams).

By the end of Week 4, the Vikings or the Texans could be one of four possible teams at 0-4. (The Jets are already there after losing on Thursday Night Football).

Even though the playoff format has been expanded in 2020 to include an additional team in each conference, expect the Vikings and Texans to play with a certain level of desperation Sunday.

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