Kickoff between the Vikings and Texans is roughly 48 hours away, as the pair of 0-3 teams are scheduled to meet Sunday in Houston.
The Athletic's Chad Graff recently dove into the Week 4 tilt to provide some matchups to watch and came away with a few in the trenches.
To start, Graff said he is interested in how the interior of the Vikings offensive line fares against a Texans defensive line that features J.J. Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The interior of Minnesota's offensive line has been among the worst in the league and it has struggled when it mattered most. The Vikings had a chance to mount a winning drive against the Titans last week, but the offensive line was so bad the Titans had players in the backfield before routes had developed.
Now the Vikings face J.J. Watt and company. The Texans rank No. 10 in ESPN's pass-rush win rate metric and could make life awfully difficult for [Kirk] Cousins.
According to the analytics website Pro Football Focus, the three Vikings guards who have started at least one game in 2020 — Pat Elflein, Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia — have allowed a combined 21 quarterback pressures in three games.
And while Watt has 2.0 sacks on the season, so too, does Yannick Ngakoue.
Graff also wrote that the Vikings defensive end is his player to watch in Sunday's game.
The Vikings traded for him just before the season began in part because they thought they had a playoff team and wanted to mitigate the loss of Danielle Hunter, who remains out indefinitely with a neck injury.
Ngakoue struggled in his Vikings debut but has gotten better each week and notched his second strip-sack of the season against the Titans. The Vikings don't have a great defensive line when Hunter isn't healthy. But to beat the Texans, teams have to take advantage of their weak offensive line, and to do that, the Vikings need Ngakoue to have a big game.
Graff also predicted a 28-27 Vikings victory.
Kubiak, Watt share respect for each other
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak will be back in a familiar place Sunday, as he spent 2006 to 2013 as the head coach of the Texans.
Perhaps the most notable player of his tenure there — and the face of the Houston franchise — is Watt, who has 98 sacks in 115 career games. He is a five-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection who was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2010s.
Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune recapped Kubiak and Watt's friendship this week, and noted the immense amount of respect each has for the other.
[Kubiak] went 61-64 in eight seasons in Houston, leading the franchise to its first-ever playoff win in 2011 (when the Texans won 31-10 over a Bengals team that employed Mike Zimmer as its defensive coordinator). Kubiak spent two seasons in Denver and won a Super Bowl in 2015, but the Texans still hold plenty of memories for him.
Since Kubiak was fired at the end of the 2013 season, he's only been back to Houston once for a regular-season game, as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2014.
On Thursday, a Houston-area reporter told Kubiak what Watt had said about him in his news conference Wednesday. "He's a great man," Watt said. "I love Gary; to this day, he still offers his ranch to me to go out and hang out whenever I want. I think he does that to every person he meets. He's just that kind of guy. I'm grateful to have been coached by him and thankful to call him a friend."
Kubiak sounded emotional as he talked about what the three-time Defensive Player of the Year's words meant to him.
"As a coach, you get a chance to impact players' lives, but they impact yours, too," he said. "He had a big impact on mine. I wouldn't have those great memories if I didn't have that great player on my team when I was in Houston. Tell him I feel the same way."
Kubiak won a pair of AFC South titles and went 2-2 in the playoffs with Houston.