"OK, Houston, we've had a problem here."
Well, the Vikings start to 2020 isn't quite the parallel of the hazard that challenged the Apollo 13 astronauts in 1970, but 0-3 has only happened six times in Minnesota's 60 seasons.
A short distance from Space Center Houston, the 0-3 Texans might reply, "We have, too."
Both teams will seek their first victory in a game scheduled for noon (CT) Sunday on FOX (KMSP FOX 9).
Here are five storylines to watch this week, as well as a link below to the game preview by the Vikings PR staff and a list of connections between the teams.
1. Game on?
The Vikings (and Titans) closed their practice facilities Tuesday because of multiple Tennessee players and coaches testing positive for COVID-19.
Although the Vikings had not had any positive tests, the team worked with the protocols established by the NFL and NFLPA by halting in-person club activities.
The Vikings are continuing to test players and personnel and monitoring the situation. As of Wednesday, the game is still scheduled as planned — and the Texans are planning to have approximately 13,000 fans in attendance — but this is unchartered territory for NFL teams.
Minnesota's coaches remote game-planned on Tuesday, and Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center will be closed again Wednesday, which normally would be the first day of the practice week.
2. In the running (game)
Although the Vikings fell 31-30, they were able to utilize the run game to the extent that they envisioned at the start of the year because they avoided a significant deficit.
Dalvin Cook ripped off a personal-best 181 yards on the ground, highlighted by the second-longest touchdown scamper of his career. Cook's fourth rushing touchdown of the season was one of two 39-yard gains on the day.
The Vikings averaged 6.8 yards per carry against Tennessee on the way to totaling 226 rushing yards.
Minnesota leads the NFL with 6.03 rushing yards per play and has improved to eighth with 146.7 rushing yards per game.
Houston has struggled to stop the run — the Texans rank last in rushing yards allowed per game (188.3) and 27th in rushing yards allowed per play (5.18) — and get its own ground game going. The hosts are averaging 3.67 rushing yards per play (29th in the NFL) and 66.0 rushing yards per game (31st).
3. Pressure packed
The Star Tribune's Andrew Krammer noted that Kirk Cousins was the "most-pressured quarterback in a single game this season," with Pro Football Focus crediting pressures by the Titans on 18 of Cousins' 30 dropbacks (60 percent).
Sport Radar calculated Cousins' "QB pressured percentage" in Sunday's game at 44.83 percent, the fourth-highest among qualifying passers in 2020.
The same site has Texans QB Deshaun Watson's 53.13 percent on Sunday in Pittsburgh as the highest QB pressured percentage of 2020.
|QBs in Week 3||Comp/Att||Comp %||Yards||TD/INT||Sacked||Rating||QB Pressured %|
|Cousins vs. TEN||16/27||59.3||251||2/1||2||110.7||53.13|
|Watson at PIT||19/27||70.4||264||3/2||5||96.4||44.83|
Watson's QB pressured percentage was 40.48 in Week 2 against Baltimore (sixth-highest rate of 2020) and 33.33 in Week 1 at Kansas City (tied for 15th).
The Vikings have totaled three sacks on the season (2.0 by Yannick Ngakoue) and have struggled to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks without defensive end Danielle Hunter, who is eligible this week to come off injured reserve.
The highest QB pressured rate of a Vikings opponent this season is 25.64 last Sunday against Tennessee's Ryan Tannehill (38th-highest in NFL). It was up from 22.22 percent (tied for 50th-highest) for Philip Rivers in Week 2 and 13.64 percent (tied for 81st-highest) for Aaron Rodgers on Kickoff Weekend.
4. Encore act
When a rookie receiver places himself in the conversation with "Moss '98," there's good reason for Vikings fans to be excited.
Justin Jefferson did so, both with his first half of six catches for 104 yards and final tally of seven receptions for 175 yards (highlighted by a 71-yard touchdown in the second half that built off execution in practice).
Moss is the only other Vikings rookie to record 100 receiving yards in a half (107 on Thanksgiving at Dallas and 100 on Oct. 5 at Green Bay) since 1998.
Jefferson's final tally of 175 is the third-most by a Vikings rookie (data since 1970), trailing 210 by Sammy White in 1976 and the 190 totaled by Moss in his first game against the Packers.
What can Jefferson do for his encore act?
5. Motivational rally
If the Vikings want to look to a recent example of a team that started 0-3 yet made the playoffs, they can turn on game tape when studying the Texans this week and see multiple players who rallied with nine consecutive victories on the way to an 11-5 record.
According to NFL Media research, only 2.7 percent (four of the 146 teams) that started 0-3 from 1990-2019 made the playoffs.
The 2018 Texans are one of the four (along with the 1998 Bills, 1995 Lions and 1992 Chargers) to do so and joined that Chargers squad as the only two teams in that span to start in such a hole and win a division title.
Houston needed back-to-back overtime wins to turn the tide and used the momentum from those victories to ignite a rare run.
View the frame-by-frame shots of Justin Jefferson's first career touchdown he hauled in during the Week 3 Vikings-Titans game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Vikings Senior Defensive Assistant Dom Capers was the first head coach in Texans history, and Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak succeeded Capers as Houston's second coach. The Texans began play in 2002, a year after Capers' hire. Kubiak was hired to lead his hometown team in 2006 and held the spot through 2013. Vikings Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Rick Dennison (2010-13) and tight ends coach Brian Pariani (2006-13) worked for Kubiak in Houston.
Gary Kubiak (2006-13), Rick Dennison (2010-13) and Brian Pariani (2006-13) overlapped with the following current Texans players: LS Jon Weeks (2010-present), DE J.J. Watt (2011-present) and DE Whitney Mercilus (2012-present). Texans assistant quarterbacks coach T.J. Yates (2011-13) and assistant strength and conditioning coach Brian Cushing (2009-17) also played for those coaches. Texans inside linebackers coach Bobby King (2011-13) worked with Kubiak, Dennison and Pariani.
Gary Kubiak (2015-16), Vikings quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak (2016-18), Vikings assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher (2015-17), Dennison (2015-16) and Pariani (15-16) were on the Broncos staff for part of Texans CB Bradley Roby's time in Denver (2014-18) and overlapped with Houston head strength and conditioning coach Mike Eubanks (2012-17).
Dennison (2018) coached Texans G/T Brent Qvale (2014-19) for one season at the Jets.
Dom Capers (2009-17) overlapped with Houston WR Randall Cobb (2011-18) in Green Bay.
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf coached with the Dolphins from 2013-18, and defensive backs coach Daronte Jones was there from 2016-17. T.J. Yates was with Miami in 2016. Texans running backs coach Danny Barrett held the same role for the Dolphins from 2016-17. Texans WR Kenny Stills (2015-18), S Michael Thomas (2013-17) and LT Laremy Tunsil (2016-18) previously played for the Dolphins.
Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu held the same role with the Jaguars from 2005-09, overlapping with Texans assistant strength and conditioning coach/sports science coordinator Jason George (2009-11).
Vikings P Britton Colquitt (2010-15) and Roby (2014-18) teamed with the Broncos. Colquitt (2016-18) also overlapped with Duke Johnson (2015-18) when they were with the Browns.
Vikings QB Sean Mannion (2015-18) and Texans WR Brandin Cooks (2018-19) were teammates with the Rams.
Mannion (2011-14) and Cooks (2011-13) also were college teammates at Oregon State.
Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (2014-16) and Texans T Roderick Johnson (2014-16) joined forces at Florida State.
Minnesota LBs Eric Kendricks (2011-14) and Anthony Barr (2010-13) [IR] were teammates at UCLA with Houston K Ka'imi Fairbairn (2012-15). Kennedy Polamalu coached the Bruins from 2014-16.
Vikings CBs Holton Hill (2015-17) and Kris Boyd (2015-18) are former Longhorns teammates of Texans DE Charles Omenihu (2015-18).
Minnesota WR Chad Beebe (2013-17) and Houston G/T Max Scharping (2014-18) teamed at Northern Illinois.
Vikings RB Ameer Abdullah (2011-14) and Texans G/T Brent Qvale (2009-13) overlapped at Nebraska.
Minnesota WR Dan Chisena (2015, 2019) and Houston CB John Reid (2015-19) played at Penn State.
Vikings CB Jeff Gladney (2015-19) and Texans DT Ross Blacklock (2016-19) overlapped at TCU.
Minnesota CB Mike Hughes (2017) and Houston TE Jordan Akins (2014-17) were part of UCF's undefeated season.
Vikings LB Todd Davis (2010-13) and WR DeAndre Carter (2011-14) played at Sacramento State.
Gary Kubiak, Klint Kubiak and Vikings assistant wide receivers coach Christian Jones are from Houston.
Texans S Eric Murray (2012-15) played college football at the University of Minnesota, where he teamed with Vikings defensive quality control/assistant linebackers coach Nick Rallis (2012-16).
Houston Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Tim Kelly was the defensive coordinator, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Minnesota State-Moorhead in 2010.