You don't get these games very often in Week 4, and trust me, neither team involved in Sunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Houston Texans wanted it this way, but this game between two 0-3 teams is basically a playoff game for the team that loses. 0-3 puts you into a football coma. 0-4 is "DO NOT RESUSCITATE" time. The loser on Sunday is done for 2020, for all intents and purposes.
I would say that it's pretty scary terrain, except (a) the Texans were in this exact same 0-3 spot two years ago having to go on the road, and beat a division rival, the Colts (i.e. this should be an easier task than that one in 2018), and (b) 2020 has generally recalibrated every definition of the word "scary."
So let's just call it what it is — a must-win game for the Texans to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, and the possible beginning of the end for Bill O'Brien in Houston, if they lose. So let's start there with the four things to watch for, with coaching....
4. Texans head coach reunion
I'm not sure how many Texan fans knew this before this week, but every head coach in the history of the Texans' franchise will be in the building on Sunday. Of course, O'Brien is the current head coach (for now), and the other two Texan head coaches, Dom Capers and Garry Kubiak, are on Mike Zimmer's staff in Minnesota. Capers is a defensive assistant, and Kubiak is the offensive coordinator. Of those two guys, Kubiak will have a far bigger say in the outcome of this game, as it will be up to him to do to Anthony Weaver's defense what the previous three Texan opponents have done — run it down the Texans' collective throat, The Texans are the worst team in football right now defensing the run, allowing over 188 yards per game.
3. Texans defense in the fourth quarter
In the last two games, they've defended the run fairly well for three quarters before falling on their face in the fourth quarter, perhaps a symptom of the Texans' offense being unable to stay on the field and sustain drives. When asked about it this week, a rather salty J.J. Watt expressed his frustration with the team's inability to stop the opposing team's running game:
“I’m not sure. I’m figuring out right now how to stop the run. I want to stop the run. Don’t let them get down to the redzone, don’t let them get points. Just trying to do whatever we can to keep points off the board and help us win football games.”
That was in response to a question about the red zone. Watt's frustration seems to be ready to boil over. At age 31, Watt's disposition as the season rolls along, especially if the Texans keep losing, is worth watching.
2. David Johnson
Of course, one way to help out the Texans' defense in the fourth quarter of these games would be to have the Texans' offense possess the football, go on some long drives, take a lead in the second half, and make the opposition one dimensional. That begins with having some semblance of a running game. David Johnson was the key piece coming back to the Texans in the DeAndre Hopkins trade, and to say that the results for Johnson have been underwhelming would be an understatement. Johnson is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, and has rushed for just 57 yards on 24 carries in the last two games. Meanwhile, Hopkins led the NFL in catches and receiving yards. Bill O'Brien's entire offseason as a general manager is blowing up in his face right now, and Johnson is right at the epicenter of it all.
1. Vikings pass rush, Texans offensive line, PRAY
Of course, the other impact a solid running game would bring would be taking some heat off of Deshaun Watson. Right now, make no mistake, Watson has not performed well this season. However, he is far from the biggest problem offensively, especially when you consider that he has been running for his life. Back in 2018, the Texans abysmal offensive line allowed Watson to be sacked 62 times and hit 133 times. They went out and drafted two offensive linemen the next spring, and traded for Laremy Tunsil, before making Tunsil the highest paid offensive lineman in football. Now, in 2020, Watson is on pace to be sacked MORE often (on pace for 69 times) and hit MORE often (on pace for 165 times) than in 2018. The Vikings have two of the better pass rushers in football coming off the edge in Danielle Hunter and Yannick Ngakoue. Sunday would be a good time for the Texans' offensive line to have their level of play match their talent level.
SPREAD: Texans -4
PREDICTION: Vikings 31, Texans 27
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