The Minnesota Vikings are heading to Houston in Week 4 to hopefully find their first win of the season. With their Week 3 opponent, the Tennessee Titans, having a COVID-19 outbreak, it was uncertain whether the Vikings would even play the Texans on Sunday.
But after a couple of days of negative tests, the Vikings were given the all clear. As with the previous matchups, there's plenty of questions that will be determined on the field to see if the Vikings can avoid their first 0-4 start since 2011.
Can Dalvin Cook stay hot?
In the first two games of the season, the Vikings couldn't establish Cook. After being flattened early by the Packers and Colts, Cook mustered 113 yards in those contests but rebounded in a big way against the Titans.
After collecting a career-high 181 yards against Tennessee, the Vikings hope that they can do the same against the Texans. Houston ranks last in the NFL with 188.3 rushing yards allowed per game and much like last week, Cook's effectiveness helps open up the entire offense.
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak told reporters this week that he needs to get more touches for Cook "somehow, someway." Considering he's the play-caller, expect the Texans to get a healthy dose of Cook on Sunday.
Can the offensive line stop Houston's front seven?
This is the section of the preview where we have to talk about the offensive line. Although the group played better in the loss to the Titans, it suffered a full-blown implosion on the final drive.
The good news for the Vikings is that they won't be dealing with Jeffrey Simmons. The bad news? The Texans still have effective pass rushers including future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt.
The early returns on the interior offensive line haven't been good, but this could be a bounce-back game. If the interior of the offensive line catches up to the tackles, the Vikings should let Kirk Cousins let it fly on Sunday.
Was Week 3 the tip of the iceberg for Justin Jefferson?
The most encouraging story of Week 3 was the breakout of Jefferson. With the Vikings vowing to get him more involved, Jefferson exploded for seven catches, 175 yards, and a 71-yard touchdown against the Titans.
In a performance that had him mentioned in the same vein as Randy Moss, the next question is what's next? The Vikings seem willing to take the training wheels off of Jefferson and he appears ready to for the task.
Houston ranks third in passing yards allowed per game (199.3), but ranks 24th in Football Outsiders DVOA metric against the pass. With Bradley Roby and Vernon Hargraves III both allowing passer ratings over 100, Jefferson should be in line for another big game.
Can the Vikings contain the Houston passing attack?
Deshaun Watson hasn't looked himself for the first three weeks and many are pointing to the departure of De'Andre Hopkins as a reason why. But the Texans have faced a gauntlet coming out of the season with games against Kansas City, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh.
Between those three teams, they've brought a 36% pressure rate to Watson's doorstep. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings rank 30th with an 18.9% pressure rate.
This means Watson should be able to find Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks. With the Vikings missing Mike Hughes and Kris Boyd, Houston could feast on Holton Hill, Jeff Gladney, and Cameron Dantzler, making Sunday's matchup a potential shootout.
Will this week's situation affect the Vikings?
This week was not a normal week for the Vikings. After finding out that the Titans had several players and staff members test positive for COVID-19, the Vikings shut down TCO Performance Center to see how things played out.
The Vikings were able to escape their own outbreak (for now), but that should make things more difficult this week.
With a younger team, the lack of reps could play a role in Sunday's game. However, the Vikings were able to get two full practices in and did more than usual on Saturday before heading to Houston.
The landscape of the NFL has been fluid in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will be interesting to see if it affects the Vikings as they look to upset the Texans.