(Sports Network) - A pair of playoff teams with envisions of taking the next step square off in Minneapolis on Friday when Adrian Peterson and the Vikings welcome the Houston Texans to Mall of America Field in the preseason opener for both clubs.
It's all about Christian Ponder for the Vikings this season.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman has built a championship level club around his third-year signal caller, a player who really hasn't been able to hold his own water to this point.
Ponder's accuracy as a pro has been very spotty and his decision-making egregious at times. He also seems to lose confidence very quickly when things go wrong.
Ponder recognizes what he needs to improve and has diagnosed most of his problems well but often regresses to what's natural to him, and his default settings are just not conducive to solid quarterback play at the NFL level.
"From our standpoint, we are doing the same thing with (Ponder) that we are doing with all of our players," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We are taking a look at every rep he takes, which is no different than what we do with every player and we evaluate performance whether he is doing something positive or negative. We are trying to correct the negatives and help him improve every single day that he is out here."
Beyond Ponder the Vikings are loaded with the best running back in the sport (Peterson), a terrific offensive line, an emerging tight end in Kyle Rudolph as well as a much- improved receiving corps thanks to the additions of veteran Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson.
On defense, Minnesota has a deep line, solidified its linebacking group with the addition of Desmond Bishop and alleviated the loss of Antoine Winfield by drafting Xavier Rhodes.
The window, meanwhile, hasn't shut in Houston but the Texans certainly have to tweak things if they hope to match last season's 12-4 record.
The Houston defense should be fine since it possesses the best defender in all of football, J.J. Watt, and will be getting back its captain, stud linebacker Brian Cushing, who missed the last 11 games in 2012 with a knee injury.
"Brian loves to bang, loves the physical part of the game," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "So its our job to protect (him) a little bit. He also has to understand and be smart in the process as they get ready to play."
Houston struggled down the stretch last season and showed a disturbing inability to handle quick rhythm, spread offenses, meaning more speed and athleticism is needed in the back seven. Veteran Ed Reed certainly provides leadership and playmaking ability, but not that. Rookie safety D.J. Swearinger could, though.
Offensively the team hopes it finally has a complement to Andre Johnson at wide receiver in rookie DeAndre Hopkins.
"I think he's balanced us up in training camp," Kubiak said when talking about Hopkins. "The ball is going both ways, so that's a good thing. He's obviously shown that he's got some special skills in the red zone to go up and get balls. It's early right now, but I just like the balance that's going on."
The Vikings and Texans have played three times during the preseason with Minnesota holding a 2-1 series lead.