London Calling For Winless Steelers, Vikings
By Marc Jenkins
The Pittsburgh Steelers enter Week 4 in waters they have not visited since the 2000 season – beginning the year 0-3. Now with a matchup on the horizon in London against another winless team, the Minnesota Vikings, it will be imperative for the Steelers to get a few necessary aspects correct in their game plan in order to avoid 0-4. One of these two proud franchises will leave England with a win under their belt while the other will be undoubtedly eliminated from playoff contention before the calendar changes to October.
Pittsburgh finally saw some production out of its stagnant running attack to the tune of 80 yards on 21 carries in last week’s loss versus the Chicago Bears. Even though the team’s rushing yardage was far from superb, it topped what the team had gained on the ground through the first two games of 2013 (31 carries for 75 yards). For the first time all season, the Pittsburgh offense was not only somewhat effective running the football, but also displayed a commitment to it.
If the Steelers are to be successful this week in Wembley Stadium, this pledge to their ground attack must continue or else a tough Minnesota pass rush will key in on Ben Roethlisberger and hamper the passing game. Expect rookie Le’Veon Bell to get a fair share of the carries in his debut while Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer look to have some type of positive impact on the game as well.
The next thing that Pittsburgh must do in Week 4 is minimize its giveaways and maximize its takeaways. Thus far, it is tied for last in the league in turnover differential (minus-9) in large part because it has to force a miscue. The offense must hold up its end and possess the ball as well.
On the flip side of things, the once-proud Steelers defense needs to force its first turnover (or more) of the season; something that shouldn’t be overly difficult against a Minnesota offense that isn’t the most fundamentally sound unit around and will be starting turnover-prone QB Matt Cassel. The Vikings have already committed 10 turnovers, which means that Pittsburgh should be able to make something happen in that department.
The last crucial factor in this game will be how the Steelers attack and put pressure on the Minnesota offense in both the run and pass games. With Vikings starting QB Christian Ponder sidelined this week due to a fractured rib, Cassel will get the nod behind center. Cassel is known for making mistakes, which means that if the Pittsburgh defense can put some heavy pressure on him early, then it could result in a number of extra offensive opportunities. That pressure could also lead to the Vikings deciding to force feed the ball to their star RB Adrian Peterson a bit too often.
Normally handing the ball off to the 2012 NFL MVP is a great offensive approach. However, if he has to do most of the heavy lifting Sunday, then Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can focus solely on Peterson instead of worrying about the likes of TE Kyle Rudolph or WRs Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. If the Steelers can consistently keep eight men in the box, including resurgent S Troy Polamalu, then it could lead to a long and frustrating day for “All Day”.