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What To Watch For
1. Big Ben References
The Steelers have a large quarterback named Benjamin. He has not been good this year. Part of that has to do with the offensive line in front of him giving him absolutely no time in the pocket. Part of that has to do with him holding the ball like it's a cup of coffee. Part of it has to do with poor ball placement. Through 3 games Ben has 4 TD passes, 4 interceptions and 4 fumbles. That's simply unsustainable for a quarterback. He has to be better with the football in order for the Steelers to get back to their winning ways. The Vikings secondary is banged up with CB Chris Cook and Safety Jamarca Sanford both out with injuries. The Steelers receivers have a clear advantage on the Vikings corners, and Ben has the opportunity for a big day. A big day for Ben means lots of references to the clock. If this is on your Steelers In London Drinking Game list, you're going to be hammered.
2. Storm the Cassel
In 3 games against the Steelers, Matt Cassel is 1-2 with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. His lone win came in Kansas City in 2009 when the Chiefs beat the Steelers in overtime. Cassel will get the start for the Vikings with Christian Ponder ruled out with a rib injury. I'm honestly not sure whether this is an upgrade or downgrade for the Vikings. Ponder had been absolutely awful this season, throwing 5 picks and only 2 touchdowns. The Vikings have a good set of tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but the interior of their line is not as good. The Steelers should be able to get pressure with their A-gap blitzes, and Cassel is not the most fleet-footed quarterback in the league. The most important thing the Steelers can do against the Vikings offense is to build an early lead and force Cassel, not Adrian Peterson, to win the game for Minnesota. Speaking of which...
3. All Day
Adrian Peterson had more yards on his first carry of the season than any Steelers back has through three games. He was the league MVP in a season where he came off an ACL surgery. That's unreal. Peterson has only broken triple-digits once this season, but he has faced 8 and 9-man fronts through the first 3 weeks because the Vikings passing game has been dreadful. Despite being 0-3, the Vikings have been in all of their games. Their biggest loss was by 10 on opening week and they have lost by 1 and 4 the past two weeks. No one has been able to build enough of a lead on them to take AP out of the game and force the Vikings to throw. The Vikings offense runs through Peterson who averages 23 carries per game and is second on the team in receptions with 11.
4. Returning to Health
For the first time this season, the available players on the team are entirely healthy. Obviously, Maurkice Pouncey and Larry Foote aren't walking back out onto the field any time soon, but Heath Miller, Cortez Allen and Le'Veon Bell are all slated to start. Heath was on a snap count against Chicago, but his return meant Ben started to look for tight ends again and David Johnson made some big catches. All we have heard from the beginning of training camp from the media folks around the team is how good Le'Veon Bell is and how he is the centerpiece of the Steelers offense. Finally recovered from his foot injury, we will get our first taste of Le'Veon Bell and can only hope he lives up to the hype. Cortez Allen missed two weeks and the Steelers were able to bridge the gap with William Gay stepping in on the outside and rookie safety Shamarko Thomas playing the nickel corner spot (which says more about the other corners on the roster than it does about Shamarko). Allen's return vastly improves the Steelers defensive outlook on 3rd downs as it puts Gay in the slot and keeps Thomas off the field.
5. The Hot Seats
For some bizarre and unknown reason, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers took a redeye flight from Pittsburgh to London on Thursday night. Some players complained about it because they basically lost a night's sleep. If the Steelers lose, this story is going to dominate the rationale behind why they looked sloppy and unprepared. The bigger looming story is that the Steelers have looked sloppy and unprepared in every game so far this season. The Steelers organization has never been one to make coaching changes during the season, but an 0-4 start with a bye week could prompt changes somewhere along the line. It's unlikely that change would be at the top (even though Mike Tomlin has made some dumbfounding decisions this season) but if the offense once again fails to produce, offensive coordinator Todd Haley could begin to feel some pressure internally that the fans are already feeling externally.
Oh, and for good measure, because it still exists on the internet...