Steelers’ Week 2 Opponent Preview: The Minnesota Vikings
Sang Tan/ Associated Press
Last week I didn’t write an opponent preview, as my operating theory was that nobody really knew who the Browns were. This week there is at least some data to work with, and an actual NFL game in which this week’s opponent played. And won. So let’s take a look at the Vikings:
Quarterback: Sam Bradford was the very last guy ever to get an enormous rookie contract, and he then suffered the embarrassment of being traded away by the team (the Rams) who gave him the enormous contract in the first place. Things initially looked promising for Bradford—he was, after all, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010—but injuries and a certain amount of ineffectiveness plagued him in St. Louis. Philadelphia was the trade partner who picked him up. But with the drafting and unexpectedly quick development of Carson Wentz he was expendable. The Eagles traded him to the Vikings at the beginning of last season after Teddy Bridgewater went down.
This has turned out really well for all concerned, except, I suppose, Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in Minneapolis, and watching him on Monday night, there’s no reason to think it was illusory. Bradford looked in control, collected, and amazingly accurate. (Last season he had an NFL record high 71.6% average completion rate.)
Offensive Line: The Minnesota line gave Bradford excellent protection, and he was only sacked once.
Running Backs: Adrian Peterson was in the Vikings stadium on Monday night, but in a Saints uniform. He has been replaced by the Vikings’ 2017 2nd round pick, Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 127 yards with an average of 5.1 yards per carry. With the total rushing yards being 129, you can see that Cook is their running game.
Receivers: UDFA Stefon Diggs (signed in 2015 by the Vikings) looked like a total stud in the first half. In the second half Adam Thielen, a 2013 UDFA signing by the Vikings, did his best Randy Moss imitation. I guess they must have some highly-drafted receivers on their roster, but they don’t seem to need them. TE Kyle Rudolph was the only tight end who seemed to be much involved in the offense.
Defensive Front: Although they looked pretty disruptive, given the fact the starting left tackle for the Saints was still out after shoulder surgery and was replaced by a rookie, and the starting right tackle was injured early in the game and also replaced, Drew Brees still got off plenty of throws, and was only sacked once. More surprising, I suppose, is that there were only two QB hits on Brees.
They were quite effective in shutting down the Saints’ running game, only allowing 60 yards total. (Adrian Peterson had 18 of them.) And there’s no doubt their two defensive ends are impressive.
Defensive Backs: Despite all the disruption Brees managed to pass for close to 300 yards, although he only threw one touchdown.
Special Teams: The Vikings’ kick returner, 2014 3rd round pick Jerick McKinnon, picked up 108 yards on four kick returns. Their punt returner was less impressive. The kicking teams did a good job defending, only allowing 57 yards on three Saints returns and no yards on one punt.
Penalties: Since the Steelers had such a breath-taking array of penalties, I had a look at the Vikings penalties by way of comparison. They were assessed five penalties for fifty yards, although several other penalties were declined. The Steelers had 13 for 144 yards. That’s almost a touchdown and a half. I don’t expect them to repeat this. Which doesn’t mean they won’t. But I suspect there will be a crew of officials at one practice this week at least, and some creative consequences for those who screw up.
I found Jim Wexell’s comment interesting:
I thought this was the rustiest part of the performance, finding that fine line between aggression and overaggression. If Tomlin’s teams fall short of the line, “they’re playing without passion,” and if his teams pass that line, “they’re undisciplined.” The hatred of Tomlin [b]y many in this town will never abate, but I prefer his teams [to] tend to the overaggressive side. They did in Cleveland and still won. I’m expecting the defense to narrow its scope and get it right this week.
As I look at all of this, I think this is a decent matchup for the Steelers. It would appear the Steelers’ defense is better at this point than the Saints’ defense is. And although the Vikings’ offensive line performed well against the Saints, I think they might struggle a bit more with the Steelers. I don’t expect the Steelers to have another 7-sack performance, but three or four of them would give Bradford something to think about.
Whether “three or four of them” is realistic is another matter. DeShone Kizer was a rookie QB playing in his first NFL game, and if his first read didn’t work out he held onto the ball. They aren’t going to see that from a veteran like Sam Bradford. In the game I watched he consistently got the ball out within a couple of seconds, and that’s going to be a lot more of a challenge. If the defensive front isn’t at least consistently pressuring Bradford, it’s going to be a long afternoon, because Bradford is accurate and his receivers catch what’s thrown to them. Especially in the second half of the game, he was finding wide open receivers (actually mainly Thielen) who were getting enormous chunks of yards.
On the other hand, back in the glory days of the Steelers’ multi-sack duel-headed monster of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, it didn’t seem to matter that much how fast the quarterback got the ball out. (Of course, having Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark in their primes patrolling the backfield didn’t hurt either.) But we can hope T.J. Watt breaks a few more records.
And speaking of Watt, I was struck by the comments about him by Cameron Heyward and Joey Porter, as reported by Matt Steel, also writing in Steel City Insider. Heyward commented after the Browns game that Watt doesn’t run himself out of the play. And after his two-sack performance in the first preseason game (anybody remember that? I didn’t…) Porter said that Watt has a unique change direction ability for his position.
I think the Steelers’ O-line will be able to hold their own next Sunday. Whether the offense is more in sync this week certainly remains to be seen, but I’m guessing they will be.
The Vikings, at home, beat the Saints 29 to 19, although you could easily argue the game wasn’t that close. The final Saints touchdown was certainly in garbage time.
But this week the Vikings will be on the road and the Steelers will be at home. Let us hope that between the generally much better play at home by Ben Roethlisberger and a surely more in sync offense after they shook the rust off in Cleveland, it will be enough for the Steelers to prevail. I don’t think we can count on another blocked punt, although apparently Danny Smith called the one on Sunday. This isn’t as prescient as this sounds, because the guys say he always calls one…
Injury Notes (and others): The Steelers’ oft-cut linebacker Steven Johnson is back on the 53, at the expense of L.J. Fort, who is now on the practice squad. Honestly, this came as a surprise to me, as I thought I had seen more from Fort than Johnson during training camp. Just goes to show what I know…
Mike Tomlin has not, as of Wednesday evening, ruled out Stephon Tuitt from Sunday’s game, which is probably less about news and more about keeping the Vikings guessing.
J.J. Wilcox is, presumably to no one’s surprise, in the concussion protocol. Bud Dupree was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice (Tuitt did not practice.) On the Vikings side of things, the most interesting one was Sam Bradford, who was limited with a knee injury. I can’t imagine he won’t play, but it might be helpful if he wasn’t 100%. Two of their linebackers were also on the report—Emmanuel Lamur was a limited participant and Anthony Barr did not practice.
UPDATE; It looks like Dupree will play and Tuitt won’t. Or Wilcox. On the Vikings side, Sam Bradford is “questionable” with the knee injury, which could make life interesting…
In case you were wondering, the photo is from the Hall of Fame preseason game a few years back. I do not have super powers in which I can travel to the future and take pictures on my cell phone, although I’m guessing I could make a lot of money off of this site if I did…