Vikings, Then the Rest

Despite a difficult start, the Steelers have won three in a row and improved their record to 4-2.  Next, they face an undefeated Minnesota Vikings team that was pushed to the limit by the Baltimore Ravens.   The Vikings pulled out a 33-31 victory only after the Raven’s 44 yard field goal attempt missed slightly to the left as time expired.  That the Vikings were able to post 33 points against the Ravens defense is a minor concern, that the Ravens offense was able to post 31 points is a point of inspiration.

The Ravens defense has not been nearly so stingy as last season, they’ve already given up 100 yard games to two running backs, most recently to Adrian Peterson (143 on 22 carries) of the Vikings.  So the fact that Minnesota was able to post 33 shouldn’t be a major worry.

The Steelers are still looking for a solid, quality win this season.  Minnesota will provide that opportunity when they visit Heinz Field next week.  The Steelers match up well versus Vikings, even sans Aron Smith.  Generally speaking, Adrian Peterson will get his yards and he may do so against the Steelers’ defense.  But it’s Brett Favre who causes concern, especially if a team is overly focused on Peterson.  Fortunately for the Steelers, Troy Polamalu is back and he simultaneously upgrades both the pass and run defense.

They’ll need to be wary of the speedster Percy Harvin in the kicking game and deep-threat Sidney Rice in the passing game.  But they must not over look Favre’s new favorite TD target, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.  It will be important to contain Peterson such that he doesn’t gash them for 225 yards and 3 TDs, but such a performance is much less likely than Favre getting hot for 4 TDs should things start clicking.

That’s why this is an opportunity for the Steelers’ linebackers to stand out with Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior taking care of Peterson and Shiancoe while Lamar Woodley and James Harrison pressure Favre.

Offensively, the Steelers present problems for a Vikings team that had difficulty containing the Ravens when it counted.  Ray Rice, who looked like a poor man’s Brian Westbrook, had a field day rushing and receiving.  This may provide a chance for Rashard Mendenhall to further cement his place in the offense, particularly if he presents as a good target should Ben Roethlisberger need a relief valve.  And to say that the Steelers’ wide receivers outclass those of the Ravens is a gross understatement.  One hates to get overzealous, but the Steelers could get off to a big start if the Vikings aren’t ready to play, but such a scenario shouldn’t be expected.

There’s every reason to expect a close game, one that is in contention until the final tick of the clock.  The pick?  Home field advantage proves to be enough, give me the Steelers, 30-24.

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