By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers were pitiful in the preseason, finishing 0-4. This Sunday against the Vikings, if the Steelers don’t play mistake free football and establish consistency, they will match their record from the preseason with an 0-4 start to the 2013 season. The last time that happened was in 1968, and the Steelers are not looking for repeat of bad history.
The Steelers will have a change in scenery this weekend as they travel to London, and though it has already been said by several media outlets this week, getting out of the states could prove to be beneficial, as the team is looking for something, anything, to get them out of their funk.
Yet regardless of location, the ultimate reality is that the Steelers have to play much better this weekend if they are to shed their losing ways and to gain some respectability in the league.
There are reasons for optimism this week for several reasons, the greatest one being the excellent health of the team.
Le’Veon Bell will make his first regular season appearance, and expectations could not be higher. While nobody is expecting him to single-handedly save the Steelers running game, after all of the praise this training camp from coaches and players, it is intriguing as to what Bell can actually produce on the field. I went back the other night and watched a few of his college games to refresh my memory about what he can bring to the table, and what stands out is his patience and ability to shed tackles. Bell demonstrated great balance and a knack for making highlight-worthy runs at Michigan State, and if he can inject that into the drowning Steelers running game, the results could be outstanding.
Cortez Allen is also back this week, and while William Gay has played solidly in his absence, Allen brings the element of playmaking to the defense. Kicking Gay back to a sub package role also gives the defense more flexibility.
Lastly, the Minnesota Vikings are a beat up bunch, as Christian Ponder will miss the game with a rib injury. In his place will be Matt Cassel, a player whom the Steelers have had success against in the past. This could be the perfect tonic for the zero in the Steelers turnover column. Also, Vikings starting cornerback Chris Cook is out for this the game with a groin injury, something that could weaken even more an already tenuous secondary. If Ben Roethlisberger gets improved protection, he could have a big day.
What to Expect
As I wrote earlier this week, how can you expect anything from the Steelers except bad play? While the Steelers have talent, their performances in the first three games have been uneven, marred by sacks, turnovers, surrendered big plays, and general bad luck. If past behavior is the best predictor of future results, the Steelers will find a way to lose in London to the Vikings.
Keep Your Eyes On
Steelers fans everywhere have been anticipating Bell’s debut, and it is finally here. While his future contributions will not be completely determined by his performance this Sunday, it will provide an indication of what he can contribute to this team and whether or not he is another poor second round draft pick, or a game changer. I’m going to put my money on Bell being an animal.
Hritz Season Prediction Record: 0-3
All of the evidence points to a Steelers loss, as the Steelers keep finding ways to lose games. Yet I still believe that this team is only a few plays away from turning this season around. Adrian Peterson will be the focal point of the defense, and it will be crucial for the Steelers to score first to avoid the Vikings gaming the clock. I simply cannot envision the Steelers starting 0-4, and maybe my perception of this team and organization is biased. If they do lose to the Vikings, the truth about the Steelers will be unavoidable.
This could be their last chance to save the season, as they won’t be able to overcome 0-4.
Steelers win, and a star is born in Bell.
Steelers 27, Vikings 16