The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in London at Wembley Stadium and below are seven things to watch for in the game.
All Day With Felton – The Steelers main goal Sunday will be to of course shut down Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who has rushed for 281 yards and three touchdowns in three games. This week, however, Peterson will have his main fullback Jerome Felton back, so that could make for some interesting collisions in this game. Inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams will have to do a good job of wading through the trash in order to get Peterson down on the ground and the Steelers outside linebackers have to keep the edge set in order to force him back inside to help. The best defense against Peterson and Felton, however, is a lead on the scoreboard as it will force the Vikings into more 11 personnel groupings and away from their running game in the second half if they are down by 10 or more points. Should Peterson go off for 100 yards or more on the ground, it will likely end with the Steelers being 0-4.
The Bell Finally Tolls – Steelers rookie running back Le’Veon Bell will make his NFL regular-season debut Sunday after being sidelined several weeks with a foot sprain suffered during the preseason. While he may have looked good during training camp, Bell has all of four preseason carries to his credit entering this game. This Steelers sorely need their running game to improve even more than it did last week and Bell is their best outside-zone runner on the team. They don’t need him to rush for 100 yards in order to win the game, but they do need him to be effective enough to set up play-action.
Tackle Watch – Kelvin Beachum figures to get more playing time at one or both of the tackle spots Sunday after playing 16 snaps last Sunday night. Last week against the Chicago Bears, left tackle Mike Adams had a rough game and he will have his hands full Sunday with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. If he is unable to handle him early on, Beachum might be off the bench in a hurry. The Steelers need to find their best two tackles in this game and stick with them so that the gelling process can continue.
Black & Purple Secondary – The Vikings secondary is beat up heading into this game and will be without two of their starters Sunday as cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford will both sit out due to injuries. In addition, cornerback A.J. Jefferson is also fighting through an injury of his own, so the Steelers wide receivers should have the upper hand in this game as a result. It would be foolish not to attack the Vikings weakness and a good running game early on should make it even easier.
Heathier Miller – Tight end Heath Miller looked good last Sunday in his first game back and as a result will likely see his snap count increase this week. Miller should get a chance to work against linebacker Erin Henderson some in this game and the Vikings defense has already allowed opposing tight ends to catch 18 passes for 175 yards and six touchdowns in their first three games of the season. Miller could have a huge game if the middle of the field opens up.
Third Down & Matt – Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel will start Sunday for the first time this season and in his three previous games against the Steelers he is just 6-of-27 (22.2%) passing on third downs. On five other third down drop-backs he was sacked. If the Steelers defense can keep Cassel in third and five or more yards to go situations as often as possibly, they should be able to get off the field.
London Security – The Steelers have turned the football over nine times already in three games and that simply can’t continue to happen. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has to do a better job of protecting the football while in the pocket as you can bet the Vikings defense will be pawing at early and often. On the flip side, the Steelers defense is now the only unit in the league without a turnover to their credit and that too needs to end Sunday in London. It’s really pretty simple, if they win the turnover battle, they should win the game.