3TFO: Steelers vs. Vikings, Week 4
The NFL makes its annual trip to London this weekend. In a bit of a surprise it’s bringing along two 0-3 teams. Both had high expectations going into the season, with the Vikings looking to build on their 2012 playoff berth and the Steelers hoping to rebound from a sub-par 2012 season.
Expectations have fallen short though, as turnovers have plagued both teams, with each team averaging over three per game. Neither has been able to establish a solid running game. Adrian Peterson has been quiet since his 78-yard run to open the season, and the Steelers are averaging a paltry 3 yards per carry. One of these teams will come out of the weekend with a sliver of life left, and the other will begin to look toward 2014 and a possible rebuild.
There are some very interesting matchups in this game. Who’s not excited to see Troy Polamalu and AP meet up on the open field? Jared Allen will also be looking to get his season back on track as he lines up across from one of our weakest rated LT’s in Mike Adams. Below we run through three more matchups to take an even closer look at.
Antonio Brown vs. Vikings secondary
Antonio Brown is on fire to start this season. His overall PFF receiving grade (+7.0) is tied for tops in the league. Ben Roethlisberger has a 138.5 QB rating and 324 yards passing when throwing his way. Ben has a 51.0 rating when throwing at Jerricho Cotchery, and a 44.3 rating when throwing at Emmanuel Sanders. The big plays to Brown are the only thing keeping this offense alive so far this season.
The Vikings counter with a young secondary. Josh Robinson has struggled, Chris Cook is banged up, and Marcus Sherels has been solid, but in a limited number of snaps. Xavier Rhodes will most likely get the call. He’s off to a steady start in his rookie year with a +2.2 grade and averaging 18.3 coverage snaps per reception allowed (sixth in the league). Can Antonio Brown maintain this high level of play? Can the rookie Rhodes hold up? Will they make sure to roll coverage Brown’s way? We will find out Sunday.
Ponder/Cassel vs. Pressure
Dick Lebeau is guaranteed to dial up the pressure. He already has Lamarr Woodley turned loose. Woodley has a 17.4 PFF Pass Rush Productivity rating, which is tops among 3-4 OLB’s. Expect to see a lot of Polamalu around the line of scrimmage as well, as he tries to disrupt AP and surprise the Vikings with occasional blitzes. In addition, Lebeau will throw all of the different kinds of zone blitzes in his bag at one of these two quarterbacks (that historically struggle with pressure).
There are some rumors as to who the starting QB will be for the Vikings come Sunday. So we take a look at both quarterbacks under pressure, and what we find is eerily similar. In 2012 Matt Cassel (in 9 games) was under pressure on 92 snaps to 176 for Christian Ponder (16 games). The completion percentage for Cassel was 41.3% compared to 40.6% for Ponder. The PFF accuracy percentage for Cassel was 57.1% compared to 53.8% for Ponder. Cassel threw 2 TDs and 5 picks and Ponder 3 TDs and 6 picks. In 2012 they were essentially the same type of quarterbacks under pressure. Ponder has seen a boost in his production under pressure in the first three games. If he plays, this game will be his biggest test so far this year. How Ponder/Cassel reacts to the pressure of Woodley and Co. will go a long ways to deciding this game.
Steelers Run Game vs. Vikings Run Defense
This is an interesting matchup, because both units are underperforming, so someone will have to win. The Steelers are averaging 3 yards per carry and the Vikings are giving up almost 4.5 per tote. The Steelers have an overall PFF rush grade of -6.7 and the Vikings are -14.6 against the run. Both of those grades are in the bottom three of the league.
The Steelers rotated three offensive tackles throughout the game last week. The general rule is if you have two quarterbacks you have zero. So if you have three tackles that means you have… well, probably zero. Not a good sign for the Steelers. They are hoping to set two starters at the tackle positions and to get Fernando Velsasco even more settled in at the center position. The Steelers are also hoping the return of Le’veon Bell will give them another weapon. He won the starting job outright in the preseason and at 6’1” 240 can move the pile, and even showed a little burst. Getting some big plays out of the run game will give the Steelers’ offense the boost it’s been looking for.
The Vikings are definitely missing Antoine Winfield’s run stopping ability in their nickel packages. Josh Robinson’s -1.6 run grade so far in the slot is a far cry from Winfield’s cornerback leading +14.6 run grade in 2012. Their linebackers are also struggling mightily against the run. Greenway, Henderson and Mitchell have combined for an even -10.0 PFF run grade so far. The Vikings could move Desmond Bishop to the starting spot in the middle and shift Erin Henderson back to the outside, but it seems like they just want their young players to work through these growing pains. In this game and as the season progresses we will see if the coaches’ faith is rewarded.