Know Thy Enemy: Minnesota Vikings

This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers face their first true test of the season.  We’ve played a few good teams but in the Minnesota Vikings we will be facing our first legitimate Super Bowl contender.  If you wanted a measuring stick as to where this team stands, here is your stick.  By Sunday afternoon, we’ll have have some answers concerning what to expect from the Black and Gold in 2009.

With RB Adrian Peterson rumbling behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, Minnesota has ranked in the top five in rushing the past two seasons.  Their problem has been at quarterback.  You can only hide your QB for so long before top-notch NFL defenses figure out ways to force him to win the game.  Tarvaris Jackson could not win games.   So, this off-season, the Vikes flirted with Brett Favre, wining him, dining him, slipping him roofies until he ended his second third fourth retirement.  Favre can win games, in fact he’s already pulled a couple out this season.  They picked up a little bonus when they drafted hybrid RB/WR Percy Harvin at #22 overall.  He’s been a help to the offense and great returning kicks, where the Steelers had issues last week.  When he’s on his game, he dramatically improves an otherwise middling set of receivers.

The question for the Steelers defense will obviously be stopping Peterson.  Aaron Smith was by far our best run stopper and he’s gone for the year.  If Dick LeBeau can’t figure out some way to put the breaks on Purple Jesus, the game is going to go downhill real fast.  Hopefully, the law firm of Kirschke, Eason & Hood will be up to the task.  In other news, Troy Polamalu has not practiced regularly this week.  Usually not practicing indicates not playing but I can’t imagine Troy missing the biggest game of the year.

On defense, Minnesota’s group has been the stingiest in the league against the run for three straight seasons.  Yes, even stingier than the Steelers.  DTs Kevin and Pat Williams are twin brothers of different mothers.  These two behemoths simply negate any action in the middle while DE Jared Allen causes havoc all over the field.  All three made the Pro Bowl last year.   One Pro Bowler who won’t play Sunday is CB Antoine Winfield.  His injury last week seemed to coincide with the Ravens making a furious comeback so I’m guessing losing him has the same effect on their secondary as losing Troy had on ours.

Which means prepare for Bruce Arians’ Flying Circus to be in high gear this Sunday.  Rashard Mendenhall, who has been officially declared our first string running back, will get enough carries to keep the Vikes honest.  But I have to believe our fortunes in this game will rise and fall on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger.  Look for the NFL’s leading receiver, Hines Ward (yes, a Steeler WR leads the league in yardage) and company to see a lot of pigskin headed their way.

When two evenly matched teams play, little things such as special teams often make the difference.  Baltimore battled all the way back last week only to lose when their inept kicker shanked a game-winning FG attempt.  Despite his ill-fated tussle with the po-lice this past weekend, Jeff Reed will be suiting up for the Steelers.  Skippy and his partner in urinary misadventures TE Matt Spaeth apologized to Steeler Nation for their actions.  If he truly wants to redeem himself, he should do it on the field.  Kicking well that is, not taking a piss.

The Steelers have played to the level of their competition this season.  This week would be a good time to continue that trend since their opponent is actually good for once.  Playing to that level would be a compliment rather than a criticism.   And if the Steelers hope to hand the Vikings their first loss of the season, anything less will not be good enough.

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