One man’s prediction: At 0-3, both teams should be beyond desperate. Matt Cassel’s first start at QB in place of injured starter Christian Ponder could give the Vikings a spark. But the Vikings have major concerns in the secondary. CB Chris Cook (groin) and SS Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) will not play. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers could have a big passing game.
The Vikings’ running game has sputtered since Adrian Peterson ripped off a 78-yard touchdown run on the team’s first offensive play of the season in Detroit. The line has struggled to open holes against defenses stacked to stop Peterson. The running game should get a boost with the return of Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, who served a three-game suspension related to a DWI arrest last year. “There’s confidence that I feel just knowing what type of guy he is, knowing his approach and his mentality,” Peterson said of his lead blocker.
In his first three games, Vikings rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes has faced Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Cleveland’s big-play receiver, Josh Gordon. Now, he faces Antonio Brown, who caught nine passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the Bears last week. Brown is tied for second in the NFL with seven catches of at least 20 yards.
A real drought
The Steelers pride themselves on forcing turnovers on defense, but they’re the only team in the NFL that does not have a takeaway this season. Pittsburgh is tied for last in the league with a minus-9 turnover margin. The Vikings have the second-most turnovers in the league with 10. In their 2009 meeting, the Steelers returned a fumble for a touchdown and an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 27-17 victory.
MANO-A-MANO: MATCHUP TO WATCH
Vikings LB Chad Greenway vs. Steelers TE Heath Miller
Had an active performance against the Browns last week, finishing with six tackles, an interception, one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup.
A favorite target of Roethlisberger, he made his season debut last week after suffering a knee injury at the end of last season.
Who has the edge?
Miller is a tough matchup for linebackers when he’s healthy. He had a career year in 2012 with 71 catches for 816 yards and eight touchdowns. Said Greenway: “He has an ability to find or expand zone coverages to get open and find spots. Any time that a quarterback has a comfort level with a guy, you know he’s going to look for him in key situations, and [he’s] a guy we obviously need to take away from them.”
THE BIG NUMBER
29 Passing attempts Roethlisberger needs to pass Terry Bradshaw (3,901) for the most in Steelers history.
Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: It will be interesting to see how the offense responds with Cassel at the helm. He has more experience than Christian Ponder, but he must avoid turnovers. Cassel threw 12 interceptions and only six touchdown passes in nine starts in Kansas City last season.