1. Cassel finds his deep ball
Christian Ponder was, statistically, the worst deep-ball thrower in the league a year ago. He also threw fewer deep balls than any other qualifying QB. A league-low 7.5 percent of his 2012 passes were thrown at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Only 25 percent were completed, also a league low. Enter Matt Cassel. Cassel’s first two deep balls Sunday — to Cordarrelle Patterson into the end zone from the Pittsburgh 38 and a 45-yarder to Jerome Simpson — were badly overthrown. But Cassel bounced back to finish 2-for-4 on throws that traveled at least 20 yards. The 51-yard completion to Simpson traveled 21 yards, and the 16-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings was more than 4 yards deep into the end zone. “When you have 28 [Adrian Peterson], the defense has to respect him by loading that box,” Simpson said. “After that, just give the receivers a chance. Just throw it and we’ll try to make a play.”
2. Run defense puts pressure on Big Ben
The Steelers entered the game ranked 30th in the league in rushing (3.3 per carry). The Vikings, however, came in ranked 22nd in average yards rushing allowed per carry (4.4). The Steelers got a boost from rookie Le’Veon Bell, making his NFL debut after spraining his foot in the preseason. Bell scored twice, including an 8-yarder around right end that was far too easy. But he also averaged only 3.6 yards, gaining 57 on 16 carries. And 14 of those yards came at the end of the first half, with the Steelers just running out the clock at midfield. Overall, the Steelers were held to 77 yards on 21 carries (3.7).
3. Felton: ‘Glad that month’s over’
Fullback Jerome Felton wasn’t dominant, but he did help the running game with his return from a three-game suspension. “I feel great,” the Pro Bowler said. “I’m just glad that month is over. It was a long one.” During last year’s 2,097-yard season, Peterson averaged 6.4 yards with Felton in the backfield and 4.6 yards without him. Sunday, Peterson ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries (6.1). He had 128 of those yards and both touchdowns on 18 carries (7.1) with Felton on the field. Although Peterson came up short on third-and-3 with 1:56 left in the game, Felton and Peterson did make the Steelers burn all three of their timeouts on that drive. “I was rusty,” Felton said. “But I was physical and we obviously ran the ball well.”
4. Brown contained ... sort of
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown entered the game ranked second in the league in number of 20-yard catches with seven. The Vikings somewhat contained him, although slot cornerback Josh Robinson probably is glad the Vikings play the Steelers only once every four years. Brown had a game-high 12 catches, but only 88 yards with a long of 15. His 7.3-yard average was nearly 9 yards lower than his season average. Of course, Brown also beat Robinson badly on a deep ball into the end zone. Robinson basically tackled him before the ball arrived. The 48-yard pass interference penalty set up a 1-yard rushing touchdown.
5. At ‘home,’ 4,000 miles away
Vikings fans held their own against the league’s most dedicated traveling fan base. “I was actually shocked that it was kind of a home-game kind of feel,” safety Harrison Smith said. “I was thinking it would be split with maybe some NFL fans just coming for the show. But it really felt like a home game.” The Vikings also responded well to a “home” “noon” game that was played at 6 p.m. 4,000 miles from the Metrodome. The first two possessions produced 10 points. After back-to-back three-and-outs, Adrian Peterson scored a 60-yard touchdown on the Vikings’ first offensive snap of the second quarter. Not a bad start. “It’s easy to say you got jet lag, you have to practice somewhere else,” Smith said. “But it really felt pretty comfortable.”