Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Former Giants defensive end and New Jersey native Justin Trattou returns to MetLife Stadium tonight to do something he never expected to be doing two weeks ago: Helping extend the Giants’ winless start to the 2013 season.
“Definitely a strange turn of events,” said Trattou, who signed with the Vikings on Oct. 9.
Trattou joined the Giants as a undrafted rookie out of Florida in 2011. He played six games with one tackle in 2011, spent 2012 on injured reserve and played five games with three more tackles before being released two weeks ago.
Trattou was on the Vikings roster for last week’s loss to Carolina, but was inactive. His game-day contribution against the Giants wasn’t expected to match what he was able to do while helping the Vikings’ defensive coaches prepare the game plan.
“Yeah, I won’t answer that one,” Trattou said with a smile when asked how he was able to help the coaches prepare for the Giants.
Asked what was wrong with Giants two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, who has 17 of the team’s NFL-high 23 turnovers, Trattou said, “I have no idea what goes on over on the offensive side of the ball, but obviously turnovers has been a major problem for them. But Eli is a good player. We’ve all seen that. But you can’t fight through turnovers, at least not the number of turnovers they’ve had this year.”
Perhaps Trattou will bring the Vikings some good luck. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder won a New Jersey state title with Don Bosco Preparatory High School, a BCS national championship alongside Percy Harvin and the rest of the Gators in 2009 and a Super Bowl title as a rookie with the Giants in 2011.
The Vikings signed defensive end Brian Robison to a four-year contract extension Wednesday for reportedly $13 million in guaranteed money.
Robison, who is in his seventh season with the team, is in the final year of a three-year deal he signed in 2011. He elected to sign during the season and forego free agency.
"I think in any player’s mind, anytime you have an opportunity to hit free agency, it creates a little bit of excitement," Robison said. "But after me and my family sat down and talked about things, we realize there’s not a whole lot of guys in the league that get to start their career in one place and end their career in one place. This is an opportunity for me to do that"
The team gave Robison an opportunity to start in 2011 by signing him to a $14.1 million deal, which included a $6.5 million signing bonus.
"That deal, to me, was an opportunity to be a starter and an opportunity to prove myself in this league," Robison said. "I was able to do that. I’m not going to sit here and toot my horn. I’m just very thankful to the Vikings for giving me that opportunity."
The Vikings rank last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 326 yards per game. They are tied for first in touchdown passes allowed with 10.
In Sunday's 34-27 victory against Pittsburgh in London, the Vikings two best corners were rookie Xavier Rhodes and Marcus Sherels, who made the team primarily as a punt returner.
Chris Cook did not play because of a groin injury, Josh Robinson continued to struggle and A.J. Jefferson got zero snaps on defense, playing strictly on special teams.
Their cornerback situation is a mess right now and you wonder if Leslie Frazier and his staff won't use the bye to consider personnel changes.
Many fans would welcome the return of Antoin Winfield. Short of that, one logical move would be to replace Robinson with Rhodes as the starter at left cornerback, and possibly slide Sherels into that slot/nickel role.
Rhodes has been the team's best corner through four games. But in Cook's absence, Frazier's staff has resisted moving Rhodes to the right side. Instead, they started Sherels at right cornerback against Pittsburgh with Robinson starting on the left side.
Even if Cook returns next week against Carolina, you wonder how long the coacing staff will stick with Robinson. Until this point, Frazier has said he prefers to keep Rhodes as the outside corner in the nickel package, noting that Rhodes gets plenty of snaps because the Vikings use their nickel so often.
Rhodes has played in 71 percent of the team's snaps this season. But Robinson looks lost right now. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed 91.9 percent of passes thrown his direction to be completed for 377 yards.
Robinson also was called for a 48-yard pass interference penalty on Pittsburgh's opening drive of the second half that gave the Steelers the ball at the 1-yard line.
"He’s had some struggles, in particular inside playing the nickel position," Frazier said. "That’s been a challenge for him with all the things we ask that position to do. He’s had some good moments and he’s had some moments I’m sure he looks back at the end of the four weeks and said, ‘Man, I can do that better,’ and we think he will. We knew going in this offseason and even in training camp that there were going to be some moments that we would have to work through and we’re experiencing some of that, but he’s doing some good things as well."
Frazier was asked if the staff will consider moving Rhodes into the starting lineup because of Robinson's struggles.
"Xavier is doing some good things," Frazier said. "He is playing a lot in our nickel package which almost equates to being a starter with the number of snaps you get. We’ll see how he continues to progress. Josh has had some ups and downs, but we think he’s going to get better. We’ll evaluate that coming out of the bye as well."
Rhodes made a mistake on Pittsburgh's final drive. He went for an interception on a pass to Jerricho Cotchery and missed, which led to a 36-yard catch and run.
"If he makes that play the game is over," Frazier said. "I like the aggressiveness. We worked on that play, he anticipated, he was there and came up a little bit short. You like to believe if we’re in that situation again, as he gains more experience, he’s going to make that play. You don’t want to stifle that aggressiveness at the corner. The fact that he had enough gumption to go try it, that’s a good thing. But if you don’t make the interception, you have to make the tackle. You can’t do both. But he’ll learn from it and fortunately we survived it. That’s part of some youth in the secondary."
Quick postgame keys to the Vikings’ 34-27 victory over the Steelers at Wembley Stadium.
The Cassel effect. Backup Matt Cassel got the start at quarterback because of Christian Ponder’s rib injury and was efficient and turnover free (although he got lucky on a fumble). Greg Jennings was engaged for the first time this season, and scored two touchdowns off Cassel passes. And Adrian Peterson got some more room, and ran for 140 yards.
Scary defense. The Vikings defense did enough to win, but did anyone feel comfortable late as the Steelers seemed on the verge of a comeback? Only a big play by Everson Griffen, with a sack on the final stand, saved the day.
Just in time victory. Only one team has started 0-4 and made the playoffs, so this was a must-win for the Vikings.
It's worth noting that one of the first things Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game is Ponder is his starting quarterback. So ... let the QB controversy begin.
Here are the video highlights and final stats.
The Vikings have a bye this week before playing Carolina at home on Oct. 13.
Do the Big Ben jokes ever get old?
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who traveled to London on a promotional trip in July, said not yet, even though he spent part of one day posing in front of the famous English clock tower.
“It didn’t get as much run as I anticipated, so that was good,” he said. “There were a lot of pictures out there, and people didn’t make a big a deal out of it.”
Roethlisberger and the Steelers play the Vikings on Sunday, and he said he changed his attitude on the game after his tour.
“I took it as this is just a money-making thing for the NFL, but when I got over there, I got to see that there were a lot of football fans over there,” he said. “So once I got to see that, I got to see that it’s going to be neat for them and a neat experience for us, so I’ve embraced it a lot more than initially.
“There is a Steelers Nation UK, so there’s a lot of Steelers fans there, and they all told me they were going to be there.”
The Steelers, like the Vikings winless at 0-3, will fly to London after Thursday’s practice, arriving on Friday. They are the “road” team for the game.
Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin talked to the Twin Cities “left behind” media today in a conference call at Winter Park, and most of the talk centered on the Steelers’ woes. The six-time Super Bowl champions have not forced a turnover this year and are last in the NFL in rushing, making two trademarks of the team disappear in a hurry. Roethlisberger has four interceptions and the team has lost five fumbles.
“Turning the ball over -- that’s on me, and I can’t have it happen,” he said. “ If we don’t turn the ball over in critical situations, or as much as we have, then we are in most of the those games.”
Tomlin is hoping his team’s struggling offense, especially the running game, can right itself.
“We’ve turned the ball over, particularly in the red area, and obviously that takes points off the board,” he said. “People have scored directly off those turnovers, putting points directly on the board, you can’t do that in the NFL and expect to be better than 0-3. We understand that, but understanding that is only part of it, we got to rectify, we got to fix it.”
Roethlisberger has been sacked 10 times, and Tomlin said, “It’s been a multitude of things, game situations and circumstances have been a part of that -- when you’re in predictable situations because you’re behind, that’s going to dictate how certain people play football. The raw number is a product of that. But we have to do a better job of protecting him.”
The Steelers should have their rookie running back, Le’Veon Bell, a second round choice from Michigan State, back for the game. He has been injured since preseason. Opening day starter Isaac Redman has also been hurt, and Felix Jones is the team’s leading rusher – with only 71 yards.
Cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) also will return.
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