Three pregame topics of note
LONDON – As the Vikings deal with Christian Ponder’s rib injury, a banged-up secondary and the stress of trying to crawl out of an 0-3 hole, here are three things you should know heading into Sunday’s game against the Steelers at Wembley Stadium:
1. Adrian Peterson is actually ahead of his 2012 pace.
Believe it or not, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is ahead of the pace he was on after three games a year ago. During a season in which he ended up with 2,097 yards rushing, Peterson started with only 230 in his first three games back from a left knee reconstruction. He also was averaging 4.0 yards per carry — 2.0 lower than his season-ending average — with two touchdowns.
This year, Peterson is fifth in the league with 281 yards. He’s averaging 4.1 yards per carry and has three rushing touchdowns. In other words, it’s too early to panic over the reigning league MVP’s failure to break the kind of long runs that were routine down the stretch last year and on his first carry — a 78-yard touchdown — this season.
“I trust those guys up front, and I know things will open up eventually,” said Peterson, whose long run of 9 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Browns was his lowest in 16 games. “Kind of think back to last year and the first couple of weeks. Things didn’t really explode until later on in the season. That’s encouraging.”
Seven players in NFL history have rushed for 2,000 yards. Of the first six to do it, the best follow-up season was Barry Sanders’ 1,491-yard effort in 1998. Peterson is on pace for a 1,499-yard season. He needs to average 132.2 yards over the final 13 games to reach 2,000.
The Steelers rank 22nd in run defense (115.3).
2. These aren’t your father’s Steelers, but …
It’s easy to see why the Steelers rank 31st in third-down conversions (27.8 percent). They lack any semblance of the power running game that’s so much a part of their rich heritage.
“We’ve created that [third-down] situation due to ineffectiveness on first and second down,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
The Steelers not only rank next to last in rushing, but they also are averaging only 51.7 yards per game. Only the Giants (44.3) are worse.
But running back Le’Veon Bell, a rookie second-round draft pick who suffered a sprained foot early in the preseason, is expected to make his NFL debut and start against the Vikings. Whether that’s a big deal, who knows? Even Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t know what to think of the rookie.
“Honestly, I have no idea with him,” Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You can’t get a read on him. One day, he’s practicing, one day, he’s not; one day, he’s going hard, the next day, he’s not.”
3. The Steelers give, but they don’t take away.
The Vikings are even in turnover differential because their defense has 10 takeaways, second in the league behind Chicago. The Steelers are minus-9 because they have the only defense in the league without a takeaway.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier sounded like a guy who wanted to knock on the nearest piece of wood when the Steelers’ fruitless takeaway efforts were mentioned.
“We’d like to make it four games that they don’t have any takeaways,” he said.
Ponder, who has turned the ball over seven times (five interceptions, two fumbles) in three games, said Pittsburgh’s experience on defense makes it dangerous to assume anything.
“They’ve had the ball in their hands and just weren’t able to catch the ball,” he said. “They’re solid, one of the best defenses in the league. Especially with the experience they have. They’re a little older, but [safeties Troy] Polamalu and [Ryan] Clark, they’re all over the place in what they’re doing. You can tell they’re route reading and guessing on stuff.”