The next 3 games will let the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers know exactly where they are in terms of playing the better teams in the NFL. It all starts Sunday when the undefeated Minnesota Vikings come to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. The Vikings are of course led by the ageless Brett Favre at quarterback. Favre is playing some of the best football of his career so far in 2009 and enters Sunday\’s game with a 109.5 quarterback rating. He has thrown 12 touchdown passes versus only 2 interceptions. If Favre was not enough, the Vikings also have the sensational Adrian Peterson at running back. Peterson currently leads the NFL in rushing with 618 yards and a stellar 5.1 yards per carry.
The Steelers will look to counter both Favre and Peterson with a defense that ranks 2nd against the run and 12th against the pass. Regardless of the problems the Steelers defense have had against the pass this year, they look likely to want to force Favre to beat them through the air. The main concern will be shutting down Peterson and the running game. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will look to disguise the run blitzes and try to force Peterson east and west versus north and south. Outside linebackers, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison will look to keep the Purple Jesus from getting to the corner and turning it up-field. Strong safetyTroy Polamalu will make his second straight start since injuring his knee in week 1 and will be counted on heavily in defending the center of the field against the Vikings receiving core.
On offense, the Steelers will look to attack the Vikings 24th ranked pass defense that will likely be without the services of cornerback Antoine Winfield, who is suffering from a foot injury. Winfield will be replaced by nickel corner Benny Sapp and backup corner Karl Paymah. The Vikings have been giving up an average of 248.3 yards per game through the air while the Steelers have been averaging 296.7 yards per game behind the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The key to the success of the Steelers passing game will rely heavily on the protection Roethlisberger gets from the offensive line. The key match-up will be left tackle Max Starks against Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Allen has 7.5 sacks to his credit this year and 3 forced fumbles. A stable passing threat should open up the Steelers running game as well which has been re-charged behind the play of second year running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall also brings in a stellar 5.1 yards per carry average against a Vikings team that is giving up almost 4 yards per carry in 2009.
This game will be a great measuring stick for both teams. Turnovers will likely be the deciding stat in the game. Win that stat and you likely will win the game. The return of Polamalu to the Steelers defense has been a huge shot in the arm. They are a totally different team when he is in the lineup. The loss of Winfield on defense for the Vikings will be equally as huge and clearly gives the Steelers an edge.
In closing, Las Vegas has the Steelers favored at no less than 5.5 points. The Steelers will show the national television audience on Sunday that they still remain one of the teams to beat in the AFC. They will hold Peterson under 100 yards and force Favre into a couple of turnovers along with a handful of sacks. Everyone thinks this will be close game, but that will not be the case.
Prediction: Steelers 33 Vikings 13