The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to embark on their second game of the 2017 regular season schedule after coming out of Cleveland a week ago with a victory. Today, they face an opponent in the Vikings who on paper should offer up a much bigger test—but that largely depends on who shows up.
Three of the Vikings’ best players—quarterback Sam Bradford, outside linebacker Anthony Barr, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes—all finished up the week of practice participating at no more than a limited basis, and all have been deemed questionable to play.
As of the time that I am writing this, I have seen no strong indications regarding any of the three pointing toward them being more or less likely to play, but that could have changed by the time this publishes. Bradford at least is said to be a game-time decision.
Either way, the Steelers have to be prepared, but I think it should go without saying that no player would be more of a game-changer than Bradford, who looked very good last week, playing perhaps the best game of his career, now that he has had a fully year in the Vikings’ system.
Last week, the defense got to go up against a rookie playing in his first game who, while he showed mobility to escape some pressures, also struggled with his internal clock, and his accuracy waivered. Bradford gets the ball out far quicker, which will stress the pass rush.
That is why I would today keep an eye on Javon Hargrave, who I think did not play as many snaps as he ought to have. The second-year defensive tackle was very successful working against free agent center JC Tretter, beating him for a sack and a couple of other pressures right up the middle, which just so happened to be the shortest route to the quarterback.
Should Stephon Tuitt sit out, it will also be important for Tyson Alualu to be a little more effective in the pass rush than he was last week, but the bulk of the burden will fall down on Cameron Heyward’s shoulders, who admittedly was pretty effective last week in generating pressure, including a sack.
The Steelers’ cornerbacks will have their hands full with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. They kind of got away with some things last week, so hopefully they will look sharper in coverage.
As I wrote about yesterday, look for Le’Veon Bell to be more active this week. That is not some great revelation, but is worth noting all the same. He saw career-lows in percentage of snaps played and total touches in games that he started and finished.
I also think the Steelers are going to stress getting Martavis Bryant involved and effective today. They struggled to put him in situations that would allow him to score some easy victories, so I will be looking for that today.