Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t played the Minnesota Vikings since 2013, the team’s offense should be pretty familiar with the defense the’ll see on Sunday at Heinz Field thanks to the numerous games they’ve played in past seasons against the Cincinnati Bengals.
While Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has held that job since 2014, he was previously the defensive coordinator of the Bengals for six seasons from 2008–2013. And while he has changed teams, Zimmer still runs a similar kind of defense with the Vikings that he ran with the Bengals.
“They have a lot of similarities (to the Bengals),” said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Wednesday. “They do the same sort of fronts and coverages. That’s what we talked about this morning. When you think of these guys, think of Cincinnati.
“They have some personnel guys they move around. They don’t do as much double barrel. It’s early in the year so we are not exactly sure what we are going to see.”
Like Roethlisberger, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin also noted during his Tuesday press conference how the Vikings defense now has Zimmer’s fingerprints all over it.
“Obviously, Coach Zimmer is their head coach and a lot of things that they do defensively reflect his philosophy approach, whether he’s a play caller or not, I know he’s been a play caller in the past. Maybe not now, but when I look at their tape I think about the Cincinnati Bengals when he was there. Three-four outfit, that group upfront provides the wave or disruption that the rest of group rides. They have outstanding defensive end play much like he had in Cincinnati, that’s a formable group. We’ll have our hands full there. Not only in the passing game but the running game.”
Tomlin went on to give more detail about the Vikings defense the Steelers offense will face on Sunday and made sure to clarify that while there is some familiarity with that unit, that it still will be a big challenge just the same.
“They have quality people in the back end, coverage corners and safeties, Tomlin said. “Harrison Smith is a dangerous guy, much like Reggie Nelson was a dangerous guy when he played for Coach Zimmer in Cincinnati and they employed Harrison the same ways, and similar ways as they employed Reggie Nelson in Cincinnati. They are going to stretch you with that bunch, they will get after your quarterback. They are going to be good on the back end, they are good versus play action pass and things to generate junks.
“But In general, they play a good fundamental game, they play are hard, they hit you, they run to the ball. They don’t trick or confuse themselves much like a lot of the defenses he’s always been associated with. Just because we understand it doesn’t mean that the task is an easy one. We have our work cut out for us in preparing to play these guys and what they’re capable of. There are some matchup issues you are always concerned about. Whenever you are playing a 4-3 team you’re concerned about the run game because defensive ends are bigger people that tight ends usually. And the issues that provides you are always worried about the rush and the things they can do with a four-man rush that have these four three units. They reflect all of those concerns in their play and in their tape.”
During his Wednesday press conference, Zimmer admitted that the Steelers familiarity with the Vikings defensive scheme could give the Pittsburgh offense an advantage Sunday at Heinz Field.
“They probably have a bigger edge. They play Cincinnati’s defense every year, twice a year and so they probably have an edge that way,” Zimmer said.
In the Vikings Monday night win over the New Orleans Saints, their defense allowed quarterback Drew Brees to complete 27 of his 37 total pass attempts for 291 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown pass, however, came with 2:04 left in the game to cap off an 8 play, 75 yard drive to close the lead to 10-points. While the Saints offense was able to move the football in that game, the Vikings defense tightened up in the red zone and effectively stopped four of five offensive drives that entered that potion of the field.
It’s also worth noting that the Vikings defense only manages to sack Brees once Monday night along with hitting him just two other times. Roethlisberger, on the other hand, was sacked just once in the teams Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns and that was the only time he was hit during the game.