The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their thirteenth regular season game of 2021 on the road Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings, and they’ll likely enter that contest marked as an underdog of around three-points. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium to come away with their seventh win of the 2021 season.
Watt A Night To Be A Norseman – Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt made a huge difference in the team’s Sunday Week 13 game against the Ravens and it resulted in him being named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Thursday night in Minnesota, Watt will have a chance to be the Viking among all Vikings. He’ll be going against Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill, a Pittsburgh product, who happens to be one of the top right tackles in the NFL this season. O’Neill has the longest active streak without giving up a sack among tackles. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has only been sacked 18 times so far this season. If Watt can’t have early success against O’Neill, he probably needs to flip to the other side and try his hands at left tackle Oli Udoh. The Steelers must get pressure on Cousins Thursday night and do so with a lot of four-man rushes. Watt needs to play a big part in that happening and thus he must be the superior Viking in Minnesota in primetime.
No Griddy – The Steelers won’t have to face Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen Thursday night as he will miss the game with an ankle injury. The Vikings, however, still will have wide receiver Justin Jefferson Thursday night and he’s quickly become one of the best in the league. So far this season, Jefferson has registered 78 receptions for 1,209 yards and seven touchdowns. Jefferson leads the NFL in explosive play receptions with 21 and six of those have come on completions with less than 16 air yards. He’s a very dangerous wide receiver and one that can wind up doing his Griddy Dance several times Thursday night if the Steelers defense is not careful. The Steelers defense must bracket Jefferson constantly Thursday night and especially with Thielen sidelined. Vikings wide receivers K.J. Osborn and Dede Westbrook must be made to be the ones to beat the Steelers defense Thursday night. The Vikings have 25 passing touchdowns on the season and Jefferson (7) and Thielen (10) have 17 combined. Once again, Thielen won’t be playing Thursday night so Jefferson can’t be allowed to score or have a big gain overall.
Brandish The Pistol – The Steelers offense used a lot of pistol against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 and those snaps went well. In fact, the pistol offense was used just 2.9% of the time prior to the Sunday game against the Ravens game. Against Baltimore, it was used 13.8% of the time and the offense averaged 7.2 yards per carry on six runs (83.3% run success rate) and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went 1-of-2 passing out of it with a 29-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Diontae Johnson out of it. On a short week, Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada really needs to run more pistol against the Vikings.
All The Right Stuff – The Vikings run defense hasn’t been great this season and especially on runs to their left side, which is the right side for the offense. On runs tallied as being up the middle and all the way over to right tackle, the Vikings defense has surrendered a success rate of 63.8%. That works out to 90 successful runs out 141 attempts from up the middle to right tackle. If you like yards per carry stats, the Vikings defense has allowed an average of 4.90 yards per carry on runs in those directions and they are second to the last in the NFL in that stat. I would expect the Steelers to attempt to run to the right of center Kendrick Green early and often Thursday night. If rookie running back Najee Harris can stack several nice runs against that below-average Vikings front to that side, Roethlisberger might not need to drop back to pass 40 times or more to win the game.
No Short Week Sloppiness – Short weeks usually result in mistakes being made on the field on Thursday nights in the form of silliness such as false starts, personnel fouls, jumping offsides, illegal formations, etc. With this being a Thursday night game in Minnesota, the Vikings fans will certainly be in full force and super loud inside that dome they play in. The Steelers offense might need to use a silent count quite as bit and that process needs to be flawless. These two teams are pretty evenly matched overall so the one that has the less sloppiness Thursday night is the one that will likely wind up winning the game.