As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in tonight’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. Chase Claypool Puts It Together
For better or worse, Ben Roethlisberger will probably never shy away from taking vertical shots to Chase Claypool. He is supposed to be the vertical threat in this offense and Roethlisberger likes to let it fly 2-3 times per game. To be fair to Claypool, he’s likely still battling a turf toe injury, a painful, difficult injury to get past. That’s likely one reason for his struggles. But he hasn’t made the second-year jump at any point this year and he’ll need to gut things out tonight to make some plays. Consistency is his key.
2. Alex Highsmith Goes Off
Highsmith’s pass rush production has come in bunches this year. Hopefully that occurs again tonight. The Vikings are without their top left tackle in Christian Darrisaw so there’s a chance for Highsmith to have a plus matchup. Highsmith shows plus hand use and the ability to defeat blocks with increased power but simply hasn’t been impactful enough as a pass rusher overall this year. He also needs to be more consistent setting the edge in the run game.
3. Pressley Harvin Wins Punting Rematch
Not that punters ever literally go head-to-head but this is a rematch of sorts between Harvin and Jordan Berry. After a spirited battle, Harvin edged Berry out this summer. Berry’s numbers have been better this year, he does get the benefit of punting indoors at home, but field position is always important. Harvin’s had as many good punts as bad ones. It sounds like Berry has only been a bit better in that regard.
THE STEELERS WILL LOSE IF…
1. Vikings’ Interior D-Line Controls Line Of Scrimmage
Minnesota has some big bodies in the middle, guys like Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce. Interior offensive line needs to win the point of attack, especially Kendrick Green and John Leglue. But it would not shock me if those guys struggled to consistently win up front. Leglue is a feel-good story who played well last week but like the other guys who stepped up last week, it’s all about what you do next.
2. Kick Coverage Fails
You don’t see a lot of kick returns anymore but the Vikings have a good one in Kene Nwangu, who has two return touchdowns on just ten attempts this season. The rest of the NFL has a total of four. Playing indoors should hopefully result in touchbacks, I would tell Chris Boswell to boot every kick as far as he can, but if there are returns, the coverage unit must be buttoned up.
3. “Other” Guys Make Plays Against Steelers’ Defense
Odds are good the Steelers will do their best to take away WR Justin Jefferson, the Vikings’ top threat, especially with #2 WR Adam Thielen out with a high ankle sprain. In key situations, Jefferson should be bracketed and taken away. That’ll force Minnesota to rely on lesser-known names like TE Tyler Conklin and WR KJ Osborn to step up. If those guys make plays, as other guys did in losses to Las Vegas and Green Bay, Minnesota will hang around in this one.
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