Game 4 matchup: Steelers vs. Vikings


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When the Vikings have the ball: The offense is built around RB Adrian Peterson, the league's MVP in 2012 after rushing for 2,097 yards. But, after a 78-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season, Peterson has just 281 yards (3.8 ypc). It will help that Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton (suspension) will return. But the Vikings need to get more balance from their passing game to take the pressure off Peterson. QB Christian Ponder has been inconsistent, throwing for 691 yards and only two TDs while throwing five INTs and being sacked 10 times. Ponder, though, has a rib injury and might not play, leaving Matt Cassel as the starter. The Vikings signed former Packers receiver Greg Jennings in free agency and used their No. 1 draft pick on Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson. They pair them with former Bengals WR Jerome Simpson and TE Kyle Rudolph. The offensive line is anchored by LT Matt Kalil, who went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012, and RT Phil Loadholt. But they are weak in the interior. Kalil will be a good test for rookie OLB Jarvis Jones.

When the Steelers have the ball: The Vikings do a good job of taking the ball away, forcing 10 turnovers (6 INTs, 4 fumbles) -- second most in the NFL. They like to do it by generating pressure with their line, especially DE Jared Allen, second among active players with 118 career sacks. He will be matched against Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum, who is expected to be rotated with Adams. Six-time Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams (561/2 career sacks) is the longest tenured player on the team and one of three remaining players from when Mike Tomlin was their defensive coordinator in 2006. OLB Chad Greenway has led the team in tackles the past five seasons and is very active on the edge. The Vikings have had several injuries in the secondary that have hurt their coverage. They have allowed an average of 315.7 yards passing per game and nine touchdowns. But S Harrison Smith is solid. He started 16 games as a rookie in 2012 and returned two INTs for touchdowns.

Keep an eye on:

K Blair Walsh ... As a rookie in 2012, Walsh set an NFL record with 10 field goals of 50 yards or longer, including a team-record 56-yard field goal against the Texans. He also tied Gary Anderson's team record with 35 field goals. With a 52-yard field goal in the 2013 season opener, he has already tied Ryan Longwell for the most 50-plus yard field goals (11) in team history. Since entering the league, Walsh has converted 41 of 44 field goals, more than any other NFL kicker.

Intangibles

The Steelers will try to avoid their first 0-4 start since 1968 -- Bill Austin's final season as head coach. They have won the past three meetings with the Vikings, most recently in 2009 at Heinz Field. But the all-time series is tied, 8-8. ... The Vikings have lost three in a row, including back-to-back losses to the Bears and Browns in the final minute. They played the first NFL game in London in the 1983 preseason against St. Louis. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was the team's defensive coordinator in 2007, replacing Mike Tomlin when Tomlin became the Steelers head coach. ... This is the first regular-season game the Steelers have played outside the United States.

To win, the Vikings must ...

1. Get Brown on the ground. The Vikings' porous secondary has to be aware of Antonio Brown, who is coming off a career game with 9 catches, 196 yards and 2 TDs.

2. Get Aid(drian) for Peterson. The Vikings running back needs help from the passing game to push defenses off the line of scrimmage.

3. Taketh, not giveth. The Vikings have 10 takeaways, second most in the NFL, but they also have 10 turnovers, second most behind the New York Giants (13).

To win, the Steelers must ...

1. Have Big Ben ring loud. There is nothing wrong with Roethlisberger's passing; it's protecting the football that's the problem.

2. Yell, "Yo, Adrian." The Steelers will have to swarm and gang-tackle Peterson, who is as strong as he is fast.

3. Go to Jared. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen will line up against LT Mike Adams and usually requires an extra blocker to chip him.

Steelers


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