coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
On 09/23/2013 07:32 PM in NFL

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings: Preview and Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings: Preview and Pick

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings are two teams that have struggled this season. They now will get a chance to get away from it all as the NFL schedule will put these two teams overseas this week. The Steelers and the Vikings will both face off in London as the NFL continues the trend of playing a game outside of the United States.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings Odds

The NFL betting line for this game opened up with both teams being listed at a pick ‘em. As expected this line has moved and currently at top rated online sportsbooks the Steelers are listed as (-1.5) point favorites. With the little line movement shopping around is essential when betting on this game. It is a bit surprising that early wagering money is on the Vikings as 57 percent of the early money is backing Adrian Peterson.

The Steelers were crushed on Sunday night football by the Chicago Bears but they did have some brighter signs as Ben Roethlisberger put up big numbers hitting some of his favorite targets. Steelers tight end Heath Miller caught 3 passes for 35 yards in his first game back from torn ligaments in his right knee. Roethlisberger completed 26 of 41 passes for 406 yards and threw two touchdowns to Antonio Brown, but also fumbled twice and threw two interceptions. They will have to hold on to the ball if they want to beat the Vikings.

The Vikings are all about Adrian Peterson but had some highlights by the quarterback in the last outing. Christian Ponder has a career-high 2 Rush TD against Cleveland He's the 1st QB with 2 Rush TD in a game this season and the 1st since Russell Wilson scored 3 times on the ground Week 15 last season. If he can take pressure off AP in the backfield, the Vikings have a chance.
The latest NFL betting trends do indicate a positive outing for either team as they have both had trouble putting complete games together. The Vikings are just 1-3-1 straight up in the last five games overall and the Steelers counter with an equally pathetic record of 15-5-1 in the last seven games overall. The Vikings are just 2-4 straight up in the last six outings against the Steelers, but that was a much different Steelers team. The total has gone under in 6 of Pittsburgh's last 7 games when playing Minnesota, but that could change with the game in London.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings Pick

With plenty of time to go before the start of the regular season, I will wait to release my pick on this game until we get closer to game day.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/24/2013 02:37 PM

Running back Le'Veon Bell is expected to make his NFL debut Sunday when the Steelers play the Minnesota Vikings in London.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Bell is "going to play" against the Vikings, although he did not commit to the Steelers' second-round draft pick starting the game at Wembley Stadium.

The return of Bell, who has been sidelined since sustaining a mid-foot sprain in an Aug. 19 preseason game, can't come too soon for a rushing attack that is averaging 51.7 yards per game and is No. 31 in the NFL.

The Steelers have opened the season 0-3. Tomlin said the team's slow start falls on the shoulders of the entire organization.

"We're all falling short right now, coaches included, so we're not trying to throw anybody under the bus or identify anybody as an Achilles heel or a weak link," Tomlin said. "The reality is that we all need to work collectively together to solve our issues."

Bell, a former Michigan State star, practiced last week and Tomlin said he "perked up dramatically."

"He's been doing a nice job of working from a rehabilitation standpoint," Tomlin said. "But we'll let the practice process be our guide as far as deciding how much work he gets in the football game."

The Steelers had been grooming Bell to open the season as their starter before knee and foot injuries sidetracked the 6-foot-1, 244-pounder.

In other injuries news, Tomlin said he is optimistic that cornerback Cortez Allen will return after missing the last two games because of a sprained ankle. Tight end Heath Miller, meanwhile, won't have any restrictions after returning during Sunday night's loss to Chicago from reconstructive knee surgery.

Defensive end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Steve McLendon will be limited in the early part of the week by hamstring injuries. Both, Tomlin said, are expected to play against the Vikings (0-3).

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/24/2013 02:38 PM

The offensive line has been one of the main targets of fan criticism, and rightfully so considering the return on a unit the Steelers are getting from a group in which they have invested heavily via draft picks.

But a review of the Steelers’ 40-23 loss to the Bears by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mark Kaboly shows that the line gave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger enough time to throw on more than half of his pass attempts Sunday night.

It also showed that the Steelers are still trying to confuse opposing quarterbacks as the defense tries to generate turnovers and register more sacks.

The Steelers are both perplexed and frustrated as they try to dig out from a start unlike any other in Mike Tomlin’s tenure. Tomlin has never had a losing season, and the Steelers had always started well in his six previous seasons as head coach.

Remember, the Steelers were 6-2 in 2009 before losing five of their last eight games. They were 6-3 last season before the bottom fell out.

Like Tomlin, the veteran players are on ground that is unfamiliar as it is shaky. It will be up to them to lead the Steelers out of a funk that extends back to last season.

The scrutiny of the Steelers -- and where they have gone wrong -- also extends to personnel decisions that have been made in recent drafts.

The perception that prevailed not too long ago was that the Steelers neglected their offensive line, something all the more egregious to fans considering all that the team has to protect in Roethlisberger.

Well, the Steelers have used a pair of first-round draft picks and pair of second-round selections since 2010 on offensive linemen. The line has been a liability this season, leading to questions of whether the Steelers picked the wrong players to build around up front.

The offense has endured more of the criticism but the defense is not getting a free pass after the Steelers’ first 0-3 start since 2000. The Steelers are not forcing any turnovers, and that is something has been an issue for a couple of seasons now.

Consider that the Steelers had 35 takeaways in 2010. They have the same number in 35 regular-season games since then.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/25/2013 03:24 PM

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-3 and are heading across the pond to take on the Minnesota Vikings in London Sunday afternoon.

The Steelers will be practicing as usual this week until they fly out Thursday.

The problems for the Steelers at this point in the season are numerous. One such problem is they have only led on two occasions through three games.

They got out to a quick 2-0 lead against the Titans on the opening play of the game and they also held a 3-0 lead over the Bengals in Week 2.

Another problem has been their inability to force turnovers, while frequently giving the ball away on offense.

The Steelers have had zero takeaways, while turning the ball over nine times on offense. Ben Roethlisberger has four interceptions and two lost fumbles to his credit to go along with four touchdown passes.

On defense, the Steelers have also only recorded three sacks, which ranks last in the league.

If there’s any good news it’s that the team may be getting healthier.

Tight end Heath Miller was limited in practice last week and in the loss to Chicago. According to head coach Mike Tomlin, those restrictions will be lifted this week.

Cornerback Cortez Allen is also back practicing with the team.

Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell is expected to be a full participant this week in practice. The team is optimistic that he could add a spark to the running game, which averages just 51.7 yards a game.

Only the New York Giants average less yards per game on the ground (44.3).

The Steelers can’t dwell on the past and can only focus on correcting the problems, starting Sunday at Wembley Stadium against the 0-3 Vikings.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/25/2013 03:26 PM

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is battling a rib injury he suffered against the Cleveland Browns, leaving his status uncertain for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ponder will practice Wednesday in Minnesota's first workout since arriving in England but will wear some type of protection around his ribs, he told reporters. He was able to throw normally during the morning walk-through. But coach Leslie Frazier deferred final judgment until his starting quarterback finishes the team's three practices this week.

"I've got to see how he does today, see how he progresses today and tomorrow," Frazier said Wednesday. "We'll probably have a better feel on Friday. But today will be a big signal as for what direction we have to go."

Ponder said he was injured early in Sunday's 31-27 loss to Cleveland at the Metrodome. But he was able to play through the pain and finish the game. "I guess the biggest concern is contact, but our equipment staff is going to do a great job. We're going to find something to protect it," he said. "My mind-set is we're going to push it to the limit in a smart way. My mind-set is I want to play this game, and I'm going to do everything possible to do so.

"I don't have a concern right now. The concern may come after Friday's practice to see where I'm at."

Ponder has come under fire again this season for haphazard play that has contributed to the Vikings' 0-3 start. He committed two turnovers against the Browns, throwing his fifth interception, and is ranked 35th among starting quarterbacks with a 69.5 rating.

Ponder said he played through two rib injuries playing for Florida State. Last year, he suffered an elbow injury in the regular-season finale against Green Bay, from which he was unable to recover in time for the wild-card playoff game against the Packers the following week.

An overmatched Joe Webb was unable to lead the offense, prompting the Vikings to sign veteran backup Matt Cassel to a two-year contract this offseason.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/26/2013 01:26 PM

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said Thursday's practice went better than Wednesday's as he tries to overcome a rib injury and play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"There's definitely progress," Ponder said. "I definitely did a lot more than we expected to. Hopefully, it's healing."

Before practice, coach Leslie Frazier had said Ponder did not do as much as the team had hoped during Wednesday's practice and deferred a decision about his starter until after Minnesota's final workout Friday.

"He did a little less than we were hoping for. We'll see if he can handle more today," Frazier said before practice. "Hopefully, he doesn't have as much soreness as yesterday, but we'll see."

If Ponder can't play, backup Matt Cassel would step in for the third-year quarterback. Cassel, whom the Vikings signed to a two-year contract with $3.7 million guaranteed this offseason, started 62 games and played in 78 over eight combined seasons with New England and Kansas City. He is a career 58.8-percent passer with 82 touchdowns against 57 interceptions.

He went 10-5 as a starter for the Patriots after Tom Brady tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 1 of 2008. The Chiefs acquired Cassel before the 2009 season, rewarding him with a six-year, $62.7 million contract.

Cassel threw for 27 touchdowns in 2010, leading the Chiefs to a 10-6 record and reaching the Pro Bowl. But he struggled badly his last two years in Kansas City, which released him in June.

Cassel took the majority of snaps at Wednesday's practice.

"We want Christian Ponder to play and continue developing for us," Frazier said, "but we signed Matt Cassel for occasions like this."

After Thursday's practice, wide receiver Greg Jennings said Ponder's throwing did not seem affected by the injury. Speaking candidly, however, Jennings did say there is one advantage to Cassel over Ponder.

"He's more verbal, kind of commanding in the huddle," Jennings said. "That's the difference. That comes with him having more experience."

The Vikings also hope injured defensive backs Chris Cook, Jamarca Sanford and A.J. Jefferson can play Sunday, as Minnesota tries to rebound from an 0-3 start against the similarly winless Steelers at Wembley Stadium.

Barring a roster addition from outside, the Vikings likely would promote Robert Steeples off the practice squad if they need help. A former St. Louis Rams free agent who also played cornerback for the University of Memphis, Steeples signed with Minnesota after the Rams released him during the exhibition season.

"If A.J.'s not able to go, we may have to do something, because you don't want to go into this game with only three healthy corners, especially with all those three wide receiver sets they (the Steelers) show," Frazier said.

The Vikings rank 28th in pass defense and have yielded an average of 316 yards in their three losses.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/27/2013 12:03 PM

With Ben Roethlisberger finally playing in the city of Big Ben, it is the Pittsburgh Steelers defense that wants to stand tall in London.

The Steelers landed in London on Friday to prepare for Sunday’s game against Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium.

Trying to avoid its first 0-4 start in 45 years, Pittsburgh is hoping its defense can spark a turnaround.

“Steelers football has always been about the defense, about going out there and dominating, getting turnovers, and putting points on the board regardless of what the offense does,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “We know what we’re dealing with a guy like Adrian Peterson. We just can’t give up the big plays.”

With the Vikings also 0-3, Peterson will be expected to carry the load on Sunday with quarterback Christian Ponder out with a fractured rib. Backup Matt Cassel will start.

The Steelers have struggled on both sides of the ball, and Roethlisberger was focused on a victory rather than taking in the London sights — including the original Big Ben clock tower.

“We’d like to possess the ball. We’d like to extend drives, so that means converting third downs,” Roethlisberger said. “The more we can keep (Peterson) off the field, the better we can be.”

Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell will make his debut after missing the start of the season because an ankle injury. The Steelers running game was ranked 31st in the NFL coming in.

“I hope (he provides a spark) because we can use anything we could get,” offensive lineman David DeCastro said. “We have to get in a situation where we’re ahead and don’t have to pass the ball.”

Cornerback Ike Taylor was soaking up the trip just hours after touching down.

“It means a lot (to be in London). It’s a totally different atmosphere,” Taylor said. “When you think of London you think of style, you think of fashion. I hope I can bring a little bit of London swag to Pittsburgh.”

With the game being played at Wembley, Taylor spoke of his love of soccer star Lionel Messi and his desire to meet the British monarch.

“I tell you I would love to meet the queen — the head lady,” he said.

Taylor also reveled in the accents of the British journalists in attendance, asking them questions about the local slang. He learned an elevator is called the “lift” and a rest room the “loo.”

Taylor’s humor was in contrast to the no-nonsense demeanor of coach Mike Tomlin.

“I’m not here for vacation, I’m here to work,” Tomlin said. “We’re trying to get our footing. We’re searching for normalcy.”

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/27/2013 12:05 PM

Matt Cassel will start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, with Christian Ponder missing the game because of a fractured rib.

Ponder was injured on a hit in the second quarter Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, and he told the team's medical staff Monday he was feeling pain. Initially concerned he had a bruised lung and wouldn't be able to fly to England for Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium, trainers put Ponder through a CT scan that revealed the fracture.

Because the broken bone is so close to his heart, Ponder said, the Vikings (0-3) made the decision to hold him out against Pittsburgh (0-3) to avoid risking a more serious injury.

"We just made a decision, what's best for me and my health and for this team," Ponder said Friday. "It stinks, but it is what it is, and I'll be back in for Carolina [on Oct. 13]."

Ponder will get a chance to heal during the Vikings' bye week. The former first-round pick has thrown five interceptions to just two touchdown passes in three games, having an interception returned for a touchdown in a 31-30 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 2.

The Vikings signed Cassel to a two-year, $7.4 million contract in March after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman said at the time that Ponder was the starting quarterback and Cassel was coming in to give the Vikings a veteran option in case something happened to Ponder.

Minnesota was forced to start Joe Webb after an elbow injury kept Ponder out of a wild-card playoff game at Green Bay in January. Webb completed just 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards in a 24-10 loss.

Cassel, 31, emerged in the NFL after Tom Brady tore his ACL during the first week of the 2008 season. Cassel led the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record (they did not make the playoffs). He reached the Pro Bowl and led the Chiefs to the postseason in 2010, but injuries and ineffectiveness made him expendable after Kansas City traded for Alex Smith last winter.

"I've been through it a lot, but at the same time, you still get those butterflies and everything," said Cassel, who backed up Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart while at USC. "I just found out this morning, right before practice. But at the same time, we've been preparing for this. I had a good week of practice. I feel like I'm ready to go."

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/28/2013 11:01 AM

The Steelers will have to overcome a time change and maybe some lingering jet lag Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Fortunately for the Steelers, injuries won’t be an issue when they play the Minnesota Vikings in London.

Heath Miller returned to practice on Friday, and the veteran tight end as well as rookie running back Le'Veon Bell and starting cornerback Cortez Allen, are listed as probable for the 1 p.m. ET game against the Vikings.

Every Steelers player on the 53-man roster practiced on Friday. Miller (knee) had been limited in practice Thursday.

Bell will make his NFL debut, barring an 11th-hour setback, after returning from a mid-foot sprain he sustained on Aug. 19.

BellThe Steelers will likely ease the second-round draft pick back into action with Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer also in the mix at running back. Bell practiced every day this week.

“He’s been getting a lot of reps in practice,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Bell. “He’s looked really good.”

Roethlisberger said on his radio show earlier this week that he didn’t know what to expect from Bell because he hasn’t seen him practice on a consistent basis.

Some took the comments as Roethlisberger trying to motivate Bell, who has been hampered by knee and foot injuries, or his taking a shot at the former Michigan State star.

But Roethlisberger lavished praise on Bell during a news conference that took place Friday morning, shortly after the Steelers arrived in London.

“Coach (Mike Tomlin) is making him finish runs all the way down the field and then run the way back and then run the next play to kind of get a gauge of his conditioning,” Roethlisberger said. "Everything I’ve seen has looked really good in both the pass game and run game so I expect big things.”

Allen is expected to return after missing the last two games because of a sprained ankle.

He practiced every day this week and is listed as probable for Sunday.

Also listed as probable for the Vikings game are defensive end Brett Keisel (hamstring) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (hamstring).

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/28/2013 11:02 AM

Along with quarterback Christian Ponder, the Vikings ruled out defensive backs Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, leaving their secondary thin heading into a game that they probably need to win in order to keep their season from careening off course.

The Vikings will likely keep rookie Xavier Rhodes at his left cornerback spot in the nickel -- coach Leslie Frazier said earlier this week the Vikings don't want to take him out of his routine there -- but it remains to be seen whether A.J. Jefferson or Marcus Sherels will get more work at Cook's right cornerback spot in the base defense. Jefferson injured his ankle shortly after Browns receiver Josh Gordon caused him to bite hard on a double move on the way to a 47-yard touchdown last week, and Sherels was serviceable in the base defense once Jefferson didn't return.

After Sanford left last week, safety Andrew Sendejo took his place, with Mistral Raymond de-activated for the game. It stands to reason both players will be active on Sunday, and though Sendejo will likely get more snaps than Raymond, this could be an opportunity for Raymond -- who was a starter last year before an ankle injury opened the door for Sanford -- to reassert himself.

In any case, the Vikings could have their hands full against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose MO has long been to hold the ball, extend plays and burn cornerbacks who can't stick with their receivers for six or seven seconds. Roethlisberger's receiving group is depleted, and his battered offensive line could have its hands full with Jared Allen and company, but if the quarterback can stay upright, he might be able to find some big plays downfield against the Vikings' depleted secondary.