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mesaSteeler
10-23-2009, 08:01 AM
Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

or the first time this season, the Steelers will play one of the better teams in the NFL: the Minnesota Vikings. The Steelers' four victories have come against teams with a combined 4-19 record.

"The Minnesota Vikings ... have proven that they're a world championship caliber outfit," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "They're an undefeated team. They're rock-solid on all levels."

Pittsburgh still is trying to get there. No one's quite sure what the Steelers have just yet. Their defense has allowed fourth-quarter leads to slip away in losses to Chicago and Cleveland, and the offense has completely changed from power to pass. Ben Roethlisberger leads the league with 1,887 yards passing,

Hines Ward leads the league in receptions (41) and yards (599), and even Heath Miller, with 34 catches, is one off the lead for tight ends. That's unheard of in Pittsburgh. To top it off, their new starting running back, Rashard Mendenhall, has rushed for 304 yards and four touchdowns in the past three games since he took over for injured Willie Parker.

The Steelers may have to come out and throw against the Vikings, too, one week after Roethlisberger put up 417 yards on the Cleveland Browns, third-most in franchise history. Minnesota ranks just 18th against the pass and ninth against the run after leading the NFL in stopping the run last season.

"They trample the run on the way to the pass," is how Tomlin put it. Pittsburgh, tied for the AFC North lead with Cincinnati at 4-3, has won three straight behind its passing offense. It's a far cry from Pittsburgh's trademark smash-mouth offense that goes all the way back to its early years. Rarely have the Steelers leaned so much on the pass. Roethlisberger is averaging 314.5 yards passing per game, a rate that would give him more than 5,000 yards for the season.

The team record is 3,724, set by Terry Bradshaw during their fourth Super Bowl season of 1979. "Ben's playing as good as anyone right now," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "Keep the ball in his hands, we'll be OK." Pittsburgh long has used the run to wear down teams, enforce its will on defenses and keep its own defense rested. But even with all the passing, they have been able to allow the defense its down time by controlling the clock.

The Steelers' average time of possession is 33:53 compared to 26:07 for their opponents. "It helps a lot," Keisel said. "When we're watching those guys work and resting, we enjoy it. They're playing good ball right now. I think they have a lot of continuity, they trust each other, they know what they're doing and they have playmakers."

SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular-season meeting. Vikings leads series 8-6, dating back to 1962. They also met in Super Bowl IX, the Steelers winning their first NFL championship. The Steelers have won the past two games against the Vikings, most recently Dec. 18, 2005 in Minnesota, 18-13. The Vikings' only other visit to Heinz Field came in the stadium's first year, 2001, when they lost 21-16 in December.

NOTES, QUOTES

K Jeff Reed apologized to his teammates and the fans for his arrest on multiple charges Sunday night during a scuffle with Pittsburgh police. "It may not sound like it when something like this comes up, but I like to represent this team as well as I can," said Reed, a team captain.

TE Matt Spaeth was cited by police for public urination, an incident that led to Reed fighting with cops when he tried to help his teammate. "I apologized for the distraction that it caused both to the organization and to my teammates," Spaeth said. Dan Rooney, who became U.S. Ambassador to Ireland this summer, will see his third Steelers game this season Sunday, the day after his granddaughter is married in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers could play consecutive unbeaten teams for the first time since 2004, when they beat New England and Philadelphia in Weeks 8-9 at Heinz Field. They play the Vikings (6-0) Sunday at Heinz Field and play at Denver (6-0) Nov. 9. The Broncos have to play at Baltimore Nov. 1, though.

BY THE NUMBERS: 74.5 Number of yards the Steelers are allowing per game on the ground, which would be their lowest average of a decade in which they've led the AFC four times stopping the run.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I went to the hockey game last night and everybody was complimentary and very nice to me." K Jeff Reed, who attended a Tuesday night Penguins home game, two nights after he was arrested for scuffing with cops.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES SS Troy Polamalu did not practice for the second straight day Thursday, although signs point to him starting his second straight game. He returned to play last week after missing four games with a sprained MCL.

RB Willie Parker will again wear the special shoes Nike created for him as a way of protecting his left big toe. Parker had turf toe and missed multiple games with the injury. The shoe provides more protection, but Parker wasn't entirely comfortable with the fit last Sunday.

WR Hines Ward leads the NFL with 41 receptions and 599 receiving yards. He never led the NFL in his previous 11 seasons.

QB Ben Roethlisberger, who also leads the NFL with 1,887 yards passing, needs one more game with a passer rating of 100 to surpass Terry Bradshaw's record of 31, which Roethlisberger tied last Sunday.

WR Santonio Holmes ranks only third on the team with 28 receptions but he's on pace for his first 1,000-yard season with 438 yards after six games.

DE Ziggy Hood, the Steelers' top draft pick, played only seven snaps vs. the Browns even though starter Aaron Smith is out for the season. Hood had no tackles.

TE Heath Miller, whose 34 receptions are second among tight ends in the league, became only the third Pittsburgh tight end to top 200 receptions. He has 202.

GAME PLAN: Pittsburgh, the NFL's fifth-ranked passing offense, won't be shy throwing the ball against the Vikings, who are better at stopping the run. The one thing they must do, however, is neutralize Jared Allen. On defense, they will concentrate on stopping Adrian Peterson with the knowledge that quarterback Brett Favre can help them as much as hurt them with his legendary, oftentimes reckless throws.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Steelers run defense. Pittsburgh has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 28 games, including playoffs. Vikings RDE Jared Allen vs. Steelers OT Max Starks. Allen has 7.5 sacks and Starks has gotten better at left tackle. Vikings RB Chester Taylor vs. Steelers pass defense. Taylor is their third-down back with 21 receptions, and the aggressive Steelers pass-rushers have had trouble with screens and the like.

INJURY IMPACT: The Steelers are relatively healthy with no one expected to miss this game because of an injury. Linebacker and special teamer Andre Frazier (bruised thigh) missed last week's game but is back. RB Rashard Mendenhall bruised his knee last Sunday, but it should not affect him.


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