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Old 10-24-2009, 10:31 PM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Pittsburgh Steelers - Vikings Question and Answer

Pittsburgh Steelers - Vikings Question and Answer
October 24, 7:37 PMPittsburgh Sports Examiner
Matt Pawlikowski

The Minnesota Vikings travel to Pittsburgh to take on the defending Super Bowl champions in what many consider the game of the week in the NFL. Both teams are limping in a bit with impact players from both teams missing practice time this week, but the game provides a real good measuring stick for where each team is at as they near their byes and the mid-point of the regular season. Minnesota Vikings Examiner Joe Oberle joins us to preview the game and discuss some of the key factors leading into what could be the NFL's premier regular season matchup of the year.

Matt Pawlikowski: How are the media, team and fans looking at this game in Minnesota? Is there more excitement than say the Packers or a division game because the Steelers are the defending World Champs?

Joe Oberle: There is plenty of excitement for this game, but with the injury problems going on at Winter Park (Winfield, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin have all seen little or no practice time this week), there is a sense of realism toward the uphill task at hand--Pittsburgh is a tough place to play at full strength. That said, the entire area wants to see how their undefeated team stacks up against the defending Super Bowl champs. But with Favre returning to Lambeau Field next week, it marks a new level for this rivalry, and even a game against the defending champs doesn't quite reach that level of intensity.

MP: The Vikings rank second in the NFL in red zone offense, yet they are having trouble putting opponents away despite the 6-0 slate this year. What seems to be the problem?

JO A couple things have contributed to the team's less-than-dominant undefeated season. Early on against teams such as Cleveland and Detroit, it was a matter of the late-arriving Favre going through his training camp during the season and getting familiar with the offense and his receivers. He has gotten better each week, and an average of 31.5 points per game bears that out. Lately, however, the bend-but-don't-break defense has been breaking a bit. The offense spotted its team a 17-point lead against the Ravens in the fourth quarter last week and we all know what happened there. The team needs to develop a boot-to-the-throat type of attitude and finish teams off when they have them down. Good teams have a way of coming back.

JO: Rashard Mendenhall has moved ahead of Willie Parker on the Steelers depth chart and will start against the Vikings--what's the reason for the move and how will he perform against the Vikings tough rushing defense?

MP: For this question Joe, I'll let Parker himself answer it. "Iím not myself right now, right now. I need to get back to myself. No excuses. Iím going to go out and keep working.Ē So what does that all mean? Parker is still battling a case of turf toe and since the Chicago game, Mendenhall has seemed to come to life and spark the offense. On Wednesday Steeler coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged that Mendenhall gives the team the best opportunity to win. But this doesn't mean the Steelers have given up on Parker, who is in a contract year, and come Sunday, I still expect the Vikings defense to get a healthy dose of Fast Willie.

MP: Favre is used to playing in the outdoors, but the team is not. What have the Vikings been doing to get ready not only for cool and possible rainy conditions on a field that recently has been re-sodded? Heinz Field will also have a playoff feel to it, meaning it will be that much tougher for Favre to hear.

JO: The Vikings have played well on the road this season (albeit against weaker teams), but this would be the first one in the tough conditions you describe. To be honest, I don't think Favre likes playing in the cold anymore himself and he must have looked at the Vikings' schedule before he signed because they have 10 games inside this season. This team can play with noise and Favre used to come to the Dome as the opposing QB once a year, so he should be alright. What should they do about the weather? Build a new stadium and get back the home field advantage, but that's another story.

JO: Keeping Big Ben Roethlisberger upright and firing to his receivers has been the key to Pittsburgh's success this season. How has the offensive line been playing and will they be able to keep Jared Allen out of the Steelers' backfield?
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Old 10-24-2009, 10:31 PM   #2
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Default Re: Pittsburgh Steelers - Vikings Question and Answer

MP: The Vikings are not the Cleveland Browns, and against the Browns, Big Ben could have read a book he had so much time, so Jarred Allen will pose a viable threat. But right now this unit is perhaps the most underrated in the NFL. Max Starks sat down with me after the game on Sunday and talked about why all of a sudden there is a cohesiveness and he pretty much said it's about continuity and the camaraderie they enjoy both on and off the field. It's what makes them click so well. This is not the first time this season the Steelers have faced a big time play-maker like Allen, and thus far they have pretty much been up to the task. The no-huddle helps a little too.

MP: The Steelers haven't allowed a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher or a 140-yard receiver since a 2007 game to the Jaguars. The key has been the play of the defense, especially in big games. In order for this to occur on Sunday, Favre and Co. will need some great play from the offensive line. Talk about these guys and why they have been so good this season.

JO: That is some pretty solid and consistent defense. The key to the Vikings offense has been balance. Favre has not had to throw for 300 yards with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and he typically gets all of his receivers involved in the game--they can hit you from a number of different places. Regarding the offensive line, other than a number of hits on Favre earlier this season, they have performed well, given that the right tackle is a rookie and the center is second-year player starting for the first time this season. The anchors on the left side, Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson, have both played well, and I think the easy schedule has allowed these younger players to learn on the job. We will learn a lot more about them on Sunday going against the tough Steelers defense.

JO: Troy Polamalu has returned from injury in time to shore up the Steelers' pass defense. How important is he to the unit and how will they attack Favre and the rest of the offense?

MP: His presence is significant, and we're glad to have him back out there. That's what Steeler coach Mike Tomlin has said about Polamalu. While the Steelers were able to make adjustments without him in the lineup, the thing the defense missed out on most was his ability to read plays before they happened and be in the right place at the right time. His versatility pretty much takes away the middle of the field. As for attacking Favre, Dick LeBeau is known for his brilliance and expect to see a lot of blitzing from the linebackers as usual plus a few other trucks up his sleeve not yet seen this season.
An even bigger pick me up for the team could come in the fact that for just the third time this season, beloved owner Dan Rooney will be in attendance. The U.S Ambassador to Ireland will be in Pittsburgh for his granddaughter's wedding, allowing him to watch the team.

MP: There are reports that Antoine Winfield may not play against the Steelers, which would be a big hit for the secondary. Who is his backup and how has the unit performed against a no-huddle situation this season?

JO: The Vikings saw a bit of the no-huddle last weekend against Baltimore, and that performance doesn't exactly bode well. The status of Antoine Winfield is arguably the biggest factor coming into this game. The Minnesota defense played poorly in his absence last week, and it is looking like he'll be out again. So far, his replacement hasn't been announced, and Brad Childress likes to keep things close to the vest when it comes to the injury report. But they did sign NY Giants draft choice DeAndre Wright this week to help out, and we may see Vikings rookie Asher Allen activated from the practice squad to fill in for Benny Sapp at nickel back, who would might take Winfield's spot. But anything could happen at this point.

JO: Mike Tomlin coached under Brad Childress for one season, so there isn't a lot of history there, but do you see this as an emotional battle for the two head coaches, and how do you see it playing out this Sunday?
MP: Not sure how coach Childress is approaching the game, but Tomlin is not looking at things that way. As a matter of fact, Tomlin said that while there are some philosophical similarities, the Vikings today are completely different than the team when he was there. It has, after all, been three years since he worked for the Vikings. Tomlin's only concern with this game is to continue to improve, and find a way to win, of course.

JO: The media is calling the Vikings-Steelers tilt the game of the week, and the Vikings and their fans want to see how their undefeated team stacks up against the defending champs. So, how is Pittsburgh team, media and/or fans approaching this game?
MP: Without a doubt this is the premier game of the year for the Steelers and there are some who say it could be a preview of the Super Bowl as some media are saying. Not the Steeler players. To them it is just one of 16 on the schedule, so when it comes to approaching the Vikings, they could be 0-6 and the preparation would be the same. If they can put up a dominate performance against the Vikings, as safety Ryan Clark has said, it will erase the taste of a 1-2 start but that is it--so the hoopla is pretty low key. No bulletin board material here.

I will say this, most of the players are excited to be facing a legend like Brett Favre. As for the fans, the parking lots will be filled early as always and Heinz Field will be lit up with a playoff atmosphere--and with the chance of rain in the forecast, it will be a case of Steeler football. Expect the terrible towels to be flying and a loud atmosphere, especially when they get the Renegade song on the scoreboard to start the fourth quarter. The place goes nuts.
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