Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time to clock Big Ben

It's looking more and more like Antoine Winfield won't be in the starting defensive backfield for the Vikings when they travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday, and that could be trouble, if the second half against the Ravens was any indication. We've always had our reservations about Brad Childress' and Darrell Bevell's ability to think outside the box and craft a quality offense for the Vikings; this week, it might be up to Leslie Frazier to figure out a way to get enough pressure on Ben Roethlisberger to make up for Winfield's absence.

Roethlisberger represents a serious matchup problem for the Vikings. Yes, he holds on to the ball too long and takes a lot of sacks (3rd highest sack percentage among active quarterbacks, and highest among anyone who could be called a starter), but because of that -- and because defensive players tend to bounce off his 240-pound frame -- he keeps plays alive and completes a lot of downfield passes. He currently leads the league with 9.1 yards per attempt, which, if it holds out, would make him the third quarterback this decade (and only 11th since the merger) to average better than 9 yards per pass. He's already #3 among active quarterbacks, and his 12.6 yards per completion is the 2nd-best career mark in the NFL among active quarterbacks.

In other words, this game has all the appearance of mimicking the type of game we had against the Green Bay Packers, where Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times but had 384 yards passing. As long as the final score looks roughly the same, I'll be happy.

On the bright side, no Steelers quarterback has ever thrown for more than 300 yards against the Vikings. In fact, only one has ever managed as many as 250, and it was a while ago. That probably owes more to the fact that the teams don't play each other very often, and both have been known for their defenses (and, in the Steelers' case, their running games) than for high-flying aerial attacks. Vikings QBs haven't fared much better over the years.

Unlike Baltimore, the Steelers still have a defense, though they'll be missing DE Aaron Smith, a major key to their 3-4 who's out for the season. Without him, Adrian Peterson has a very solid chance of topping 100 yards, despite the Steelers' allowing only 74.5 yards per game on the ground. That's skewed somewhat by the 16 yards San Diego put on them in week 4. Without Smith, even Cleveland managed 91 yards on the ground, though 45 of that came from Josh Cribbs in the wildcat. I'd expect a somewhat lower-scoring game this week -- maybe just in the 20s for each team. And hopefully more for the purple.

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