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Pregame Zone Blitz: Vikings at Steelers

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It's a personal grudge-match for PZB; Steelers vs. the hometown Vikings. Far too many bets riding on this game, and perhaps it's because these are the two teams PZB hears about the most often, but it looks like two mirrored teams will be squaring off at Heinz Field. Both teams can make arguments supporting them having the best three-deep receiving corps in the league. Both have dominant edge pass rushers. Both have highly successful quarterbacks with reputations to gut out wins late. All signs point to this being a close one. Maybe it comes down to the kickers. At the very least, we know our kicker looks for fights as opposed to backing away from them.

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Gonzo with the Daily Norseman will be "severely disappointed" if he sees CB Karl Paymah in anything short of a special teams capacity.

Not to worry, it looks like Benny Sapp will get the starting nod for the injured Antoine Winfield.

PZB pities you if you look like Brad Childress, but at least you could win Vikings/Lions tickets.

Anthony21 of the Daily Norseman says Minnesotans can pony up the cash to build the Vikings a new stadium.

It's a good time to remember former Vikings coach Jerry Burns, and his submission for Greatest Post-Game Rant of All Time.

I'm not sure if Ericj69 from the Daily Norseman understands that fan support is not the bottom line for a team moving. It's about money, and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wants a new stadium.  Unless the people of Minnesota vote to build him one, he's moving the team.

Last Game

"This is the best I've ever seen him play." - Steelers tight end Heath Miller on Ben Roethlisberger

It's cliché to suggest Roethlisberger is punishing Cleveland for not drafting him when they had the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft.

It's about close to a reality as it gets, though.

Roethlisberger put on an individual clinic Sunday, throwing for 417 yards and two touchdowns in Pittsburgh's 27-14 victory, that was way more lopsided than the score indicates. If it wasn't for a bizarre sequence in the third quarter that saw five turnovers in 12 plays between the two teams, Pittsburgh could have had 600 yards of offense.

Cleveland dropped eight back into coverage at times, and Roethlisberger completed passes. Cleveland rushed eight guys at times, and Roethlisberger completed passes. Cleveland threw foreign objects and rosin into Roethlisberger's eyes, and yes, he still completed passes. Well, he would have if they did that.

While PBZ doesn't want to try to create an impression that doesn't exist, that Browns defense isn't as bad as Pittsburgh's 543 yards indicates. In stretches, they looked like a physical, cohesive unit. It was as if parts of their team forgot Eric Mangini was their coach, or their Prozac kicked in or something.

Opponent Spotlight: WR Sidney Rice

"I wasn't expecting the ball because it was a run play." - Vikings WR Sidney Rice, on the playcall before a 63-yard reception against Baltimore in Week 6.

Third-year receivers are commonly (cliché?) seen as players who are finding their stride. Ironically, the stride of Sidney Rice is what has made him a sleeper high-end wide receiver in the NFC.

He may not have found his mental stride in his first two seasons in Minnesota, but his incredible physical ability is helping make up for that.

And when he gets both working for him? Look out.

That process may be accelerated with the addition of a quarterback not known for convention. Brett Favre may in fact be the perfect passer for Rice. This was illustrated by a 63-yard completion that blew the game open for Minnesota in Week 6, en route to a 33-31 victory.

Rice thought it was a run play. Maybe if he knew Favre intended to throw the ball, he would have been able to earn the extra eight yards he left on the field before the end zone.

He's just one component to a lethal array of weapons at Favre's disposal. It doesn't appear rookie Percy Harvin will play (shoulder), Bernard Berrian is adjusting to Favre more each game. TE Visanthe Shiancoe leads the team in touchdowns with five. Rice, though, wasn't expected to be leading the team in receptions (23) and yards (409) after six games.

Rice's size and quickness off the line make Favre drool, and as guaranteed as pregame close-up shots of Ben Roethlisberger and Jared Allen, Rice will run a slant or a quick post, Farve will hit him in stride. While it's not guaranteed, Rice has a decent chance to take any of those passes to the house. He's been doing it all season.

Much like Roethlisberger is doing for the Steelers, Favre is using all his receivers, but Rice is emerging as their main weapon, and Pittsburgh's ability to slow him down will be instrumental in its success in Week 7.

Steelers Spotlight: QB Ben Roethlisberger

"It is a mark of how good Ben Roethlisberger is that he threw for 417 yards, with two touchdowns, and no one noticed. It's becoming routine." - Peter King, Sports Illustrated

Minnesota's secondary is in dire straits. With Pro Bowl CB Antoine Winfield wearing a walking boot to protect his sprained foot, the Vikings have several unappealing options in case he can't play. One, Minnesota can move nickel back Benny Sapp to the LCB position, which will put special teams guru Karl Paymah, who curiously chose to let Ravens WR Mark Clayton to his inside while he was defending the sideline, giving up a 32-yard touchdown last week, to the nickel. Or, they could use rookie (and yet to achieve activated status) Asher Allen at the nickel spot.

Ya think Roethlisberger, fresh off a 417-yard display against the secondary-weak Browns, isn't licking his chops over the thought of any of those match-ups?

Roethlisberger has a favorable match-up against the Vikings defense, especially considering his elusiveness and ability to buy time in the pocket. The Vikings have had difficulties in their deep secondary, which has caused some big games for opposing quarterbacks and tight ends. Roethlisberger can utilize his multi-faceted receiving corps and TE Heath Miller for big gains, provided his head remains attached to his neck after the constant pressure he'll feel from DE Jared Allen.

Don't ask me, though, let's go to the experts. If you want to get some analysis from a kid with a bad moustache, foul mouth, massive Pittsburgh accent and ADHD, he's your guy.

Even better, it gets followed up by the kid from Two and a Half Men:

 

I See You

I see you, Steelers wide receivers. I see you because you're trying so hard not to be seen by your opponents, and it's working. Don't think the fact Hines Ward now leads the NFL in receiving yards has escaped our attention. Only Browns Defensive Coordinator/Allman Bros. Roadie Rob Ryan forgets about Hines Ward, hence the reason, Hines, you dialed his defense up for 159 yards and a touchdown.

But what about Santonio Holmes? Leading the NFL in first down percentage (min. 2 catches per game, are we clear on that this time?), and 8th in the NFL in receiving yards (438). ‘Tone has 28 grabs, 26 of them have gone for first downs, and he's averaging 15.6 yards per catch.

Then Mr. Mike Wallace...Coach Tomlin is right, the game's not too big for you. I haven't heard many descriptions that are as fitting for a player as that is for you. You were drafted due to your speed, but it's your versatility that's going to land you on the All-Rookie Team. You're running sharp routes, catching passes underneath and over the top, but more than anything else, you're playing the game without a sense of fear. How many Browns did it take to get you out of bounds on that reverse in the third quarter? Two Browns got credit with a tackle on that play, but one more step, and you would have scored the most inspiring touchdown of the season.

It wouldn't surprise us at all to see ‘Tone grabbing eight passes for a buck 59, Ward hauling in five catches for five first downs and Wallace blocking as if his contract depended on it.

Put simply, the three of you are forming into the quietest but best all-around receiving group in the game. PZB can't see one of you without seeing the other two.  

Key Stats

  • Pittsburgh's 543 yards against Cleveland was their biggest offensive game in 14 years.
  • Combined record of Vikings road opponents this year: 1-16.
  • Minnesota is 6-9 since 2007 when Adrian Peterson rushes for less than 100 yards.
  • The Steelers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last 24 games.
  • QB Brett Favre has completed 75 percent (63-for-84) in the Vikings last three games (3-0).

Quick Hitters

WTF?: I didn't watch the replay, but how did former Steelers WR Nate Washington manage to lose 22 yards on one reception? Oh wait, I know, because he left the defending champions for the Terrible Towel-jinxed Titans. Tennessee has lost seven straight since proudly declaring themselves Pittsburgh's superior, including a 59-rip dismantling at the hands of New England in Week 6. The wheels have officially come off that bus. Quick! Get off their bandwagon!

Tempting: Having direct access to Chad Ochocinco? Like, we can call him a tool 24 hours a day? That may just be too much fun to be permitted. If we really had no life, a group of Steelers fans could get together and just spam the hell out of him. While I'm sure Jordan Palmer and his buddies have years of experience in such technological ventures, I wonder if their app could handle massive amounts of messages just saying things like "you suck," and "what a loser," or "Mamma call him Johnson, I call him Johnson."