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NFL Preseason Vikings vs. Steelers: What to expect

Sure, it's just preseason football, but with Seven Shots and Backs on Backers providing the biggest football thrills since January, tonight's game is pretty exciting.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Hartman did a nice write up about what to watch for in terms of Steelers personnel tonight.  What else should be on fans' radar as they sit down to enjoy the first preseason game?

Players who won't be on the field

While football is less exciting without QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le'Veon Bell, WR Antonio Brown, TE Heath Miller, C Maurkice Pouncey, and LB James Harrison, it is also more relaxing since we won't need to worry about these core players getting injured.

The Vikings also have some players sitting out due to injury and other factors: LB Anthony Barr, WR Gavin Lutman, FB Zach Line, C Joe Berger, G David Yankey, DE B.J. Dubose, and DE Scott Crichton. RB Adrian Peterson is not expected to play, though the Vikings' are likely to play some of their higher-profile players more than the Steelers plan to.

The Landry Jones experiment continues

OTAs and minicamp brought news of Jones' dismal performance in the role of QB, causing many fans to wonder, "When will this experiment finally end???" Jones appears to be on the upswing during training camp, playing more consistently and appearing less incompetent than he did earlier in the offseason. Tonight, Jones will have a chance to prove deserves a spot on the team. With Bruce Gradkowski out with a shoulder injury, Jones' chances of securing a spot have increased greatly, but it would be more reassuring to fans if Jones appeared to earn and deserve his spot instead of hanging out on the roster by default.

Steelers secondary v. Teddy Bridgewater

What do Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater and the Steelers secondary have in common? They are weak links for their respective teams. With the Steelers secondary likely depending on rookie standouts to fill in the gaps, their performance tonight will be one of the most closely watched. Who is on the other end of the equation? Why, its Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings passing game. Who will come out on top? Both Bridgewater and the Steelers secondary have a lot to lose, as Bridgewater will not want to be embarrassed by the Steelers unit in transition, while the Steelers secondary will not want to be picked apart by Bridgewater.

Another factor in this equation is the state of the Steelers pass rush. A more effective pass rush will help out the secondary quite a bit.

Steelers sleepers?

We are all on the lookout for unproven talent who will help propel the Steelers defense to excellence and those who will be able to help on the offensive side of the ball as well.   At training camp, the usual suspects have been the subject of media coverage and speculation: Anthony Chickillo, Alejandro Villanueva, Bud Dupree, Jesse James and Gerod Holliman to name a few.

Here are a few other names of note: Miles Dieffenbach, B.J. Finney, Kevin Fogg, B.W. Webb, Niko Davis, Jawon Chisholm, Aldon Darby, and Ian Wild. Tonight is a chance for some of these less-known players to show they can contribute to the Black & Gold and worth keeping around.

Familiar faces wearing purple

The purple we are most accustomed to during the regular seasons are our enemies to the south- the Baltimore Ravens. The purple we encounter tonight will include at least one familiar face-- WR Mike Wallace. Wallace was with the Steelers from 2009-2012 before heading to Miami, where he played before joining the Vikings this offseason.

Wallace has not matched the productivity he had with the Steelers in 2010 and 2011, seasons in which he tallied over 1,100 yards.  In 2010 Wallace had 10 completions for over 40 yards. Compare that to his 2014 performance with the Dolphins where he only had two such plays. The Dolphins QB situation could have something to do with that, but Wallace was already on the decline during his last season with the Steelers during which he tallied only 836 yards and his average was only 13.1 yards, down from 21.0 in 2010.

The second familiar face is former Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson, the force behind the Riverdance Stagger Step moves that frustrated fans to no end. The Steelers running backs coach is James Saxon, who came to us from the Vikings where he coached Adrian Peterson to some astoundingly productive seasons. Given the astoundingly dramatic improvement in Le'Veon Bell's level of play, it is safe to say that the Steelers ended up with the better coach.

And, let's not forget Mike Tomlin was the former defensive coordinator for the Vikings the year before he was hired by the Steelers. The match up tonight isn't quite like playing Steelers West, but there are several notable connections between the two teams.

The Vikings have been known to kill it in the preseason

This reminds me a bit of the Bengals. Unable to bring their A+ game when it really counts. Sure, the Bengals don't tank until the post-season, while the Vikings tend to struggle as soon as real games start. Last year, the Vikings won all four of their preseason games, only to finish the regular season with a losing 7-9 record.

The Steelers play the Vikings on NBC tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Be sure to join Dani Bostick and Chris Carter for a SteelCast half-time mini-podcast on Blog Talk Radio and post-game analysis later in the evening.