Sometimes interconference games in the NFL can be tough to predict. In fact, considering these two teams rarely face one another, it takes fans a lot of study just to get to know the opponent.
Here at BTSC, I was able to reach out to Christopher Gates of The Daily Norseman, SB Nation’s Minnesota Vikings website, to ask him some questions about the upcoming game.
Check out the interview below, and get the lowdown on the Vikings.
The Minnesota Vikings certainly turned some heads on Monday night against the Saints. In your opinion, when looking at the new-look roster for 2017, what is the strength of both the offense and defense this year?
I think the strength of the Vikings' offense this year might just be their receiving corps and the targets they present for Sam Bradford. Players like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen really aren't household names outside of Minnesota at this point, but they can both get open and they can both do damage after the catch. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is always going to be a red-zone presence and the team has a group of capable pass catchers that will hold down the third receiver spot until Michael Floyd returns from suspension in Week 5. Throw in a group of running backs that can actually catch the ball out of the backfield and there's a lot for opposing defensive coordinators to process.
As far as the defense is concerned, I think the strength is definitely the front four on defense. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are as good a pair of pass rushers as there are in the NFL from the end spots, and Linval Joseph has developed into a force in the middle. The team also has decent depth across the defensive line, allowing them to rotate players in and keep guys fresh late in games when they need to get to the quarterback.
Was that really Sam Bradford I saw on Monday night? Are Vikings fans sold on him as the consistent answer at least for this year, or is he just a stopgap solution until Bridgewater is hopefully able to return?
Bradford has always had the ability to get the ball down the field. I know his stats show a lot of short passes and low yards per attempt, but when he's given time to allow plays to develop and go through his progressions, he can get the ball down the field as well as any quarterback in the league with pretty incredible accuracy. The contract situation with Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater is going to be one of the stories that defines this season for the Vikings. Both of those guys, technically, are free agents after this season but, with Bridgewater's contract and the language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there's a chance his contract could roll over into next season. While some Vikings fans have chosen sides when it comes to Bridgewater and Bradford, I think most of us just want whoever is lining up behind center in any given week for this team to go out and perform well. Bridgewater is ineligible to come back until after the first six games, and I think the only way you're going to see him replace Bradford this season is if Bradford starts to struggle. If the offensive line can continue performing well, I don't know if you'll see Bradford struggle or not.
The Vikings have a new offensive line. What are expectations for this unit, and how did they handle themselves in Week 1?
It was hard not to be impressed by the way the line looked in Week 1. They have four new starters and one holdover starter from last season (right guard Joe Berger) is playing a different position (he started at center last year). Against a Saints' defensive line that’s admittedly nowhere near the level of what the Steelers are going to be bringing on Sunday, Bradford was hit just twice in 36 drop-backs, and after the tire fire that the Vikings tried to pass off as an offensive line last year, that was nice to see. The Vikings don't need this team to suddenly jump to the level of teams like the Cowboys or anything like that. They just need to reach a level of not being totally awful every week, and the Vikings have enough talent at the skill positions where they'll be able to take advantage of improvement in the level of offensive line play. That's really what we're looking for from the line at this point.
The Steelers possess a plethora of weapons, maybe more than any other team in the NFL. In your opinion, what is the Vikings’ approach to limit the damage done by the likes of Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger?
I think Antonio Brown is going to be seeing a lot of Xavier Rhodes on Sunday. Brown is probably the best wide receiver in the game right now, and if Rhodes isn't the NFL's best corner, his name is definitely on the short list. I think that's going to be a fascinating matchup to watch. As far as Bell is concerned, the Vikings need to remain disciplined up front and follow their assignments. Bell is known for his patience, and if the Vikings find themselves out of position he's going to take advantage. The most important thing is going to be getting to Roethlisberger and, when the Vikings get to him, they need to put him on the ground. We know Roethlisberger is a magician when it comes to escaping sacks, and if the Vikings miss he's going to improvise and take advantage. A week after doing a solid job against a very good New Orleans offense, the Vikings are going to get another stiff test with the Steelers.
This is a tough game to predict. Because it’s an interconference matchup, I’d be curious to know how you think this game will unfold at Heinz Field.
As much as I would love to pick the Vikings in this one, going into Heinz Field and taking down a team that went to the AFC Championship Game last season is a pretty tall order. I think this is going to be a close, relatively low-scoring contest, and it's probably going to come down to who gets the ball last. I think a lot of people had this game chalked up as a Minnesota loss when the schedule came out, and even after the performance the team put together on Monday night, I still think that's what's going to happen. I'll take the Steelers by a count of 23-20.