NFL in London Guide: Pittsburgh Steelers vs Minnesota Vikings

This Sunday Wembley goes gridiron as the Pittsburgh Steelers meet the Minnesota Vikings in the first of the NFL’s 2013 International Series. We take a look at the game for new UK fans, and point out some things to look out for.

How good are these teams?

The International series has had a bit of a track record of uneven matchups, with the New England Patriots whitewashing the St Louis Rams last year, and bottom of the chart Jacksonville Jaguars set to play last year’s Super bowl runners-up the San Francisco 49ers in October. Both teams are looking pretty shaky and on a losing streak which they will be desperate to break, so while Wembley may not be showcasing the very best in American Football talent this Sunday, it should be a close fought game.

“while Wembley may not be showcasing the very best in American Football talent this Sunday, it should be a close fought game”

Are the Steelers getting too rusty?

The Steelers are a pedigree team from the early days of the NFL that has recently fallen on hard times. As Quarterback ‘Big Ben’ Ben Roethlisburger begins to enter the twilight of a pretty successful career, the rest of the team is ageing and fragmenting, while new talent has yet to come forward and bed down and even a strong Defence hasn’t been enough to stop the slide to the bottom of the AFC North, with even the Cleveland Browns above them.

 

Can the Vikings bounce back?

The Vikings did well in 2012 but so far 2013 has seen them languishing in last place in a tough NFC North division behind the competitive Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and current hot favourites the Chicago Bears. Minnesota star Adrian Peterson is one of the NFL’s most talented Running Backs, and the team has managed to score points, but a poor Quarterback and unimaginative play calling have let them down. They’re featured at around 30 of 32 in most Power Rankings, with only the gently imploding Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars to keep their modesty intact.

 

Which team will break their losing streak first?

It’s Week 4 of the season and both teams are 0-3, and if fingers aren’t on panic buttons yet they probably should be, and neither will want to go 0-4 in Week 4.While neither the Steelers or the Vikings may be the best teams in the NFL or even their own conference divisions, they are going to be no less determined to break the losing streak and try to turn their seasons around after a poor start. Our money is on the Vikings.

 

Will Quarterback Christian Ponder start for the Vikings?

Vikings QB Christian Ponder has endured some fairly strong criticism this season both from media and fans who went as far as booing him at the Vikings home stadium last week. So far this season Ponder has thrown five interceptions, has only managed to pass for a touchdown twice and is also being criticised for unimaginative play calling. To add injury to insult he’s also nursing bruised ribs. If he takes the field on Sunday he’ll be playing for his job, in front of a crowd who may not necessarily know who he is.

 

Can the Pittsburgh Steelers Offence start firing?

The Steelers still have a strong Defensive team, but it can’t turn the ball over or generate interceptions, and when the Offensive team does come out onto the field they haven’t been spectacular. The frequency with which Offensive Line players are rotated on and off the field may be preventing them from gelling, and   struggling to stop the pass rush, protecting QB Ben Roethlisburger, a talented top 10 Quarterback who has struggled in recent years. Tight End Heath Miller is slowing down, but is still a player not to underestimate.  Rookie Running Back Le’Veon Bell has shone at times, despite a foot injury. All told, the Pittsburgh Offense is a bit of a lucky dip right now.

 

Can Big Ben and the Steelers Defence cope with the Vikings Pass Rush?

Although the Vikings have a powerful pass rush (the ability to get across the line of scrimmage quickly and put pressure on the QB, giving him less time to pass, or even tackle him) it’s struggled in the last few games. Defending against the rush is an area the Steelers have struggled with recently, although QB Ben Roethlisburger is notoriously hard to tackle and bring down. Look out for Vikings Defensive End Jared Allen and watch Roethlisburger as he makes his passes. The Steelers will want to protect Ben but if he’s brought down with the ball a few times then the momentum is clearly shifting away from them.

Can Adrian Peterson carry the day?

After a recovery of biblical proportions from a season ending ACL/MCL tear in 2011, the ‘Purple Jesus’ finished 2012 just 208 yards shy of the the record for a running back in a single season,  (2,105). Not one to be discouraged, he’s now aiming for 2,500 rushing yards. He’ll want to rack up plenty on Sunday and the Vikings (never one for particularly dynamic play) will be happy to oblige.

Steelers Vikings Crib Sheet

Vikings Players to Watch

  • QB Christian Ponder (7) if he plays, he’ll need to play well.
  • QB Matt Cassel (16) if he plays, he’s got a chance to grab the starting spot.
  • DE Jared Allen (69) can he contain the Steelers offence?
  • Greg Jennings (15) Vikings Wide Receiver who’ll be looking to
  • Adrian Peterson (28) Is going to want to run and run.

Steelers Players to Watch

  • QB Ben Roethlisburger (7)
  • RB Le’Veon Bell (26)
  • TE Heath Miller (83)
  • SS Troy Polamalu (43)

Watch out for…

Pittsburgh fans are some of the most dedicated away fans in the NFL. Watch out for fans holding their somewhat iconic big yellow ‘Terrible Towel’

Crowd Noise

Most fans keep it quiet when their Offence is lining up so that the QB can be heard directing his team-mates. Equally it’s expected of fans to roar away when the away Offence come on, increasing the chances of the QB needing to use a silent count, being misheard and mistakes being made. With 84,000 keen NFL fans attending, Wembley should be loud and neither side will be likely to have a home field advantage.

Bags under the eyes

Both teams have had long flights to get here, with the Vikings arriving mid-week and the Steelers flying in on thursday. Lets hope the full english buffet breakfast hasn’t kept them awake.