By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) are looking at a critical situation in their 2013 NFL Season. They need their first win and they will have to shut down Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings on foreign soil to do so.
After arriving in London, Friday, the Steelers didn’t take time to sight see. They were all business, going to work by holding a press conference with the international press and then straight to practice. The Vikings (0-3) are also looking for their first win of the season, which is why Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been talking about handling the business end of the Steelers’ responsibility before enjoying time in a new city in a much different time zone.
Fortunately, the Steelers look to be close to 100 percent as far as injuries go and should be near full strength when they enter Wembley Stadium to play in front of fans who traditionally celebrate a different kind of football.
Minnesota traveled earlier in the week, but Tomlin wanted the Steelers to focus on their game plan and the familiar practice environment.
“I value normalcy in the early portions of the week from a preparation standpoint and from a practice standpoint,” said Tomlin. “This is just a road game for us. We are happy to represent the NFL in international play, but in terms of what it is that we are doing, our level of focus and the things that we need to do in preparation and in play, it’s just a road game for us.”
Linebacker Chris Carter agreed. “This isn’t a vacation, the game just happens to be in London. At the end of the day we are still playing the Vikings and have to get a victory and bring it back.”
The one player who is the biggest question mark for the Steelers when they face the Vikings is Heath Miller. Miller returned last Sunday to play in a limited capacity against the Chicago Bears. Miller’s knee kept him out of practice on Wednesday and limited on Thursday, but he was able to participate fully on Friday. Even if Miller is able to play Sunday, the Steelers will most likely continue to work him into the lineup as needed to help him get more comfortable on the field.
News that rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, a highly-anticipated draft choice in 2013, would be available Sunday had internet message boards a-buzz. Bell has yet to play a down in the regular season due to a foot sprain, but showed promise during the preseason. Bell was a full participant in practices this week. He hasn’t been officially given the starting role, but understands what is expected of him.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Bell. “I’m going to be able to play and keep moving forward…I just can’t wait to go out and show people what I can do.”
With Bell in the lineup, Isaac Redman will likely not be active for the Steelers. That leaves Felix Jones, who was shaken up during the game against the Bears, and Jonathan Dwyer who looked to have understood exactly what a second chance at playing for Pittsburgh looks like.
The running game has the opportunity for big improvement this weekend. Minnesota currently ranks 21st in run defense and have allowed 114.0 yards-per-game this season.
“I have to be confident in myself to go out and help the run game,” said Bell. “Whenever my number is called I am going to be ready to provide for my team.”
Steelers guard Ramon Foster will take on a stronger leadership role for the Steelers offensive line. After offensive co-captain and center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season, Foster stepped up. Foster knows the offensive line is young and went to Tomlin for advice.
“We are young…so I just wanted to ask him what parameters and how to go about things,” said Foster. “We all know how to lead, but you can always get advice…”
He will focus on keeping things simple and reinforcing the necessary assignments and expectations. At times the offensive line has struggled and Foster looks to be the communicator this week.
Kelvin Beachum came in for Marcus Gilbert against the Bears and, although he has not been moved up on the depth chart, he has shown to be a reliable blocker and could be utilized more against the Vikings.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could use a bit more protection. Against Chicago, Roethlisberger was responsible for turning over the ball four times. It could be argued that one fumble that was turned into a touchdown for the Bears was caused by poor pass protection. It could also be disputed as to whether one interception could have been prevented if receiver Jerricho Cotchery had continued his route or knocked the ball to the turf. At this point, it doesn’t matter who should have been responsible – the Steelers just can’t allow turnovers that kill drives and ultimately shoot themselves in the foot.
Roethlisberger was criticized this week for questioning the readiness of Bell at running back publicly when some insiders and fans felt he should have taken more personal responsibility for his own play. Putting any distractions behind them will only improve the overall play of the Steelers on Sunday. Roethlisberger completed 26-of-41 passes for 406 yards and the offense racked up the most total yards of offense (459 yards) in a game since 2009.
“I expect Ben to be better,” said Tomlin. “Ben expects himself to be better.”
Cornerback Cortez Allen has participated fully in practice this week and looks to have recovered from the ankle injury that has kept him out of the Steelers defensive backfield. Also on defense, Brett Keisel and Steve McLendon should be ready to go on Sunday. Keisel did not practice on Wednesday and has been trying to work out a hamstring injury.
Pittsburgh is coming off of a game where five turnovers killed any chance of a comeback over the Bears. Minnesota watched as the then winless Cleveland Browns defeated them 31-27 and their starting quarterback, Christian Ponder, leave the game with a fractured rib. The Vikings will start Matt Cassel on Sunday. Minnesota has lost its first three games for the second time in three seasons, but was on the winning side during their last four games in 2012 while the Steelers slid and knocked themselves out of post-season contention – finishing 8-8.
Roethlisberger was the death of many a fantasy roster last week, but put up good numbers. Starting him would be a better option than starting Cassel. Last season, Cassel spent his ninth year in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and posted a league-worst 66.7 passer rating. Cassel has been known to throw errant passes for interceptions against teams that get into his head early. Starting the Steelers defense could be a boon this week as long as they can shut down Adrian Peterson. If you have a two-defense league, you may want to use Pittsburgh as a backup. Antonio Brown looks to continue to be a viable receiver option. Brown caught nine passes for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns in week three. If the running game falters for Pittsburgh again this weekend, watch for Roethlisberger to look for Emmanuel Sanders as well downfield. While Bell is an exciting choice at running back, he has yet to prove that he is truly established, making him a risky choice for most fantasy rosters this week.
- CB Cortez Allen (ankle)
- RB Le’Veon Bell (foot)
- DE Brett Keisel (hamstring)
- DT Steve McLendon (hamstring)
- TE Heath Miller (knee)
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on