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5 Vikings-Steelers Storylines to Follow

Posted Sep 13, 2017

Two teams who both won their 2017 debuts will meet at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Sunday, with the Vikings looking to stay hot against a Steelers team that earned a road win in Cleveland last weekend. Here are five storylines to follow this week.

1. Vikings offense faces step up in defensive class

The Vikings offense was on fire in Week 1. They enter Week 2 ranked first in 3rd down efficiency (64.3%), second in yards (470) and tied for fifth in points (29). Quarterback Sam Bradford authored a career-best passer rating (143.0), Adam Thielen trails only Antonio Brown with 157 receiving yards and Dalvin Cook trails only Kareem Hunt with 127 rushing yards. Bradford was sacked just once and the new-look offensive line was in synch. With all due respect to the New Orleans Saints defense, though, the Vikings offense is facing a steep upgrade in class this week. Pittsburgh has been one of the NFL’s best defenses in each of the last several seasons and they will be buoyed by a home crowd that will be especially amped up for the home opener.

2. Vikings defense faces another future Hall of Fame Quarterback

The quarterback carousel spins and once against the Vikings will see a future Hall of Famer on game day. Last week it was Drew Brees and this week it’ll be Ben Roethlisberger. The differences this week include the fact the Vikings defense won’t have the help of a home crowd and the opposing offense will have a better supporting cast around the quarterback. The Saints and Steelers offensive lines are comparable, although the nod would likely go to Pittsburgh, but the weapons around the passer at better for Big Ben. Le’Veon Bell is arguably the best all-around back in the NFL, Brown is arguably one of the best receivers in the NFL, tight end Jesse James is coming off a two-touchdown game and the other pass catchers include field-stretcher Martavis Bryant and sneaky-good slot receiver Eli Rogers.  

3. Short week, Steelers home opener adds to challenge of preparation

Preparing for the Steelers is hard enough under normal circumstances. Throw in the fact it’s their home opener and it’s a shortened week for the Vikings, and the challenge is about as steep as it gets for a regular season game. The Vikings not only have one fewer day than usual to prepare because their game was on a Monday night, but they have to spend one of their prep days traveling from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh. These won’t qualify as excuses in Mike Zimmer’s book; he’ll expect his team to be ready to play regardless. But they are facts of the matter and it makes Sunday’s game that much more interesting.

4. Xavier Rhodes vs. Antonio Brown

The key individual matchup of the game appears to be an epic one – Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes against Brown. Both are about as respected as anyone else at their respective positions and both are always up for top-shelf challenges such as this one. Rhodes shadowed Saints top receiver Michael Thomas last week and he’s shadowed other team’s top threats in the past, including Odell Beckham, Jr., Julio Jones and Jordy Nelson. Brown has every tool a receiver can have and that’s allowed him to produce at an elite level, even against some of the NFL’s best defenses and cornerbacks. An interesting dynamic to this matchups is that both Rhodes and Brown attended Norland High School in Miami, Florida.

5. Dalvin looks to do it again

It was quite an impressive debut for Dalvin Cook. Upstaged during the week by the storyline of Adrian Peterson’s return to the Minnesota, Cook stole the show during the game and finished with 127 yards rushing on 22 carries, a performance that included runs of 32 and 33 yards in the 4th quarter as the Vikings were putting the game away. This week, he and the offensive line face a Steelers defense that was stingy against the run in Cleveland last week, allowing only 2.0 yards per carry to Browns running backs. Once again, the opponent features a running back (Bell) who commands a lot of attention and Cook will look to shift the focus once he gets on the field and starts