What We Learned: Vikings vs. Steelers Storylines

Posted Sep 27, 2013

The week of practice is over and the Vikings are nearly set to battle the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium in London. Here’s what we learned this week about the Vikings as they prepared to face the Steelers…

Cassel will start in place of an injured Ponder
Early in the Vikings week of practices it was revealed that quarterback Christian Ponder had a rib injury that occurred in last week’s loss to the Browns. From that point forward there was uncertainty about his status for this Sunday’s game against the Steelers. There is uncertainty no more. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier announced that backup Matt Cassel will start in place of Ponder.

This is exactly why the Vikings made signing a quality, experienced backup such a priority this past offseason. In signing Cassel, the Vikings satisfied that priority and now they can lean on a nine-year veteran with 62 starts under his belt. The Steelers likely prepared for both guys to start but they left the US for London on Friday morning (London time) and if they didn’t hear the news before taking off they’ll certainly hear of it upon landing.

How much of an impact this has on the game remains to be seen. Both quarterbacks would be considered pocket passers, but Ponder has more of a penchant to escape and make plays with his feet. That’s not to say Cassel isn’t mobile, however, because during training camp some of his best throws were on bootlegs and on the run.

Ultimately, though, this development makes the return of fullback Jerome Felton even more important, in my eyes. Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Vikings, the offense is predicated on running the football. Even what the Vikings like to do in the passing game is predicated on running the football with how often play-action and bootlegs are used. With Felton back in the mix, the Vikings running game figures to receive a spark and that will make life easier for Cassel in his first start as a Viking.


Steelers rookie running back Le’Veon Bell is likely to play on Sunday
The Steelers have been using a platoon of sorts at running back the last few seasons, but this past April they may have found a runner who can be the identity of their running game going forward by drafting former Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell in the 2nd round. But Bell has already been dealing with injuries – he had a bruised knee in training camp and then sprained a ligament in his foot after just four preseason carries.

Originally thought to be out of action well into the season, Bell has progressed quickly in his rehab and Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin indicated earlier in the week that Bell may play on Sunday against the Vikings. If he does, it could provide a spark to a Steelers offense that ranks 31st in the NFL with just 155 yards through three games and is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry.

Peterson: Felton is “A guy I can count on”
You get the sense being around the team this week that having fullback Jerome Felton return to the lineup is going to make a big difference for the Vikings run game. It’s not a startling revelation – he was a Pro Bowler last year and any time a team gets an all-star caliber player back it’s a big deal. For his part, Adrian Peterson didn’t shy away from expressing his feelings about Felton’s return when asked about it at his weekly press conference.

"Now I can say there is some type of confidence I feel just knowing what type of guy he is, knowing his approach and his mentality,” said Peterson, who has rushed for 281 yards and a NFL-leading three touchdowns on 69 carries this season. “He's a guy I can count on. It feels good to have him back.”


The Vikings are banged up in the secondary
It’s a challenge to battle Ben Roethlisberger when you have a fully healthy and capable secondary. But the Vikings will have to do it with a banged up secondary. Safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerbacks Chris Cook and AJ Jefferson suffered injuries in last week’s game, and all three players missed practice time this week. On Friday, the Vikings ruled Cook and Sanford out and listed Jefferson as probable. Cook and Sanford are starters, so their absence means the Vikings must rely on their depth to carry them through this game. Andrew Sendejo and Mistral Raymond will get more turns at safety, and both Jefferson and Marcus Sherels will see more of the field with Cook out. Sherels played well last week when he was thrust into action following the Cook and Jefferson injuries.

Click here for the full Vikings' injury report.