4 things the Steelers must do to beat the Minnesota Vikings
The Steelers arrive in Minnesota after a massive victory over a division rival in the Ravens. Still, a Thursday night trip to Minnesota is anything but easy. However, with the Steelers’ playoff hopes hanging over the next few games, most of those games are must-see games. What does Pittsburgh need to do to claim victory in the Twin Cities?
Slow down Justin Jefferson at all costs
The Steelers apparently face Dalvin Cook, who backs off with a dislocated shoulder. However, they won’t have to face Adam Thielen. With Cook still unlikely to be 100 percent, the Vikings are a bit more dangerous. Yet public enemy number one has always been and should be Justin Jefferson.
The LSU product has gone at breakneck pace behind a savvy skill set. His road racing and his real technical acumen are what takes his game from a good basic level to an elite level. There is a certain magnetism that a guy like Jefferson creates. He knows how to find free places. Jefferson just opens up, regardless of his male or area coverage. His natural explosive contractions and speed make him as dangerous as any receiver on the Steelers’ schedule this season.
To say the least, Jefferson is a game breaker who can easily turn the Steelers’ night into an absolute mess with speed. Especially without Joe Haden, Jefferson becomes a primary puzzle. The Steelers will have to put him on hold and try to limit his ability to defeat them. Apart from him, there aren’t a lot of great guns. Maybe Cook is a little healthier than one might suggest, but Jefferson’s ability to break games is what should grab Pittsburgh’s attention.
Najee Harris, the time is now
If the Vikings were thought to be mainstays of the race defense, this is simply not true. Without Danielle Hunter and a relatively weak inside defense line, the Vikings face a number of challenges in their run defense. The Vikings rank 29th in the NFL for ground defense as is.
However, the Vikings would have to stack the box and sell to stop Najee Harris. All they have to do is the Chargers, who didn’t do the same and were beaten in the air by Ben Roethlisberger. Vikings like to sit in a lot of Cover 2 concepts with two high safeties, but that could potentially change even over a short week. With the return of Patrick Peterson as well, that would give them more flexibility.
Still, this is the game Harris should shine on. He shone in the home stretch against the Ravens, running behind John Leglue and Dan Moore. These two must continue on their upward trajectory after a great game on Sunday to help Harris. If the Steelers are to control and win this one, Harris should be a big reason why.
Maximum power required
There is very little to say about TJ Watt. In fact, it could be an oxymoron in some ways. There is so much to say about the player he is, but so little to describe how awesome he really is. The guy is so naturally gifted with an absurd work ethic that he’s now as technically savvy as he can get. Watt is without a doubt a special player that every team has to sell to stop. Now in good health as well, Watt has thrown himself to the forefront of the Defensive Player of the Year run after an absurd performance against Baltimore.
At the very least, Watt is going to be a key factor in this game. However, with starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw on the sidelines for this one, Watt will get Vikings’ replacement tackle Oli Udoh at least on a few shots. Anytime there’s a backup tackle on Watt for a certain number of shots, it’s a recipe for disaster. The Vikings could fight their way in an attempt to help Udoh. Either way, if Watt gets more attention, it just opens the door for guys like Cam Heyward and Alex Highsmith to make big plays, too. Whenever Highsmith is there, that’s a plus for the Steelers as well.
The Steelers’ four forwards will be the most important factor defensively in this game. If they can shake up Kirk Cousins, odds are the Steelers can come home with a win.
Play the action, please
If the Vikings stack the box, as discussed earlier in the article, there is a clear way for the Steelers to put it right in their teeth and get explosive plays as a result. Passing and action play was one of the main reasons the Steelers were able to move the ball a little more successfully in the fourth quarter against the Ravens. Including a two-play streak for Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson where the Steelers simply marched down the field with ease for a touchdown, the passing play comes in handy for this offense.
Even though Ben Roethlisberger is not good at passing play, the point remains the same. The Vikings might want to use this aggressive strategy to stop Harris and the rushed attack, and that’s when the passing offense can hit them with playing action and attack them overhead. Expect this to appear at least once in the game and the Steelers to take advantage of it.