Time To Win

LONDON -- The term being thrown around here to describe today's meeting between the winless Steelers and Vikings is a soccer term: Relegation game.

If you understand the English Premier League, you get the joke.

Of course, the loser of today's game will hardly be kicked out of the NFL, but it will be a long trip home for them from the hallowed grounds of Wembley Stadium.

"Is there any more famous soccer stadium than Wembley?" Steelers safety Troy Polamalu asked rhetorically. "I really don't think so. Manchester United, you really can't get any more popular than that. Maybe the Spanish clubs at this time. But historically, maybe not."

Polamalu said his favorite soccer team is Barcelona -- "I'm jumping on the bandwagon -- and his favorite player is Messi.

Polamalu, obviously, enjoys the game of futbol, the English name for American soccer.

"I do," Polamalu said. "The reason I like soccer a lot is because every score is something super spectacular. There has to be so many perfect, beautiful, moving parts in order for somebody to score. It's the most exciting game in the world, really."

Polamalu was not surprised to hear that the Irish sharply criticized American football for what called "endless stoppages" back in 1997 when the Steelers played in Dublin. But today's game at Wembley Stadium has sold out. Steelers Nation, no doubt, will sit in most of the 86,000 seats.

Does playing at Wembley Stadium mean anything to most of the other Steelers?

"Nope," said free safety Ryan Clark.

Did Clark play soccer growing up?


Would he rather play the game in Minnesota?

"Nope," Clark said, before giving it a second thought. "Well, yes. In the sense that your work week stays the same the whole way through and it's something that you're used to doing and you're right back home after the game, I would. But in the sense of being in Minnesota's home field, it is difficult sometimes playing in other places, not for defensive guys, but it gets loud for the offense and different things like that. So I think we do gain an advantage not actually playing an away game on somebody else's field."

Clark's expecting a pro-Steelers crowd, but that's not what he saw at the end of last Sunday night's game at Heinz Field, when Chicago Bears fans filled the lower sections after Steelers fans had filed out late in another loss.

It was the reverse of what Clark has seen over the years at Steelers away games.

"It just means we're not playing very well," he said. "It was extremely noticeable, obviously, but also it was embarrassing.

When you know you have as strong a fan base as we have, and then the product you're putting out on the field allows them to leave the game early, you have to be better than that."

The Steelers will have to stop reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson today. He's the running back behind a replacement quarterback, Matt Cassel, with whom the Steelers have become familiar. Cassel has quarterbacked the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs a combined three times against the Steelers. His only win came in 2009 with the Chiefs, 27-24 in overtime.

"He's a very capable quarterback," Clark said. "He has a strong arm, a good pocket presence. The difference is, he won't be as mobile as (Christian) Ponder. I think it would kind of change what they do. They're a misdirection pass team, a boot-type pass team, play-action. He's going to be a guy who sits more in the pocket. But he gives them an opportunity to go deep more than Ponder."

Cassel's receivers are Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings, with rookie first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson off the bench. Kyle Rudolph is the Vikings' tight end. The Vikings' offensive line has allowed the more mobile Ponder to be sacked 10 times, or just as often as Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked through three games.

The Vikings' passing game will work if Peterson gets rolling like he did a year ago, when he averaged 6.0 yards per carry on his way to 2,097 rushing yards (131 per game). This season, Peterson's averaging 4.1 yards per carry and 94 yards per game.

"He makes their play-action game so tough," Clark said. "Other than the pump play against Cincinnati, we haven't had any plays happen down the middle. We haven't had a lot of dig routes or posts, but this team does that. This team sends people there, so I can't get sucked in, and when you're playing against a guy like Adrian Peterson, my thinking is I want to be in the run as fast as possible. You don't want to have to make that open-field tackle against the best back in the world."

The Steelers hope to begin developing their own dynamic play-action game by developing their 6-1 running back, Le'Veon Bell, who's just as tall as Peterson but 15 pounds heavier. Bell's making his first start after spraining his LisFranc ligament during the second preseason game.

The injury stymied the Steelers' implementation of outside zone blocking plays, which the Vikings call often for Peterson.

Clark was asked if that work during the spring and summer has prepared the defense for Peterson.

"I don't think so," he said with a chuckle. "When you play Adrian, it's like 'Are you ready for LeBron?' It's just that simple. He's built differently than we are, and even though he's so talented, he still works like he's not. He works like an undrafted free agent. So he continues to get better, and that's scary."

Scary, like a relegation game.

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