Answer Man

Is the Steelers' offensive line for real? And if it is, how will it deal with crowd noise? And the Vikings? Who are these Vikings anyway and how are they doing it? The Answer Man knows.

JW: The offensive line played so well last Sunday, Answer Man, but are you worried that had more to do with the muddy surface than an improvement in skills and efficiency?

AM: No. Mud sometimes makes things more difficult. The defensive guys had to play in the mud, too. Now, it did negate the quickness of guys like Ogunleye and Alex Brown, but by the same token it negates you coming off the ball real quick on run blocks. Whoever's trying to get the quick burst moving forward, it'll take some of that away, so no. To me it was the focus and the concentration and technique of those guys coming of the ball. We've seen it in practice this week, going at it in pads. I mean, they're really going at it. They're concentrating on the little things. I know it's cliché, but those little things that you focus on when you don't leave anything to chance is the difference between a successful running game and a not successful one.

JW: So it's OK to be optimistic about how well the line played last week?

AM: Absolutely. Absolutely. Very physical. Very nasty. They're more than capable.

JW: Therefore, the Pittsburgh Steelers should be feared down the stretch, shouldn't they?

AM: I think right now this team, which everyone was gunning for at the beginning of the year, I think now they've got an opportunity to stay a little bit under the radar. I think that's a good thing. Let everybody talk about Indianapolis and Cincinnati. It suits this team better. I think they like being disrespected. I think they like it when people don't give them credit. They seem to thrive in that situation as opposed to when they're the favorite and everybody's talking about them.

JW: While the line improved last week, they weren't dealing with crowd noise, which was a big problem for them in Indianapolis. Why will the Metrodome be any different?

AM: Noise is kind of an interesting thing. The main thing you have to do when you go into a domed stadium is to negate the crowd noise by either A.) not giving up a big play, or B.) making your own big plays. Crowds are fickle. If it's not going well, they don't have the momentum to sustain themselves in a frenzied pitch. But when the opening play goes for a touchdown to Marvin Harrison, boom, the fans were ignited; then a sack followed by one of the defensive linemen, boom, it builds like a snowball going downhill. I remember the game in Kansas City in 1993. It was so loud but Rod Woodson returned a punt return for a touchdown. Boom, that was the end of that. But if the home team puts together a series of big plays, then it gets bad. It's ugly then and they start gaining momentum.

JW: The Colts' pass rush fed off of that crowd noise. Can the Vikings come close to producing that kind of heat?

AM: No. There's no comparison. None of their four pass rushers are as good as the top four pass-rushers of Indianapolis. They're made differently. This isn't a team built on speed defensively. They're bigger. They stop the run from the inside going out. They're not slashers and penetrators. There aren't too many teams built like Indy. They're defensive line coach, Johnny Teerlinck, he wants slashers. He doesn't care how big you are. Robert Mathis is 230 but he's the fastest guy on the team. When Teerlinck talks to his personnel guys, he tells them he wants slashers. ‘Bring me slashers. We'll get them on the field.' These guys don't have anywhere near the team speed Indianapolis has.

JW: So how do you attack the Vikings?

AM: They're going to try to play it inside out. To my way of thinking, you can get on the perimeter on these guys. They don't have a lot of team speed. They're very opportunistic. Umm, they're just OK. There's nothing about their defense that would scare you.

JW: On offense, how are they scoring?

AM: They want to run the ball first with Michael Bennett. How are they scoring? They're scoring on defense and on returns. But they want to get the ball in Koren Robinson's hands. He's making plays. They want to get the ball in his hands. Brad Johnson doesn't have a real strong arm, throws a lot of lollipops, but he's smart and throws to where it needs to be.

JW: Is their rookie right tackle, Marcus Johnson, having a lot of trouble?

AM: It's not like he jumps out at you and you say, ‘Oh, boy, this guy stinks.' I'm looking more at schemes and how effective they are at running their schemes.

JW: It seems like the Vikings don't do anything really well, but they don't do anything really poorly, do they?

AM: They're very average. If you don't turn the ball over against them, you'll win this game.

JW: So your gut tells you the Steelers will win?

AM: Oh, my gut tells me they should win. They really shouldn't have trouble with them.

JW: People are calling this game the key game. Is it?

AM: The next game's always the key game. Remember that. It's only the key game because the Bears game is over with.

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