Jim Wexell: After the last couple of years I can barely stand a week of Brett Favre hype. How can you live there and take it all the time? No, seriously, just tell me if Favre's fancy passing is due to the poor opposition or playing so many games in domes. Does he really have as big an arm left as it appears?
Tim Yotter: To answer the first part of your question, the quarterbacking in Minnesota has left something to be desired for quite some time, so many people are willing to make sacrifices to the hype machine as a tradeoff for real NFL efficiency at the position. Favre may have survived the first couple of games because of a poorer level of competition while he got used to his offensive weapons and an offensive line with two first-year starters, including his center. He took a beating early on and still maintained pretty good play. Now he seems to be getting better protection and is playing even better. His arm is still very much alive and he's making as good of decisions as ever. He hasn't forced many balls, is enjoying having Adrian Peterson as his running back, and he's getting a really good feel for what each of his receivers is best at doing.
Yotter: Initial instincts can often be correct. Their best hope is to be able to get to Ben Roethlisberger early and often. Paymah wasn't in terrible position last week filling in for Winfield, but he wasn't making plays on the ball. Maybe he'll be more prepared this Sunday, although I'm not completely ready to rule out Winfield. He's a tough player and it wouldn't shock me to see him try to play. Because the Steelers will likely be putting a lot of three-wide looks on the field (why wouldn't they?), I'm guessing the Vikings will keep Benny Sapp in on the slot receiver and either Paymah or rookie Asher Allen on the outside if Winfield can't go. It will have to be an opportunistic effort because if Roethlisberger is given time, he should be able to throw for 350-plus. The key will be turnovers and red zone defense.
Wexell: The Steelers lost Aaron Smith, but I see the Vikings' right side of the OL is their weak side. Will they attack Aaron Smith's replacement?
Yotter: Rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt has proven to be a pretty good run blocker in his first season, but he's been battling an ankle injury. He held up well playing with it last week, but the Vikings' tendency has been to trust the left side of their line the most. They like to run over Steve Hutchinson's way in short-yardage plays, so I'd expect a good deal of that when they are really trying to pick up first downs.
Wexell: LaMarr Woodley kept a straight face when he said Loadholt has good feet. What's your opinion of the rookie RT?
Yotter: I think he has decent feet for a first-year guy, but upon drafting him the Vikings admitted that his feet aren't as quick as Bryant McKinnie's and therefore he's a right tackle all the way. He's massive, just like McKinnie, but the key for the Vikings offensive line will be communication in handing off stunts and picking up blitzes. They did a much better job with that last week against Baltimore's 3-4 defense, so we'll have to see if they can accomplish that two weeks in a row. They have played a lot of 3-4 teams already this year, which is a rarity for them.
Yotter: Well, Allen didn't have a four-sack game against the Ravens, if that's what they are meaning, but he's not overrated. He's very quick off the ball, relentless with his effort and finds ways to make big plays. Consider that he has gone five straight games with a sack, forced fumble or fumble recovery. He has 7.5 sacks, despite getting double teams on most passing downs, has forced three fumbles, recovered two (including one for a 52-yard touchdown), leads the team with seven tackles-for-loss and is tied with Kevin Williams for quarterback hurries (18). He's also a very underrated run-stopper, especially pursuing the ball carrier from the back side. I think the overrated nonsense is just Ravens rookie Michael Oher getting a little full of himself after a decent performance despite giving up a sack.