Vikings-Steelers Game Plan

The Vikings will be facing a particularly stingy run defense while the Vikings must be at their best in defending the Steelers' running game. Get the matchups to watch and the impact of the injuries.

The Vikings offense will get the first of three very difficult tests when it faces a Pittsburgh defense that is ranked eighth in the NFL. The Steelers' 3-4 alignment figures to present a far greater challenge for the Vikings than the Cleveland Browns' 3-4 look did last month.

"This is a move-around, high-octane, zone-dog football team," Vikings coach Mike Tice said of the Steelers defense. "You've got to make sure you don't try to get too cute offensively and make sure you're not edgy. What they want you to do is be edgy, because they have tremendous speed, quickness and tenacity."

The Steelers are especially tough against the run, ranking fourth in the NFL. The Vikings offense, coming off a subpar performance last Sunday against St. Louis, might be able to take advantage of the fact Pittsburgh is 21st against the pass.

The key will be getting the Steelers to respect the run in order to set up the Vikings' bread and butter, the play-action pass. If that doesn't happen, it could become a long day for quarterback Brad Johnson and Co.

The Vikings' work-in-progress offensive line also will have to be aware of a Steelers pass rush that gets much of its pressure by rushing OLBs Clark Haggans and Joey Porter.

The Pittsburgh offense gave the Vikings plenty to think about last Sunday, as veteran RB Jerome Bettis rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries in the second half against the Chicago Bears' top-ranked defense.

Playing in the comfort of the Metrodome, Pittsburgh could change its game plan, but it's unlikely QB Ben Roethlisberger is going to spend the day attempting to go after what has been a red-hot Minnesota secondary.

If Pittsburgh does keep the ball on the ground, look for RB Willie Parker to try to get to the outside and away from Vikings NT Pat Williams.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • Vikings rookie LT Marcus Johnson got plenty of help but also did a good job against Rams DE Leonard Little. He will get another test Sunday against Steelers OLB Clark Haggans. Haggans leads the Steelers with eight sacks, and picking him up will be one of the most difficult things for Johnson. Johnson also likely will get some assistance from Jim Kleinsasser, one of the top blocking tight ends in the NFL.

  • Either Napoleon Harris or Raonall Smith will start Sunday's game in place of LB Keith Newman. Whichever one gets the assignment will have to play a big role in containing Steelers TE Heath Miller, who is second on the team with 33 receptions and has caught six touchdown passes. The Vikings have had their trouble against tight ends this season, especially in the red zone, and Miller stands to have a big day if Newman's replacement struggles.

    INJURY IMPACT

    DT Kevin Williams returns after missing two games because of a knee injury. What will be interesting to see is if the time off did Williams any good. The 2004 Pro Bowl selection has looked lethargic and out of shape much of this season after undergoing off-season knee surgery. Williams was unable to work out much of the summer and as a result often was left removing himself from games or gasping for air. While Williams should start, rookie C.J. Mosley established himself as a quality inside presence, and the coaching staff won't hesitate to use the sixth-round pick.

    As one starter returns, the Vikings lose another. SLB Keith Newman, who provides a fiery presence on defense and also takes charge of certain on-field calls, is out for two weeks because of a knee injury. Napoleon Harris or Raonall Smith will replace Newman, but neither will bring the same type of presence.

    It remains unclear what type of role RB Mewelde Moore will play. Moore has only two carries in the past two games and was held out for much of the St. Louis game because of a strained right quadriceps. If coach Mike Tice continues to feel Moore isn't ready, Michael Bennett, or even Ciatrick Fason, could carry the load.


    STEELERS

    The Steelers returned to what they do best last week - run - and they want to do it to the Vikings as well. Willie Parker should be more effective on the turf indoors, too. The Steelers did not try any long passes last week, but QB Ben Roethlisberger's thumb is better, and he can cut loose, if necessary. Defensively, they will try to swarm the statue that is Brad Johnson, feeling that the Vikings' passing attack is the only way they can lose.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • Vikings RT Marcus Johnson vs. Steelers LOLB Clark Haggans. Rookie tackle will try to hold off Steelers' sack leader.

  • Vikings KR Koren Robinson vs. Steelers coverage team. Robinson has a touchdown and averages 26.6 yards on 40 kickoff returns. Steelers covered kicks well last Sunday but generally have not been good.

  • Vikings TE Jermaine Wiggins vs. Steelers SS Troy Polamalu. Wiggins leads the Vikings with 57 catches, although only for 8.8 yards on average. Polamalu may make All-Pro.

    INJURY IMPACT

    T Marvel Smith (ankle) is doubtful, which means rookie Trai Essex will probably make his third consecutive start on the left side.

    CB Deshea Townsend is questionable with a neck strain, but he practiced on Wednesday.


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