This week, after Adrian Peterson was held to 21 yards on 12 carries, the questions have followed about the Vikings' run offense, which also finished first in the league last year.
The explanations were varied. Peterson said the Steelers were poised to limit the running game.
"Yeah, to stop the run game, me and Chester (Taylor), those guys were stacking it up," Peterson said. "Those cornerbacks, as soon as they saw the run, they were coming in. We've got a balanced offense. When we come back with the hurt guys, if they want to put nine men into the box …"
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe also said that the team's success running the football has teams keying on that aspect of the offense this year.
"They were really expecting the run. We're a running team," Shiancoe said. "We're trying to be a balanced team. We're trying to establish the run to open up the pass and maybe we can turn to that passing game to open up the run now. You never know since everybody is expecting so much."
And several players and coaches pointed out how good the Steelers are against the run.
"They move a lot of guys around. They do a lot of stunting and twisting and we said if that's struggling for us, then we've got to be able to throw the ball," said quarterback Gus Frerotte. "It's football. Nothing's easy and you've got to work for everything you get."
For the preseason, Peterson is averaging 2.6 yards on 20 carries. But even the short gains are good gains in the mind of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
"Obviously, you want to continue to move the ball forward and if you're getting 2- or 3-yard plays, I'm OK with that," he said. "If you're averaging 5 yards, you're doing a great job – that's outstanding. If you have two plays of 2 yards, you're at third-and-6, where you'd like to be. … The run game, it doesn't have to go for 50-yard chunks."
After last season, Peterson and the coaching staff worked on improving his patience to set up blocks. So far, both the player and the offensive coordinator think that has gotten better.
"I think so, as far as being patient and being in sync with the offensive line, I think I took giant steps at that. There is still room where I can improve and different reads and things like that. That's what I'm focusing on," Peterson said.
Said Bevell: "I think he's done a nice job of trying to take the play where it's supposed to go. His ability will let him do all the other stuff."
Bevell also said he didn't sense any frustration from Peterson.
"Adrian is a very competitive guy. He wants every run to go for what's left and if he could, he'd have it that way. That's just not going to happen," he said. "The thing that he can't do, he can't get frustrated. He has to continue to read out every play. He's not going to make a big play by himself. There are going to be 10 guys to help him do that, so as long as he stays with the schemes, he'll be fine."
One advantage Peterson didn't have Saturday was being able to stay in the game and wear down the Steelers' first-team defenders. By the middle of the third quarter, Peterson was done for the night and so were Pittsburgh's starters on defense.
"It's a playoff team, so we knew what to expect. In games like this, it's going to come down to the fourth quarter," Peterson said. "We stayed in it and kept pushing it and we came out in the second half with a good drive and really got into the groove, and that's what our offense is all about. It's going to be like that when you play a playoff-caliber team.
"We came out, started pretty slow and hurt ourselves, put ourselves in a bad position. But we were able to come back and execute."
The other X-factor in the running game's struggles on Saturday could have been the absence of three key players in the passing game – quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and wide receiver Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice. Without them, the threat to break the pocket and hit a deep pass diminished.
"I think that gave them a little edge," Peterson said.