Longwell faces a windy challenge

Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell has been in the NFL long enough to kick in all sorts of challenging conditions, but the legend of Heinz Field takes things to a new level. Longwell explains his approach to the kicking game in changing conditions.

There are few Vikings that are looking forward to heading into Pittsburgh Sunday to play the defending champion Steelers, a team back on track after dropping two of its first three games. They're looking a lot like the team that won its second Super Bowl in the last five years and will be the Vikings' most formidable challenge to date.

One player will have an interesting matchup Sunday that he isn't looking forward to is kicker Ryan Longwell, who will have his own opponent in a 60-minute battle with Heinz Field.


The aura of Heinz Field in terms of how it treats kickers is similar to the way pit bulls treat cats. Since the stadium opened in 2001, no kicker has ever made a field goal of more than 50 yards. Due to its design, winds swirl and are especially brutal in its open end, making every long field goal an adventure. Longwell said from the kicker perspective, it's a challenge.

"They angled the stadium so it was open on one end so you can see the river," Longwell said. "You get a lot of wind coming in through that end of the stadium and it makes it difficult to kick. A lot of times the footing isn't very good, because they play some high school and (University of Pittsburgh) college games on that field. It gets pretty beat up. You try not to take too much information out there with you. You just assess the situation at that moment and make the kick how you feel at the time, because it always changes, and hope you guess right."

But Longwell is no stranger to kicking in wind. Playing for a team that sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and going once a year to Chicago to play another team whose stadium sits almost on the shores of Lake Michigan, he's had more than his share of kicks into gale force winds and over the years became something of a football meteorologist and mathematician when it came to launching a ball off his foot.

"At Soldier Field and Lambeau, there have been times I've aimed field goals five or 10 yards outside the goal posts to get the ball to bend back," Longwell said. "Having experience with those kind of conditions has made me pretty good at judging the wind. The thing about Heinz Field is that we don't play there very often, so we'll have to do our work only in the pregame."

Longwell said the legend of Heinz Field is real, but he thinks it might be a bit overblown. Granted, there are reasons why nobody has made a field goal of more than 50 yards, but he said it's just as much part and parcel to the types of games the Steelers have tended to play over the years – field position battles that see most of the scoring coming on long, sustained drives. The legend has grown not because of an enormous number of misses, but because the legend has helped cut down on the attempts.

"When you get into games where wind is a factor like it is at Heinz Field or Soldier Field, it becomes much more of a field-position game," Longwell said. "A lot is said about never having a 50-yard field goal in Heinz Field. I think the reason for that is there aren't a lot of attempts. The style the Steelers play, both teams are more likely to punt the ball and try to play field position that doesn't risk putting the ball on the 40- or 41-yard line if you miss a field goal."

If the moment comes that the Vikings might need to test the legend of Heinz Field late in the half or the game, Longwell said he isn't going to get caught up in how the flags on the goal posts are waving or the nonexistent track record of success. He's just going to go with what he feels at the moment.

"No matter what the flags are doing, you go with the last breath of wind that hits the back of your neck," Longwell said. "Whatever that is, go with it."


  • Antoine Winfield was the only Viking who didn't take part in Wednesday's indoor practice. However, several other players were limited – running back Adrian Peterson (ankle), wide receivers and return men Percy Harvin (shoulder) and Darius Reynaud (hamstring), safety Madieu Williams (quadriceps) and safeties Husain Abdullah (back) and Eric Frampton (ankle).

  • While most of the attention on the injury front is being centered on Winfield, the potential of being without both of their return men (Harvin and Reynaud) has to be disconcerting for special teams coach Brian Murphy. Don't be surprised to see Bernard Berrian getting some work during practice as an insurance policy.

  • Three Steelers didn't practice Wednesday – safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Hines Ward and DE Travis Kirschke – but all three were given the day off for what was termed "not injury related."

  • The only player listed on the injury report as actually being injured was running back Rashard Mendenhall, who was limited with what is described as a knee injury. His inclusion seems a little ironic, since just Tuesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin announced that, despite being healthy, former starter Willie Parker would continue to back up Mendenhall. So much for the "you don't lose a starting job due to injury" mantra.

  • It's been a tough couple of weeks for John David Booty. Cut last week to make room for offensive lineman Clint Oldenburg on the practice squad, Booty was re-signed after Oldenburg was used primarily as a practice guinea pig for practice reps. As a result of the Winfield injury, the team added cornerback DeAndre Wright to the practice squad. To make room for him, Booty was cut again. However, once again, his locker had not been cleaned out, lending to speculation that, at some point, he will be re-signed again.

  • Former Vikings wide receiver Nate Jones was cut by St. Louis Wednesday after the Rams claimed offensive lineman Phil Trautwein off the Cleveland practice squad.

  • Bears linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is expected to be done for the season after suffering a knee injury. The Bears already lost Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher for the season.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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