Are Steelers this year's signature game?

In 1998, the Vikings weren't considered a championship contender until they had a signature road win against another quality team. There are many similarities between the Packers game of 1998 and the Steelers game of 2009. Will the results be the same?

The last time there was this much buzz surrounding a Vikings team, they were being led by another quarterback lured out of retirement and brought in for the prospect of one last run at making it to a Super Bowl. That isn't the only parallel between the 1998 Vikings and the Vikings of 2009.

As the Vikings head into Pittsburgh, they boast a league-best 6-0 record. The defending champion Steelers will be the first team the Vikings will play this year in which they are an underdog. Pittsburgh is a four-point favorite at home and many expect the Vikings' perfect run will end and bring perverse joy to the members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who tend to celebrate the failures of teams striving to match their single-season perfection.

In 1998, the Vikings were 4-0 heading into Green Bay, but had done so by beating Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago – teams that would finish the 1998 season with a combined record of 21-43. It wasn't exactly a Murder's Row of opponents. While everyone was impressed with Minnesota's explosive offense, which was averaging 32 points a game, the general feeling was that until they beat someone impressive, the Vikings weren't a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Randall Cunningham had been lured out of retirement and stepped in during Week 1 and set the NFL world on fire. He finished the year with a passer rating of 106.0 and threw 34 touchdowns, many of them to a dynamic rookie named Randy Moss. In Week 5, the Vikings headed into Green Bay to face the powerhouse Packers and their maturing QB Brett Favre. He already had a Super Bowl win to his credit and the Packers were a preseason favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl that year. Beat the Packers and we'll start to believe was the line of thinking.

The Vikings went into Lambeau Field as unbeaten underdogs and put the boots to Green Bay, pounding them into submission 37-24 in a game that wasn't as close as the score would indicate, which still wasn't very close. Favre got benched in the second half and the Vikings went on to roll to six straight wins in a 15-1 regular season.

You get much the same sense heading into today's game. The Vikings are 6-0, but the teams they've beaten have a combined record of 11-23 – an almost identical losing percentage that the Vikings opponents had in 1998. They have beaten a couple of decent teams at home in the Packers, 49ers and Ravens, but none of them are viewed as elite teams right now. It would seem the Vikings have to prove themselves against a top opponent on the road in front of a large viewing audience to get the respect they're convinced that they deserve.

Will history repeat itself? We'll find that out later today.

VIKINGS-STEELERS BY THE NUMBERS

  • The Vikings have the 13th-rated offense in the NFL (9th rushing, 17th passing) and the 18th-ranked defense (9th rushing, 24th passing). The Steelers have the 5th-rated offense (15th rushing, 2nd passing) and the 3rd-ranked defense (2nd rushing, 12th passing).

  • The Steelers have outscored their opponents 38-6 in the first quarter this year.

  • Although they have outscored their opponents 124-57 in the first three quarters combined, Pittsburgh has been outscored 55-16 in the fourth quarter.

  • Few teams have better time of possession numbers than the Steelers, who have held the ball an average of 33:53, while allowing opponents an average of just 26:07.

  • The Vikings are tied for 12th in average gain per rush at 4.3 yards a carry. The Steelers are 21st at 3.9 yards per rushing attempt.

  • The Vikings offense is fourth in the league in interceptions per pass play with just two in 184 passes. The Steelers are 21st with six interceptions in 209 passes.

  • Both teams have allowed too many sacks. The Vikings are 20th in sacks allowed per pass play, while the Steelers are 21st.

  • Both teams are extremely efficient on third-down offense. The Vikings are third in the league, converting on 39 of 84 third-down situations (46.4 percent). Pittsburgh is seventh, converting on 31 of 69 chances (44.9 percent). The league average is a 37.6 percent conversion rate.

  • The Vikings remain among the best return teams in the league. The team is tied for fifth in punt return average and fourth in kickoff return average.

  • The Vikings are second in the league in points scored with 189. They trail only the Saints, who have scored 192 points, but in just five games. The Saints had their bye week in Week 5.

  • The Vikings have outscored their opponents 45-13 in the first quarter and 51-10 in the third quarter.

  • While the Steelers and Vikings are second and ninth respectively in run defense, the Steelers are 11th in yards per rush allowed (3.8) and the Vikings are 14th (3.9).

  • The Vikings defense is 10th in the league in interceptions per pass play, while the Steelers are mired at 25th.

  • The Vikings defense is second in the league in sacks per pass play, with Pittsburgh not far behind at eighth.

  • The Vikings defense has been much better in shutting teams down on third down than the Steelers. The Vikings are eighth in third-down defense, allowing teams to convert on just 25 of 74 third-down plays (33.8 percent). The Steelers are 26th, allowing teams to convert 33 of 79 chances (41.8 percent). The league average is 37.6 percent.

  • The Steelers are first in the league in opposing field goal percentage. Through six games, opponents have tried just nine field goals and made only five of them.

  • The Steelers are averaging 403.7 yards a game on offense (107 rushing, 296.7 passing). The Vikings are averaging 348.2 yards on offense (125 rushing, 223.2 passing).

  • Defensively, the Steelers are allowing 275.2 yards a game (74.5 rushing, 200.7 passing). The Vikings are allowing 341.8 yards a game (93.5 rushing, 248.3 passing).

  • The Steelers have allowed four return touchdowns – one on a kickoff, one on a fumble return and two on interceptions taken for a pick six.

  • The Vikings trail only the Saints (plus-9) in giveaway/takeaway ratio at plus-8 (12 takeaways, four giveaways). The Steelers are tied for 23rd place at minus-4 (eight takeaways, 12 giveaways.

  • The Vikings and Steelers have the league's two best red zone scoring offenses. The Vikings lead the league by scoring touchdowns on 65.2 percent of their red zone possessions (23 chances, 15 touchdowns). The Steelers are second at 65 percent (20 chances, 13 touchdowns).

  • The Vikings are second in the league in red zone defense, allowing just five touchdowns on 15 opponent red zone possessions (33.3 percent). The Steelers are 24th at 58.3 percent, allowing touchdowns on seven of 12 red zone possessions.

  • The Steelers have allowed just one rushing touchdown in six games this season.

  • The league average for starting field position following a kickoff is the 25.9-yard line. The Vikings are third in the league with an average starting position of the 30.5-yard line. The Steelers are fifth with an average starting position of the 29.5 yard line.

  • Defensively, the Vikings are 11th in average starting position following a kickoff – the 24.7-yard line. The Steelers are 31st, allowing opponents to open shop on average at the 31.1-yard line. Only the Lions (31.8-yard line) are worse.

  • So far this season, the Vikings have run 372 plays. Their opponents have run a total of 374 plays.

  • Ben Roethlisberger has three 300-yard passing games, while Brett Favre has one. The Vikings have allowed two of the top six passing games for a QB this season – 385 yards to Joe Flacco and 384 yards to Aaron Rodgers. The Steelers have not allowed a 300-yard passer this season.

  • Roethlisberger has thrown touchdown passes to seven different receivers this year. The only Steelers who have a reception and have yet to score a passing touchdown are Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed.

  • Favre has thrown two or more touchdown passes for four different receivers – Shiancoe, Rice, Harvin and Berrian.

  • Favre has 12 TD passes this year – seven to his wide receivers and five to Shiancoe.

  • The Steelers have five 100-yard receiving games – two each for Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and one for Mike Wallace. The Vikings have just one – Sidney Rice, who had 176 yards last week against Baltimore. The Vikings have allowed two 100-yard receivers, while the Steelers have allowed just one.

  • Adrian Peterson has two 100-yard rushing games this season. The Steelers have one from Rashard Mendenhall. Neither defense has allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.

  • Favre has the league's third-highest passer rating at 109.5. He is 12th in attempts (178), tied for eighth in completions (124), third in completion percentage (69.7), 14th in yards (1,347), 10th in average gain (7.57 yards), tied for third in touchdowns (12), second in touchdown percentage (6.7 percent), tied for fourth in interceptions (2) and fourth in interception percentage (1.1 percent).

  • Roethlisberger has the fourth highest passer rating in the league at 104.5. He is fifth in attempts (207), second in completions (150), second in completion percentage (72.5), first in yards (1,887), first in average gain (9.12 yards), tied for eighth in touchdowns (10), 13th in touchdown percentage (4.8 percent), tied for 26th in interceptions (6) and 23rd in interception percentage (2.9 percent).

  • Favre is ninth in the league in passer rating in the fourth quarter (109.1). Roethlisberger is 12th with a rating of 101.0. He has the highest completion percentage of any QB in the fourth quarter (82.1 percent, completing 32 of 39 passes), but has neither a touchdown nor an interception.

  • Favre is sixth in the league in third-down passing, with a passer rating of 98.1. Roethlisberger is a dismal 26th place, primarily because he is tied for the league lead with four third-down interceptions – tied for the dubious distinction with Jake Delhomme of Carolina and Derek Anderson of Cleveland.

  • Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing with 624 yards – 26 yards ahead of idle Chris Johnson and 93 yards ahead of Cincinnati's Cedric Benson. Rashard Mendenhall, despite not starting until three weeks ago, is 16th with 348 yards on just 68 carries (a 5.1 average). Willie Parker is 40th with 185 yards.

  • The two teams have six players in the top 50 in the league in receptions, with the decided advantage going to Pittsburgh. Hines Ward is tied with Steve Smith for first in the league with 41 receptions. Steelers tight end Heath Miller is eighth with 34 receptions and Santonio Holmes is tied for 21st with 28 catches. Sidney Rice is tied for 38th place with 23 catches, Bernard Berrian is tied for 43rd with 22 receptions and Chester Taylor is tied for 49th with 21 catches.

  • Ward leads the NFL with 599 receiving yards. Holmes is eighth with 438 yards. Rice leads the Vikings with 409 yards – good for 11th place in the NFL.

  • Taylor is tied for second in the league with 12 receptions on third down – trailing only Smith of the Giants (15). Holmes is tied for fifth with 11 catches, Percy Harvin is tied for eight with 10 and Rice and Mewelde Moore are both tied for 29th with seven.

  • Peterson is tied for second in scoring among non-kickers with 42 points. Visanthe Shiancoe is tied for seventh with 30 points and Mendenhall and Miller are both tied for ninth place with 24 points.

  • Ryan Longwell is tied for second in the league in scoring among kickers with 55 points. He is tied with Steve Gostkowski of the Patriots and trails only Lawrence Tynes of the Giants (64 points). Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed is 12th with 38 points.

  • Reed is the only kicker in the NFL who hasn't had a touchback on a kickoff this season.

  • Longwell has almost been perfect this year. He has made all 22 of his extra points and 11 of 12 field goals – the only miss was blocked and returned for a touchdown by San Francisco.

  • Peterson is third in the league in yards from scrimmage with 709 (624 rushing, 85 receiving). He trails only Ray Rice (766 yards) and Chris Johnson (722 yards). Ward is sixth with 599 yards (all receiving). Holmes is 26th with 445 yards (438 receiving, seven rushing), Mendenhall is tied for 29th with 419 yards (349 rushing, 70 receiving) and Sidney Rice is 33rd with 409 yards (all receiving).

  • Peterson is tied for the league lead with Maurice Jones-Drew for first downs converted with 35 (31 rushing, four receiving). Holmes is tied for ninth with 26, Ward is tied for 14th with 24 and Mendenhall is tied for 21st with 22.

  • Jaymar Johnson is ninth in the league in punt return average at 11.1. Darius Reynaud would be leading the league with his 17.3 average, but due to injury, he no longer has enough returns to qualify for the league lead.

  • Harvin is tied for fourth in kickoff return average with a 28.8-yard average per return.

  • Four players in Sunday's game are tied for 10th in interceptions with two – Cedric Griffin and Chad Greenway of the Vikings and Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark of the Steelers.

  • Jared Allen is third in the league with 7.5 sacks. He trails only Elvis Dumervil of Denver (10) and Antwan Odom of Cincinnati (8). Allen will pass Odom with his next sack, since Odom has been placed on injured reserve. James Harrison is tied for fourth right behind Allen with six sacks and Kevin Williams is tied for 12th with four.

  • Allen and Greenway are both tied for second in defensive fumble recoveries with two – trailing only Blake Constanzo of Cleveland, who has three.


    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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