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Pregame stretch:
Steelers vs. Vikings

September 27, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings (0-3)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, London, CBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms
Annoyance factor: Blimey! What could make this stinker of a game worse? Put these two clowns on it. Worse yet? Broadcast it to 80 percent of the country. Ugh. We were certainly thinking the Steelers’ turn for the worse would mean less Nantz and Simms, but we were wrong. Also, we know there will be tremendous national interest in seeing the Steelers fail and flounder, but no one outside of Pittsburgh is actually going to watch the games, are they? They’ll just point and laugh afterwards, right?
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Weather – or not?: Cloudy, 50 percent chance of showers, mid 50s – in other words, every day in London. Wembley Stadium has a retractable roof, but it only adjusts to cover all the seats (and retracts to provide full sunlight to the grass surface) so we assume that means if it rains straight down the players will be wet.
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Referee: Clete Blakeman
Competence factor: Another positive byproduct of supporting a terrible football team: The bad refereeing seems to matter much less! That being said, Blakeman’s crew is one of the better ones working and is assessing a relatively low average of 79.3 yards per game in penalties this season. They call about three holding penalties per game but lead all crews in the number of unnecessary roughness calls (6).
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The line: Pittsburgh -3
Smarts say: It is not often you can be as abysmal as the Steelers have been in the first three games and enter the fourth as a favorite, but that’s what happened this week as this game opened as a “pick ‘em” but gradually shifted as news broke that Le’veon Bell would play and Christian Ponder would not. The over/under of 42 means something like Pittsburgh 23-20.
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Key matchup:
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Vikings LBs, S
Because: Yes, the Steelers have to contain Adrian Peterson, and yes, Matt Cassel is a better quarterback than Christian Ponder, and yes, the Steelers defense has to force a couple turnovers BUT all of those things could happen and Pittsburgh is still going to need to score 35 points to win this game (see “the pick” below). In case you missed it, this Vikings pass defense was shredded last week by Steelers’ castoff Bobby Hoyer and someone named Jordan Cameron, who plays tight end for the Browns. Pittsburgh’s offense was better against Chicago but the onus now is squarely on Roethlisberger, not Le’veon Bell, not Antonio Brown, not the two young tackles, to take it to a winning level of play.

Quick hits:
+ The knee-jerk reaction to fire everyone associated with a losing sports team is a predictable byproduct of our win-first culture and the overwhelming presence of social media. And we’ve been as critical as Todd Haley, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and the Rooney family as much as anyone (and longer than most) but frankly we don’t think ANY of them should be fired, based on current circumstances (and, of course, no one can fire the Rooneys anyway). Here’s what we do think needs to happen:
> The Rooneys need to step back and assess whether they’re providing a clear vision to their football people of what they want, adequate tools to achieve that vision and a firm but reasonable timeframe they want to see if achieved before they’ll consider making major changes.
> Kevin Colbert needs to look for common denominators in the concerning string of under-achieving draft picks. Did the team have all the information it needed to pick confidently or did they learn information about their picks after the draft that they should have know before? If info gathering is not the problem, is it analyzing that data? Was some of that information given too much weight in the process while other info was not weighted enough?
> Mike Tomlin has to open his heart and mind to change. Tomlin has always given the impression of being totally in charge and supremely confident in his methods and he could afford that when he had more talent. But now that a dearth of talent is exposing some areas where Tomlin’s methods are deficient, he’s got to admit that (at least to himself) and adapt.
> Todd Haley has perhaps the hardest job of all. The idea that Haley is incompetent in preposterous. The last time the Steelers won a Super Bowl, the OC across the field who gave them fits was Haley. Of course, he did it with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin Steve Breaston and Edgerrin James. Coordinating an offense is about using talent and scheme to create mismatches then exploiting those mismatches. With little talent, you’re left using scheme alone to create mismatches, which is virtually impossible to do in the NFL on a long-term basis. Short of Le’veon Bell bursting on the scene as a 20/100 guy, we can’t see any way Haley and his run-first schemes can survive – and really very little of it is his fault.
+ We’ve noted several times that Ben Roethlisberger looks like one very disinterested football player right now and we think you saw some of that bubbling to the surface the past week as he took veiled shots at his wide receivers and Kevin Colbert (saying they need to be able to fight through defenders better but allowing they’re all “little guys”); at Le’veon Bell (noting he can’t get a read on Bell’s abilities because he doesn’t practice frequently enough); and at his struggling offensive line (saying they need to develop a mean streak). While there’s certainly a kernel of truth what Roethlisberger said in each instance, no one wants to hear it from a guy who’s playing as poorly as the quarterback is right now.

The pick: The Browns have a decidedly better defense than the Steelers and the Vikings managed 27 points off them last week with Christian Ponder playing very poorly. If the Steelers offense can avoid giving Minnesota any easy scores just maybe Pittsburgh’s defense can do the same, which means you’re looking at having to score four touchdowns to win. That’s going to make scoring seven, not three, on red zone possessions critical in this game. Look for Pittsburgh to try and take advantage of Vikes’ safety Harrison Smith with its tight ends, which means a lot of HEEEAATHHHs in London and maybe even a David Paulson score…..Steelers 31-28.
Last week: We were sadly correct in predicting the Bears were ripe for an upset but the Steelers didn’t have the right stuff to pull it off. That leaves us at 2-1 straight up and against the spread.

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