The Black and Gold opened the season 1-0 with a 21-18 victory over the seemingly improved Cleveland Browns this past Sunday, Sept. 10. While the Steelers won the game, they did appear rusty, undisciplined and in some ways, unprepared, and as they get ready to welcome the Minnesota Vikings to town for their home opener this coming Sunday, Sept. 17, they know they have work to do.
The Vikings are coming off an impressive performance out of Sam Bradford against the Saints on Monday night, Sept. 11, one that I, quite frankly, was shocked by. I don’t think that’s the Sam Bradford the Steelers will see this Sunday, but I do believe that’s the one they better prepare for. He was accurate and on top of his game and the Steelers secondary better be watching film this week in an effort to avoid embarrassment, something the Saints were unable to do.
If the Steelers want to win the game on Sunday, these are my keys to victory:
I believe the first key to success this week vs. Minnesota is controlling the clock. Considering the rushing arsenal the Steelers possess, I was disappointed to see them lose the time of possession battle last week. Had they been playing a more talented team, I fully believe they would have lost, in large part due to the lack of ball control. They must increase the amount of running plays called and Le’Veon Bell needs to have a far better game than he did a week ago.
I said it last week and, unfortunately, I’ll need to say it again. They cannot make the stupid mental errors. Thirteen penalties for 144 yards is completely unacceptable. I understand it was week one and I also understand the starters didn’t play much in the preseason but I can’t accept those as excuses. I blame a lack of discipline and that finger must point squarely at Mike Tomlin. Coach Tomlin said it will improve, but I think I’ve heard that before, I think he better do something about that this time, and soon. This team is special, but a lack of discipline leading to mental errors and penalties will kill a team in the long run.
The defense will need to continue to apply the pressure they did in Cleveland. I’m not saying they have to pick up seven sacks again, but I do believe that the best way to slow Bradford down is to apply pressure. We’ve all seen Bradford make bad throws and get rattled when being pressured over the years and I think this is a big key to stopping that Vikings offense this Sunday.
I believe the final key is involving Martavis Bryant. Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football, but the Vikings will do their best to not allow him to do to them what he did to Cleveland (11 catches, 182 yards). So, what should the Steelers do? They should get Bryant involved, early and often.
Here are a few things to watch for this Sunday:
I think we all need to watch Bell. I don’t think he or anyone with a pulse expected the lack of production that occurred last week and I want to personally see how he responds. My expectation is 75 yards on the ground and another 40 in the air.
I’m also very interested in seeing TJ Watt apply pressure on Sam Bradford. I’m predicting that Watt will not get a sack this week but I look for him to have 10 tackles in another monster game.
I’m also looking at Vince Williams this week. I stated before the season began that Williams would lead the team in tackles this year and I’m sticking with that. He’s going to get his chance to pick up his share of tackles with Vikings rookie RB Dalvin Cook getting at least 20 carries against the Steelers this Sunday.
Finally, I want to watch Bradford. I don’t believe what I’m seeing out of him and I want to see how he matches up against the Steelers secondary. Honestly, if Bradford continues the play he had last year and again this past week, even if Teddy Bridgewater does come back to starter-caliber levels, it won’t be in Minnesota.
It’s going to be a harder contest than I originally thought when I first looked at the schedule this offseason, but I think if the Steelers stick to their game plan, keep from making horrible mental errors and run the ball more effectively, they will win this ball game and advance to 2-0. My score prediction has the Steelers winning, 27-20.