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Can the Vikings "Steel" a Victory in Week 7?

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Date: 25 October 2009 Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Time: 12:000 PM CST Stadium: Heinz Field
DirecTV Ch. 707
Know Thy Enemy: Behind the Steel Curtain
Gonzo's Prediction: Steelers 23, Vikings 20
Final Score: Steelers 27, Vikings 17

Yeah, yeah, I know. . .bad pun.

I'd like to kick this Game Thread off by apologizing to both you folks and the Steeler fans that have happened by during the course of the week for the lack of interaction between us and the folks from Behind the Steel Curtain this week. I've had a lot of stuff going on here, what with the notification of my next assignment, finishing up a college course I'm taking, and a few other things. This week has been the exception, not the rule, as far as interacting with our non-divisional opponents, and I will effort to make sure that this doesn't occur again this season.

That having been said, after last week's "biggest test of the year," the Beloved Purple move on to their new biggest test of the year this week, as they road trip to the Steel City to take on the defending World Champions. Vikings' cornerback Antoine Winfield is expected to miss this one as he rests his sprained foot, while star safety Troy Polamalu is expected to play for the Steelers, albeit with a heavy brace on his knee. This game should be an interesting clash between a couple of the league's premiere teams. So, what are the keys for the Vikings in this one?

1) Control the time of possession - With the absence of Winfield in the secondary and Ben Roethlisberger having a monster year behind center for the Steelers, the Vikings' best strategy is to hang on to the football and keep the Steeler offense on the sidelines. When one realizes that Pittsburgh is one of the NFL's best defenses against the run, that sounds like something that's easier said than done. But, according to the folks at Football Outsiders, with as good as the Steeler defense has been this season, they've been pretty much awful on third downs. Based on DVOA, the Steelers are 28th against the pass on third down and dead last against the run on third down this season. If the Vikings are going to win, they're going to have to convert third downs at a significant clip and keep the offense on the field.

2) Get to Roethlisberger often - If you've watched the Steelers during the Roethlisberger era, you know that Big Ben likes to hold on to the ball. . .and hold it. . .and hold it. . .and get rid of it at the last possible second. With his propensity for holding on to the ball, it's very likely that the Vikings will get to him a time or two today. However, a time or two isn't going to be enough. Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and company are going to need to be in his face all afternoon long to make things as tough on him as possible.

3) Be. . .aggressive. B-E aggressive - Last week was an example of Brad Childress, seemingly, being afraid to blow a team out. The Vikings scored two quick touchdowns against the Ravens, and then completely went into a shell offensively until the end of the game when they had to mount a furious comeback after Baltimore made the necessary adjustments and took the lead. This trend can not continue. The Vikings have a ton of offensive talent, and if they find something that works, they need to stick with it. If that's pounding Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor at a Steeler defense that recently lost their best run defender (DE Aaron Smith), then they need to stick with it. If that's Brett Favre going after a Steeler secondary with a gimpy Polamalu, then they need to stick with that. Either way, this team absolutely can't let off of the throttle if they jump out to a quick lead.

On the New York Times' Fifth Down blog, Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders says that "this may be the greatest Vikings team ever assembled, better than the 1998 flash-in-the-pan that finished 15-1, better than the 1970s conference powerhouse that this team so closely resembles." But even the 1998 team lost a game, and the 1974 team that faced the Steelers in Super Bowl IX only went 10-4, so even if this is the "greatest Vikings team ever assembled," they're still going to have a stumble or two. . .and I think one of those stumbles happens today.

Back in April, when I did my insanely early look at the Vikings' schedule, I said this about the matchup with the Steelers:

I won't lie to you, folks. . .out of the sixteen games on Minnesota's 2009 schedule, there's only one that I can honestly say that I don't think the Vikings have any real shot at winning. And it's this one. The Steelers are just that good. If this game was in Minnesota, I might give us a slight chance. At Pittsburgh, on the other hand? Not so much, no. Sure, we might catch the Steelers on a bad day or something. . .crazier things have happened before. . .but that's not something we should necessarily be betting on.

Yes, that was before Brett Favre and everything else, I get that. But I still don't think we win this one. I think it will be close, but I can't shake the feeling that it's going to be too much Roethlisberger and Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes for a secondary without one of the best CBs in the National Football League to handle. I don't pick the Vikings to lose often, and when I do I tend to be wrong (see me picking the Vikings to lose the game that Adrian Peterson rushed for 296 yards). . .and, believe me, I'd love to be wrong today. Hopefully everyone will be able to line up and say "I told you so" after this one is done with.

It's about an hour and a half until game time, as per usual. We hope to see everyone here for what should be the game of the day in the NFL for Week 7.