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The Steelers worked inside as they prepare to take on the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night on a very short week.
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The Steelers defeated Minnesota in their first-ever meeting in 1962, but the Vikings won the next three matchups. Of the first 13 times these teams met between 1962 and 1995, Minnesota won eight, but the biggest game, of course, went in Pittsburgh's favor in the ninth Super Bowl in NFL history. The Steelers have won four of the last five matchups, however, including the most recent game in 2017. That brings the overall tally to nine wins for Minnesota and nine wins for the Steelers. That tie is likely to be broken on Thursday night. It is rather surprising that in nearly 60 NFL seasons that Pittsburgh and the Vikings would have only met 17 times during the regular season. The home team has won the last three meetings in this series.
Game action photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 2 game against the Minnesota Vikings.
When Pittsburgh has the Ball
- Over their last five games, the Vikings opponents have scored a combined 145 points. That's an average of 29 points per game. Minnesota gave up 29 points last week to a Lions team that hadn't cracked 20 points in a game since Week 1.
- The Steelers run the ball 36.6% of the time. Only five offenses run it at a lesser clip.
- Najee Harris leads all rookies with 1,166 yards from scrimmage and is second amongst rookies in touchdowns scored. Last week was Harris' sixth game with at least 100 scrimmage yards. 90.4% of the rushing attempts against Minnesota have gained positive yardage. That is the highest percentage in the league.
- Minnesota allows a whopping 131.5 rushing yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. The Vikings did hold Detroit, albeit without D'Andre Swift, to 3.7 yards per carry last week.
- Ben Roethlisberger has not thrown an interception in six of his last seven starts. He has thrown multiple passing touchdowns in three of his last four games. In his last three Thursday games, Roethlisberger has thrown 12 touchdowns against zero interceptions.
- Over his past four games, Diontae Johnson has received a target share of 26.5%, 29.6%, 35.9%, and 36.7%. His target share has not dipped below 25% in any of his last seven games. Johnson has gotten 30% or more or the targets in seven of his 11 games.
- The Vikings allow 9.0 yards per target to opposing wide receivers. That ranks 29th in the NFL.
- Pat Freiermuth has caught a touchdown in four of his past six games. Still, he has only eclipsed 44 receiving yards in one game this year. Freiermuth averages 29.4 receiving yards per game.
- The Vikings have faced some of the league's top tight ends but have really limited their productivity. The total numbers for George Kittle, TJ Hockenson (twice), Mark Andrews, and Dalton Schultz are 14 catches for 139 total receiving yards. Minnesota has only allowed three touchdowns to the tight end position all year.
- Only three defenses have given up more passing touchdowns than Minnesota this year.
- Minnesota's top two linebackers, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, were both inactive in Week 13. As a result, Blake Lynch and Nick Vigil each logged 71 snaps last week.
- Six Vikings defenders logged every snap in a losing effort against the Lions. However, of the 834 total snaps played this year by Minnesota's defense, Xavier Woods is the only player with more than 762 snaps played. The Vikings only have five defenders with 585 snaps (70.1%) or more. 19 defensive players have contributed over 150 snaps for the Vikings.
- Four Vikings cornerbacks, Bashaud Breeland, Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, and Cameron Dantzler, have all played between 451 and 625 snaps. Dantzler has missed three games and Peterson has missed four.
- Eight Steelers offensive linemen have logged 87 or more snaps this year and that doesn't include the 56 John Leglue played last week. Leglue was the fifth left guard Pittsburgh has put on the field in 2021.
- Running backs not named Najee Harris have a combined 136 snaps played. Derek Watt has chipped in for 59 snaps at fullback. Harris has played 684.
- Minnesota's red zone defense ranks 31st in the NFL, allowing a touchdown 26.7% of their opponent's red zone plays. No offense throws the ball a higher percentage of the time in the red zone than Pittsburgh.
- Vikings opponents are snapping the ball, on average, 65.8 times per game. Only six defenses are facing more snaps per game.
When Minnesota has the Ball
- Kirk Cousins completed 75% of his 40 passes against the Lions for 340 yards in a losing effort. 19 of his 30 completions produced Vikings first downs.
- For his 10-year career, Cousins has thrown 215 touchdowns against 87 interceptions. As Minnesota's starting quarterback before this year, Cousins ratio was 91 to 29. This year in his 12 games, Cousins has thrown 25 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Cousins is now the fifth player ever with at least 25 touchdown passes in seven consecutive seasons.
- Alexander Mattison has now started five games in his career when Dalvin Cook was sidelined. He has racked up 522 rushing yards in those five starts. Last week, Mattison ran the ball 22 times for 90 yards in a game in which the Vikings finished with exactly 100 yards on the ground as a team. The Vikings averaged 3.7 yards per carry against Detroit. Mattison played 86% of the snaps in that game.
- Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen have combined account for an amazing 47% of the Vikings passing targets. Over the past four games, Jefferson's target share has been 31.4%, 29.4%, 28.1%, and 34.2%.
- Jefferson has 577 receiving yards over his past four games. He has eight games this year with at least 80 receiving yards. Jefferson had six 100-yard games as a rookie and five so far this year. So, in his 28 games played in the NFL, Jefferson has reached the century mark 39% of the time. Jefferson finished last week's game with 11 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown.
- Thielen's touchdown output is truly remarkable. Not including last week, when Thielen had to leave the game after just four snaps because of injury, he has 17 touchdowns in his last 18 games. Even though he barely played last week, Thielen still has 35% of Minnesota's end zone targets this year.
- With Thielen injured, KJ Osborn was on the field for 70 snaps, Dede Westbrook played 32 snaps, and Dan Chisena played five last week. Osborn actually played one more snap in this game than Jefferson.
- If Minnesota is without Thielen and Dalvin Cook, they will be missing 35% of their offensive yardage and 43.8% of their touchdown production.
- At tight end, Tyler Conklin only left the field last week for four snaps. Chris Herndon and Luke Stocker chipped in with 13 snaps apiece. The Steelers have only allowed two touchdowns to opposing tight ends, which is the best in the league. Conklin's nine targets last week was his career high. His nine end zone targets are the third most amongst all NFL tight ends.
- Fullback CJ Ham played 25 of a possible 76 snaps last week. For the season, Ham has been on the field for 278 of a possible 842 Vikings offensive plays.
- Kirk Cousins, Brian O'Neal, Ezra Cleveland, and Oli Udoh are the Vikings offensive snap leaders by a wide margin. Between these four players, they have missed just five total offensive plays in 2021.
- 21 different defensive players have played over 100 snaps for the Steelers this year. Of course, that doesn't include Montravius Adams, who was on the field for 34 snaps in his first game in a Steelers uniform against the Ravens.
- By today's NFL standards, the Vikings are a little unorthodox with their personnel grouping usage. Minnesota uses 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) just 46% of the time. League average is 59%. Their 14% usage of 12 Personnel (1 RB/2 TE) is also 8% below league average. Where the Vikings make up for it is with their usage of 21 Personnel (2 RB/1 TE) as well as 22 Personnel (2 RB/2 TE). Minnesota employs 21 Personnel 18% of the time and 22 Personnel 8% of the time. League average is 7% and 3% respectively. And those numbers could increase with Thielen sidelined. They run the ball 86% of the time they are in 22 Personnel.
- Led by TJ Watt's league-leading 16 sacks, Pittsburgh is on pace for their fifth straight season with 50+ sacks.
- Watt and Reggie White are the only two players since 1982 when sacks became an official statistic, that have recorded 13 or more sacks in four straight seasons.
- The Vikings convert 65% of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns. That is seventh best in the league. However, Pittsburgh's defense ranks fourth with their red zone defense, allowing a touchdown just 50% of the time.
- The Vikings average kickoff return produces 29.9 yards. Minnesota's opponents are only averaging 20.7 yards per return.
- Derek Watt leads the Steelers with 234 special teams snaps played. Ulysees Gilbert, Benny Snell, and Miles Killebrew have each played 233. Marcus Allen is fifth with 220 special teams snaps played and Robert Spillane has logged 191 despite missing two games. No one else has played 170.
The Advanced Scout Podcast
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Matt's Most Memorable Moment: January 12, 1975: Super Bowl IX: Steelers 16, Vikings 6
The Vikings lost Super Bowl IV to Kansas City. Several years later, Minnesota lost Super Bowl VIII to the Dolphins. Then they faced the Steelers in Pittsburgh's first Super Bowl appearance. That didn't go well for Minnesota, and neither did Super Bowl XI when the Vikings fell to Oakland. During an eight-year stretch, the Vikings appeared in half of the NFL's Super Bowls. Things went similarly, but very different, around this time period for Pittsburgh. Starting with this victory over the Vikings, Pittsburgh then went on to win three more Super Bowls over a five-year period kickstarted by this game. Seven Vikings from this game went on to the Hall of Fame. 14 Steelers from Super Bowl IX did the same. Pittsburgh's defense was the story of this game, and appropriately so, the Steelers Super Bowl scoring began with a safety of Fran Tarkenton. Minnesota's only points from this game came from a touchdown on a blocked punt. The Vikings were only able to muster nine first downs in this game. Franco Harris rushed for 158 yards, which was more yardage than the Vikings entire offense could generate. Harris was named Super Bowl IX's Most Valuable Player…and so it began.
Facts from NFL Research
- The Vikings have played 11 games decided by one score in 2021, the most in the NFL.
- The Steelers are 6-1-1 in one-score games this season.
- Ben Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins have each thrown 1 or more passing touchdowns in 26 straight games.
- They are tied for the longest active streak in the league.
- Najee Harris is the only player in the NFL with 200+ carries and 50+ receptions this season.
- The Steelers lead the NFL with 37.0 sacks for their 5th straight season leading the league.
- Vikings WR Justin Jefferson vs. Steelers CB Joe Haden-This could be Haden or Ahkello Witherspoon, who played quite well in his first start as a Steeler. But the reality is that, especially with Thielen out, whoever is covering Jefferson should get an awful lot of help. That will often come in the form of Minkah Fitzpatrick over the top on Jefferson's side of the field. There are a lot of ways to try to limit the damage Jefferson does in this game, but the cold reality is that this phenom second-year receiver will probably get his when it is all said and done.
- Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth vs. Vikings S Harrison Smith- Smith has been one of the NFL's best safeties in the 2000s. In fact, Smith is the only player in the league with at least 25 interceptions and 15 sacks since 2012. As you can imagine, Mike Zimmer will use Smith all over his defense, but the veteran safety will also often be tasked with shutting down Pittsburgh's rookie tight end. Freiermuth has already become a foundational player on the Steelers offense. These two are set to tangle plenty.