By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers host the undefeated Minnesota Vikings at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Heinz Field:
STEELERS WRs HINES WARD, SANTONIO HOLMES AND MIKE WALLACE VS. VIKINGS CBs CEDRIC GRIFFIN, KARL PAYMAH, BENNIE SAPP AND ASHER ALLEN: The name missing from the above is Antoine Winfield, Minnesota's Pro Bowl cornerback who signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent in 2004 and "gave the Vikings an immediate boost in the secondary by leading the team in interceptions and raising the energy of the entire defensive unit with an aggressive style of play," according to the team's 2009 Media Guide. Winfield sustained a sprained foot in the win over the Ravens last week, and he isn't expected to play this Sunday. In the second half, going against a secondary without Winfield, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns and almost brought Baltimore back for a victory, were it not for a missed field goal in the final seconds. The Vikings were said to have looked around for some cornerback help this week, but finding capable players at that position in late October is the ultimate scavenger hunt.
STEELERS COACH MIKE TOMLIN VS. VIKINGS COACH BRAD CHILDRESS: It's not like one is the mentor and one is the protégé, as was the case with Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Cowher, but there is a professional attachment between the men that will endure the length of both of their careers. When Childress was hired by the Vikings and got his first head coaching gig in the NFL, one of the first people he hired was Tomlin, who then got his first coordinator gig in the NFL. "You like to compete against guys you know, somebody's got to win, somebody's got to lose. For me it's been Steve Spagnuolo who we worked with in Philadelphia and John Harbaugh this past week and now Mike [Tomlin] who was our defensive coordinator here. Those are the kind of things you like. You like to bang heads." From Tomlin's perspective, "It hit me that I've been gone from there for quite some time here just watching tape preparing for this week. A lot of faces are unfamiliar, a lot of the schemes and things that they're doing are unfamiliar to me and that's not surprising to me. It's been three years since I've worked there." Both men claim there is plenty of mutual respect, and there may be, but that doesn't mean each guy doesn't want to beat the pants off the other.
STEELERS DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN VS. VIKINGS RB ADRIAN PETERSON: The whole concept of gap-integrity might seem either trivial or amusing, or both, to fans, but that topic has been getting a lot of time in the Steelers meeting rooms this week. That's because Adrian Peterson is not only a bundle of physical ability, but he's also a back who has the vision, knowledge and patience to make a defense pay if anybody is out of position. "He's got a great deal of God-given ability," said Tomlin. "He's big, strong, fast. He also has the things that you can't measure. The tape says he's ridiculously competitive. He doesn't turn down challenges, he does a lot of things well even when the ball isn't in his hands, he's an aggressive and functional blitz pick-up man. He runs good routes out of the backfield. He's just a complete football player and arguably the best player playing the game right now." Peterson also is the kind of back who may spend several series picking up a couple of yards per carry before bursting free for a big gain. He had a 58-yard run against the Ravens last week, and that says it all.
STEELERS ROLB JAMES HARRISON VS. VIKINGS LT BRYANT McKINNIE: On the occasions when the Vikings choose to throw the ball, it's going to be important to get pressure on Brett Favre without having to blitz too many or too often. Harrison's six sacks lead the team, and the Vikings have allowed 14 sacks through their six games. Tall offensive tackles who haven't faced Harrison can have a lot of trouble dealing with the combination of his speed and relentless power, and McKinnie is 6-foot-8, 335 and never has played vs. Harrison in a regular season game. Depending on which officiating crew is assigned to work the game, and depending upon how many times the referee is going to allow Harrison to be held, this could end up being a favorable matchup for the Steelers, especially with the advantage the defense always has because of the crowd noise.
STEELERS KICKOFF COVERAGE VS. VIKINGS KOR PERCY HARVIN: Toward the end of a week before a big game, the daily practice report can offer important information. For example on the Wednesday and Thursday reports, Andre Frazier again was listed as not having practiced. If you think that's no big deal, think again. Frazier is one of the most important guys on kickoff coverage, and the fact he didn't play last week definitely was a factor in Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs bringing one back 98 yards for a touchdown. The fact that Frazier missed the game against the Browns and still was trying to get back onto the field with a thigh injury when Friday arrived should make fans nervous, because the Vikings have Percy Harvin, the rookie from Florida who already has brought one kickoff back 101 yards for a touchdown. Usually, there's no need to worry whether a backup linebacker will play, but when it comes to Andre Frazier and the Steelers kickoff coverage, it's time to worry.