PITTSBURGH – As the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2009 through 2013, Mike Zimmer is used to having to deal with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Zimmer, now the Minnesota Vikings head coach, devised some game plans that caused Roethlisberger fits in his Bengals coaching days, limiting the future Hall of Fame quarterback to a passer rating of 81.6 in their 10 meetings.
“I don’t know that I really have,” Zimmer said when asked about his success against Roethlisberger. “We have had good players. Roethlisberger is a great quarterback and he’s always been outstanding.
“I would say he’s probably won more of the battles than I have.”
To Zimmer’s point, Roethlisberger and the Steelers won six of those 10 games, but they were never easy.
Roethlisberger’s passing totals look somewhat pedestrian in the previous matchups against Zimmer. While he completed 62 percent of his passes, he averaged just 223 yards per game and had nine touchdown passes against nine interceptions.
On Sunday, the two will clash again when the Steelers (1-0) host the Vikings (1-0) in Pittsburgh’s home opener at Heinz Field.
While the chess matches with Zimmer often hold down his statistics, Roethlisberger is concerned about wins.
“That’s all that should really matter; it should be winning,” Roethlisberger said. “It shouldn’t matter what your stats are. Stats are for individuals. Winning is for teams and that’s the way it was when I got here, so it was easy to keep that going. I think when young guys come here, they come from college nowadays and it’s all about stats, so you kind of what you have to learn here.
“It’s about just winning football games but guys pick up on it quick because of the veteran guys, especially the line keep you grounded quick.”
That was Roethlisberger’s message to his teammates in the days following the Steelers’ 21-18 season-opening win at Cleveland, when the offense struggled at times to gain traction, largely because of penalties.
For an offense with stars at nearly every position – the Steelers have five Pro Bowl players on offense – putting up just 290 yards and two offensive touchdowns was unexpected.
The Vikings can match the Steelers’ offensive stars with their defense.
Zimmer’s defenses typically involve getting to the quarterback with four linemen and allowing seven defenders to drop into coverage. And the Vikings had five Pro Bowl defensive players last season in defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, defensive linemen Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph and linebacker Anthony Barr.
With so many Pro Bowl players facing each other, it should make for an interesting matchup.
“It’s one of those things where there aren’t going to be any excuses; it will just be football,” said Steelers Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro. “This is going to be all about player on player and winning one-on-one battles. The team that wins those will make the plays.”
The Vikings finished the 2016 season ranked third in total yards allowed and sixth in points.
“They‘re a really talented group,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “A lot of things that they do defensively reflect his philosophical approach.
“When I look at their tape, I think about the Cincinnati Bengals when he was there.”
Minnesota is coming off a 29-19 victory Monday night against New Orleans in which the Saints, led by Drew Brees, didn’t score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, settling for three field goals in the first three quarters.
“We knew going in how good their defense is,” Roethlisberger said. “I guess if you slow down that offense that they did, it’s pretty impressive.”
Odds and end zones
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt (biceps), safety J.J. Wilcox (concussion) and offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins (knee) did not practice Wednesday for the Steelers. Linebacker Bud Dupree (shoulder) was limited. … A day after releasing him to sign linebacker Steven Johnson to the 53-man roster, linebacker L.J. Fort was signed to the Steelers’ practice squad. Linebacker Matt Galambos was released. … Seven Steelers were nominated for this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class. They are guard Alan Faneca, wide receiver Hines Ward, linebackers Joey Porter and Greg Lloyd, placekicker Gary Anderson and former head coaches Bill Cowher and Buddy Parker.