Home openers are typically a big deal. That’s especially true for the Steelers, who really didn’t play many of their front-line players in the preseason this year.
So, for the most part, Sunday’s regular season opener, in which the Steelers host the Vikings, will be the first chance for Pittsburgh fans to see what the team will look like this season.
And given how things looked last week in Cleveland - particularly on offense - that will really be the case this weekend.
The defense performed how you’d expect in a 21-18 win over Cleveland.
The offense, however, underperformed outside of receiver Antonio Brown.
A similar performance this week will get the Steelers beaten by the Minnesota Vikings, a team that is sneaky good.
Well, the Vikings put up 470 total yards and limited New Orleans to three short field goals in the first three quarters in their victory over the Saints last Monday night.
Certainly, you can say that all of that yardage was put up against a New Orleans defense that is, well, pretty bad.
But shutting down Drew Brees and company is no joke, even if you do it at home.
And the Vikings also have five Pro Bowl players on defense. They’ve got some stars.
The Steelers have stars of their own, largely on the offensive side of the ball. And they need Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, the offensive line and Martavis Bryant to play up to their capability in this one.
If that doesn’t happen, this is a game the Steelers can lose.
But the Steelers kept things pretty simple last week against Cleveland, largely because they really didn’t know what to expect from the Browns.
They wanted to force rookie quarterback Deshone Kizer to beat them by slamming the door on Cleveland’s running game and were largely successful in doing that.
Offensively, however, they weren’t sure what they were going to see from new Cleveland defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is known to be blitz heavy.
We saw some of Williams’ blitzes but not what you’d typically see from a Williams defense. But we did see a lot of deep safety play to take away deep passes - whether that be single or double high.
Minnesota, under former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, will present some different challenges.
He’ll play a lot of two-deep safety and try to get to Roethlisberger with four pass rushers. You’ll also see some occasional blitzes up the middle.
The Vikings are all about getting to the QB with four guys. And they have a good pass rushing defensive line.
That’s why it’s key this week for Bell to get rolling, both as a runner and receiver.
He was limited to 47 yards on 13 touches last week, playing 73 percent of the snaps. He’ll be much more involved in this one.
And Bell could do some serious damage on swing passes or balls in the flat after chipping a defensive end.
Conversely, the Steelers have to slam Minnesota’s rushing attack and force Sam Bradford, who’s on a gimpy knee, to push the ball downfield. He has good receivers with which to work, but Pittsburgh showed last week that it has the horses to get to the quarterback against a good Cleveland offensive that is better than Minnesota’s unit.
Getting Bud Dupree back this week could help that, though the Steelers will be without Stephon Tuitt for at least this week.
The Steelers are 9-1 under head coach Mike Tomlin in home openers and are 5 ½-point favorites to win this one.
I think Minnesota keeps it close, but the Steelers win, 27-23.