Steelers-Vikings Preview

BY foxsports • September 27, 2013

Since the NFL adopted a 16-game regular-season schedule 35 years ago, less than 4 percent of teams that lost their first three games have qualified for the playoffs.

Neither the Pittsburgh Steelers nor the Minnesota Vikings expected to be in that position heading into Week 4, but each is hoping a trip overseas for Sunday's matchup in London will help right the ship.

Things haven't gone well stateside for either club. Both remained winless last Sunday, when Pittsburgh committed five turnovers in a 40-23 loss to Chicago while Minnesota fell 31-27 at home to previously winless Cleveland.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder suffered a fractured rib in that defeat, and the team announced Friday that Matt Cassel will start in his place.

No team has made the playoffs after an 0-3 start since Buffalo in 1998, and only five of the 161 clubs to lose three straight to open a season since 1978 have reached the postseason.

Only San Diego in 1992 began a season 0-4 and still made the playoffs.

The Steelers haven't begun this poorly since starting 0-3 in 2000, and coach Mike Tomlin realizes his team has plenty of room to improve.

While Minnesota made the trip to London early in the week, Tomlin chose to keep his team in Pittsburgh until Thursday evening.

"I value normalcy in the early portions of the week from a preparation standpoint and from a practice standpoint - use of our facilities, the comforts of home if you will," Tomlin said. "It's purely a business trip for me personally. This is just a road game for us. We are happy to represent the NFL in international play, but in terms of what it is that we are doing, our level of focus and the things that we need to do in preparation and in play, it's just a road game for us."

Minnesota has dropped its first three games for the second time in three seasons, but Adrian Peterson said the team isn't about to quit after winning its last four games of 2012 to get into the playoffs.

Peterson ran for a 78-yard touchdown on his first carry of the season, but he's since averaged just 2.9 yards per rush.

"I feel like we have a mature bunch here," said Peterson, who ran for 88 yards and a touchdown last week. "We've just got to stay confident. Stay confident and keep swinging, but swinging a lot better. I feel like we will approach it with that mindset and attitude, and we'll be OK."

Peterson could certainly benefit from Cassel providing more support than Ponder, who ranks 30th in the league with a 65.9 passer rating.

With coach Leslie Frazier saying it was "too risky to put (Ponder) out there to take a hit," Cassel gets his first start in a Vikings uniform.

The nine-year veteran had a league-worst 66.7 passer rating last season as he played nine games for Kansas City, throwing for six touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

"I've been preparing for this and I feel like I'm ready to go," Cassel said. "I feel comfortable with this offense. I'm excited about it. That's what you prepare for as a backup."

Fellow 31-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was solid at times last week for Pittsburgh, but he also threw two interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles that each led to Chicago touchdowns.

The Steelers still racked up 459 yards of total offense - their most in a game since 2009 - after totaling 472 in their first two contests. Antonio Brown caught nine passes for a career-best 196 yards and both of Roethlisberger's touchdown throws.

Roethlisberger finished 26 of 41 for 406 yards, but his turnovers played a huge role in Pittsburgh now being on the verge of its first 0-4 start since 1968.

"I expect Ben to be better, Ben expects himself to be better," Tomlin said. "We'll continue to work to do that."

The Steelers are the only team in the league yet to register a takeaway, and their minus-9 turnover margin is tied with the New York Giants for worst in the league.

Minnesota is second behind the Giants with 10 giveaways, committing at least three turnovers in each contest.

"You can't turn the ball over at the rate that we're turning it over and expect to win, unless you're so superior to your opponents," Frazier said. "And we're not."

Minnesota ranks 21st in run defense, allowing 114.0 yards per game, and could see an improved ground game from Pittsburgh - which averages an AFC-worst 51.7 yards rushing - as rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is expected to make his debut.

The second-round pick from Michigan State hasn't played since suffering a sprained foot in a preseason game against Washington on Aug. 19.

The Steelers limited Peterson to 69 yards on 18 carries in a 27-17 home win Oct. 25, 2009, in the most recent meeting.

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