Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
I am sure that the Minnesota Vikings’ secondary would love nothing more than to erase their collective memory bank of what took place during last Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
With Brandon Weeden sidelined, Minnesota’s defense surrendered 321 passing yards and three touchdowns to Brian Hoyer. And yes, it was the very same Brian Hoyer who started the 2013 regular season as the third-string quarterback on Cleveland’s depth chart.
Although they are set to face the 0-3 Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend, the Vikings’ currently hobbled secondary could be in for an immense amount of trouble at Wembley Stadium.
Three of Minnesota’s defensive backs, Chris Cook (groin), Jamarca Sanford (hamstring), and A.J. Jefferson (ankle), are currently hobbled by injuries. These injuries in turn will reportedly force all three to be held out of practice until at least Thursday according to Brian Murphy of The St. Paul Pioneer Press.
What makes the situation even more problematic for the Vikings is the fact that two of the three injured players, Cook and Sanford, are starters in their secondary. With three of their top defensive backs set to miss or be hobbled for Sunday’s game, the Steelers’ pass-catchers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could be primed to have successful days.
Had this been one week ago, I am not sure that the Vikings would have to worry very much. Yet it looked like Pittsburgh’s passing game finally showed signs of improvement over the weekend when Ben Roethlisberger threw for 406 yards.
Antonio Brown really shined against the Bears, and torched their secondary to the tune of nine catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns at Heinz Field. In addition to Brown, Minnesota’s secondary must also deal with the speedy Emmanuel Sanders (16 catches 174 yards), the sure-handed Jerricho Cotchery (10 catches, 145 yards, and one touchdown), as well as youngsters Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye.
While that quintet, particularly the top three, could give Minnesota trouble, they will also have to account for Heath Miller in the middle of the field as well. Although Miller is still a bit hobbled from the knee injury he sustained in Week 16 of last year, the Pro Bowl tight end hauled in three catches against the Bears and looked much better than I thought he would.
With an inconsistent running game, the Steelers might very well have to ask their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback to move them down the field through the air on Sunday. If Pittsburgh’s offense abandons the run, and does so early, then it will be up to Minnesota’s defensive backs to be ready to contend with the Steelers’ multiple receiving weapons.
I just hope that the offensive line can provide Roethlisberger with enough time to exploit Minnesota’s secondary when he does drop back to pass.
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