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Doug Farrar

Steelers-Vikings: The end of smashmouth?

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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The last time the Steelers and Vikings met, it was December 18, 2005, and the Steelers won, 18-3. Current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was Tampa Bay's secondary coach, current Vikings head coach Brad Childress was Philly's offensive coordinator, and Brett Favre(notes) hadn't even started waffling yet. It was a very different time, as evidenced by the rush/pass totals for both teams. The Steelers were still into smashmouth back then, using power running to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes), who threw 15 passes all day. Big Ben came close to having more rushing attempts (six) than completed passes (10). Brad Johnson(notes) threw 30 passes and completed only 16 against the vaunted Pittsburgh defense.

45 passing attempts in a single game? When the Vikings and Steelers face off today, we may see more than that by the end of the first half. Minnesota has gone a bit more pass-happy with Brett Favre in charge -- they average 30.7 attempts per game as opposed to 28.2 with Tarvaris Jackson(notes) in 2008 -- but the balance has to be there with Adrian Peterson in the backfield. It's just not the same Vikings offense that opposing defenses could stack the box against. The Steelers, however, have absolutely switched from Bronko Nagurski to Air Coryell. Only the Colts sling it more often than Pittsburgh's 34.7 attempts per game, and no quarterback has more total passing yards than the Big Ben's 1,887. Roethlisberger isn't just a guy who can take a lot of hits anymore; he's now one of the most efficient and productive quarterbacks in the NFL. His 9.1 yards per attempt is tied with Peyton Manning(notes) for the league lead, and he has completed an astonishing 72.5 percent of his passes. That's why Football Outsiders ranks him third overall in opponent-adjusted efficiency, behind only Drew Brees(notes) and Peyton Manning.

It's a long way from 2005, when the Steelers won the Super Bowl with an incendiary late-season surge despite averaging a league-low 23.7 passing attempts per game. If you need any further evidence that the NFL is moving away from a run-first theory in favor of schemes more in line with the more wide-open offenses of the NCAA, look no further than the Steelers and Vikings airing it out downfield.

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