COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Vikings travel to London in Week 4 for a home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. With both teams at 0-3, this game might as well be called the Desperation Bowl.
The Vikings are coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history as they lost 31-27 to the Cleveland Browns at home. This happened despite the Browns trading their face of the franchise and starting the immortal Brian Hoyer.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are coming off a gruesome home loss of their own to the Chicago Bears by a score of 40-23. This massacre included four turnovers for Pittsburgh, but also featured Antonio Brown go for nine catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
There will be some aggressive play on the field as the NFL hosts the first of two games in London while both teams try to save their season.
Who Will Be The Vikings Starting Quarterback?
This is something we won't know until kickoff, but it's worth monitoring as the Vikings are trying to pull the sneakiest quarterback change ever (that's really not that sneaky).
Christian Ponder struggled against the Browns, and that prompted head coach Leslie Frazier to say they would evaluate the quarterback position. The next morning, Frazier stated he would stick with Ponder...but then a mysterious rib injury came up when the team landed in London.
Matt Cassel took snaps with the first team in practice this week, and if Ponder can't go, he will be the starting quarterback.
It's an interesting situation because the severity of Ponder's injury may depend on Cassel's performance if he gets the opportunity. If he lights the world on fire, Ponder's injury could linger. If he gets destroyed, Ponder will be back in the driver's seat without any public backlash.
Can the Vikings Handle Troy Polamalu and the Aggressive Steeler Defense
It seems like we've been waiting forever for the Steelers' age to catch up with their defense. While some of the parts have departed, they still have one of the most feared safeties in the game.
Keeping Polamalu bottled up will be the number one task for the Viking offense as he presents so many problems. He can step into the box and go toe-to-toe with Adrian Peterson on one play, jump the snap count and knock the quarterback down on the next and finish it off by dropping into coverage and forcing an interception.
Ponder hasn't shown the best pocket presence this season, and with Dick LeBeau likely to bring the heat to whomever is under center, the Viking offensive line needs to handle it better than they have the first three games.
If they're not up for the task, this game could get ugly quick.
Who Will Gain the London Crowd's Support?
An interesting aspect of a neutral field is who the hometown crowd will cheer for throughout the course of the game. This International Series game will be no different.
If one offense can execute a couple of big plays, that will get the crowd on their feet and in their favor. If the game turns out to be a snooze fest, the crowd might just decide that the football match on the pitch down the street is better than the football game they're seeing played in front of them.
That will make explosive players such as Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson important for the Vikings in order to make them become the favorites as the game progresses.
How will Jerome Felton Impact the Vikings Offense?
To put it mildly, the Vikings blocking schemes have been atrocious in the first three games. A lot of that can be put on the offensive line being on summer vacation for most of that time, but they've also been missing Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton as he will return from a three-game suspension in Week 4.
The Vikings couldn't be happier to see him.
While Peterson has had an admirable start, it's nothing like the performance that is needed for the Vikings to be a successful team. With Felton back in the fold, there should be more opportunities for last year's MVP to run wild and lift the team.
Felton will also help out in the passing game as he can chip and help give their quarterback extra time to go through their progressions and stay in the pocket.
There have been few and far instances where the return of a fullback has been front page news, but Felton can make a big impact on this offense.
Will the Vikings Take Some Risks?
Last week, I thought the Vikings would be a desperate team as they looked to climb out of their 0-2 hole. Turns out, that team was on the opposing sideline.
The Browns tricked the Vikings to no end with their "Screw it!" mentality. They scored on a fake field goal when nobody picked up Jordan Cameron and then converted a fourth down by running a fake punt to add insult to injury.
With the Vikings now in a 0-3 hole, they need to have the same mentality the Browns did one week ago.
Dropping back in their Cover 2 shell defensively has allowed teams to pick them apart through the air while their offense has relied on an incomplete pass on first down followed by a run and another incomplete pass. It's time to dig deep in the playbook and make everyone say "Just what the heck was that?"
If the Vikings don't gamble much in this game, their season could be over at the quarter mark.
Chris Schad is a lifelong Vikings follower that has seen triumph and heartbreak for the franchise over 27 seasons. His work has also been published on Bleacher Report and Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter @crishad.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Christian Ponder
- Cleveland Browns
- Adrian Peterson
- Jerome Felton