The Pittsburgh Steelers have faced a preparation challenge this week as the team attempted to get ready for its Thursday Night Football game against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Steelers are playing on just three days’ rest, the minimum allowable by the NFL, and not only that, they’re coming off an intense battle with divisional rivals Baltimore on Sunday.
That meant some banged up bodies, and the team elected not to use one of its three possible practice days on Monday, holding a walkthrough instead.
In addition to the short amount of time to prepare, the Steelers are also dealing with an unfamiliar opponent in the Vikings, who they haven’t faced since 2017, a 26-9 Steelers win in Pittsburgh.
That Minnesota team didn’t really utilize running back Dalvin Cook, then a rookie. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was still with Washington. Top corner Patrick Peterson was with the Cardinals.
So in many ways, the week of practice for the Steelers was just as much about getting mentally ready to face the Vikings as it was physical preparation, putting an emphasis on the team’s film and study habits.
“We’re very much a work in progress in that area,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “I think everyone is. I think you develop rhythms and things that work for you over the course of the season, whether you’re an individual or a group. That’s been a fun process, that’s been a good process.
One of the hurdles for the Steelers is that they have such a young and inexperienced team. Four rookies are expected to start on offense, along with left guard John Leglue making his first NFL start. On defense, nose tackle Montravius Adams and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon will make their second starts of the season, filling in for injuries.
“This year, we have a very young group in a lot of ways,” Tomlin said. “It probably leads you to approach it in a different manner just because of the lack of experience of many of the key components of our group. Whether they’re new to the National Football League or new to us, it’s still a challenge.”
But Tomlin was also quick to note that the Vikings are subject to the very same time crunch, and they are also coming off a game against a divisional opponent.
“The Minnesota Vikings are going through the same process, and so the variables are very similar,” he said. “We have a very level playing field this week in that we’re both working on a short week, we both lack familiarity in some instances, we both are minus a few significant pieces in some instances or what have you. But that’s just football in the NFL in December.”
The practice environment for the two teams is different than it usually is, but it is a level playing field. The team that adjusts best to the changes will have an edge on Thursday night.