The Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings are heading into a crucial matchup on Thursday Night Football to kick off Week 14. These two teams are fighting for playoffs spots and have little margin for error. The Steelers are without Joe Haden once again, which could spell trouble against a streaking Justin Jefferson.
The Steelers have ruled Joe Haden out vs. Vikings
The Pittsburgh Steelers ruled four players out ahead of the game against the Minnesota Vikings. The most glaring name on the list is cornerback Joe Haden.
Haden suffered a foot injury in the Week 10 game against the Detroit Lions, which ended in a tie. The injury forced the 3-time Pro Bowler to miss Pittsburgh’s last three games. Now, he’ll miss a fourth in a must-win scenario against Minnesota.
The Steelers will also be without offensive lineman B.J. Finney, linebacker Robert Spillane, and defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs. However, Haden plays a much larger role in the success of this football team.
The Fort Washington, Maryland native serves as the No. 1 cornerback in Keith Butler’s defense. He’s also a cagey veteran in his 12th NFL season. Mike Tomlin’s squad needs a player of his caliber on the field to help make a run at the postseason.
Fifth-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon made his first start of the season in the Week 13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. He did a decent job filling in but could be in for a stiffer test against Justin Jefferson.
Justin Jefferson could enter the record books again
Justin Jefferson has been unstoppable since he’s entered the NFL.
The LSU product broke the single-season rookie receiving record in 2020, amassing 1,400 yards on 88 receptions. He’s already on pace to surpass those numbers with five games left on the schedule.
The Minnesota Vikings struck gold when they landed Jefferson with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He continues to torch opposing defenses and has the perfect opportunity to continue balling against the Steelers.
The second-year wideout entered the Thursday Night Football tilt with 78 receptions, 1,209 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Jefferson could enter the record books again.
With 41 receiving yards against the Steelers, Jefferson would join Randy Moss and Odell Beckham Jr. as the only players in NFL history with 1,250 yards in their first two seasons.
The Rose, Louisiana native could also pass OBJ in another category. Jefferson needs just 147 yards to break Beckham’s record for most receiving yards in his first two seasons (2,755).
Pittsburgh is without its top cover corner, so a big game is well within the realm of possibilities for the Vikings’ star.
Pittsburgh must slow down Jefferson to beat Minnesota
The key to stopping the Minnesota Vikings’ offense is to slow Justin Jefferson down. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.
Jefferson has been on a tear lately, surpassing the 100-yard receiving mark in three of Minnesota’s last four games. He’s recorded two other 100-yard games during the 2021 campaign.
When the Vikings’ offense is firing on all cylinders, it usually means the opposing defense is having difficulty containing Jefferson. Kirk Cousins loves getting him the ball, and it’s easy to see why.
The Steelers will be missing Joe Haden, but Minnesota will also miss a significant part of its offense. Wide receiver Adam Thielen is out for Thursday Night Football due to an ankle injury.
Thielen’s absence must be a relief for Pittsburgh, as they can key on stopping Jefferson.
The Steelers’ defense played well against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13. The unit held Marquise Brown to five receptions for 55 yards. Justin Jefferson is a different beast, though.
The key for Pittsburgh will be to create pressure on Cousins and force him to make some mistakes. T.J. Watt is on a tear and will need to be the catalyst for those efforts.
If the Steelers allow Cousins time to throw, he will find his favorite target.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference