Four downs: Steelers have grown since loss to Vikings in 2013
1. Minnesota Low
The most recent time the Steelers faced the Vikings, it was the low point of the Mike Tomlin tenure. Literally.
The Steelers lost, 34-27, on Sept. 29, 2013, to what was then an 0-3 Minnesota team that would finish with five wins. It was the third time in four outings thus far that campaign that the Steelers had lost to a team that wouldn't finish the season with a winning record; they also lost to the rival Bengals in that stretch to fall to 0-4.
The Steelers have never at any other point since Tomlin took over in 2007 been four games under .500. Remarkably, they've never even been more than one game under .500 over the 11 seasons. That's happened just eight times; three of those such occasions, merely 0-1.
Since that loss to Minnesota four years ago in London, the Steelers are 41-21 and have gone a round deeper in the playoffs each season. They clawed back to .500 in 2013 and have spent just two weeks with a losing record since (losing the 2015 opener and falling to 4-5 before seven straight wins last year).
Tomlin perhaps did his best job in taking a 2013 team that was abysmal in September and getting it to the fringe of contention. He did so via tactical lineup changes and by a steadying presence. The Steelers haven't looked back since.
2. New Looks
Much has been made of the Steelers' use of four-wide receiver sets last week, and for good reason. They used a formation that involved five pass-catchers and no running backs more in that one game (eight times) than they did during the entire 2016 season (seven).
On defense, the Steelers also showed a new look. They not only used six defensive backs – something they've rarely shown in recent years – they used a true dime, something they perhaps haven't shown at all for years. From 2014-16 when the dime was shown, it was a safety (usually Robert Golden) who was the fifth defensive back. Last week, it was a cornerback (William Gay) who served as the extra man. The Steelers went to that dime on 10 of 66 snaps.
3. s-e-c, s-e-c
The program that has appeared in five of the past eight national championship games has the most alumni on NFL rosters. According to the league's communications department, Alabama had 39 alumni on NFL Week 1 rosters, tied with LSU for the most of any school. The SEC's Florida (35), Georgia (30) and Auburn (26) likewise were among the top 14. USC (37), Clemson (35) and Ohio State (35) also are prominently represented.
Penn State was tied for the 18th-most NFL players with 23. Pitt and West Virginia were not in the top 20. Also, no school has more NFL defensive ends than the Nittany Lions' five.
4. Standing Tall
Aided largely by 6-9 Alejandro Villanueva, the Steelers are the tallest team in the NFL, on average. League data reports the Steelers' average height of 6 feet 2.2 inches tall to be a smidge taller than Arizona.
In other trivial size factoids, no team has more players under 6 feet tall than the Patriots' 13. The Packers and Lions lead the league in 300-plus pound players (13 each) and the 49ers have an NFL-high 14 players who weight fewer than 200 pounds.