The Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football by a score of 36-28. The heartbreaking loss came just four days after the massive win over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Vikings got out to an incredible 29-0 lead before the Steelers got their first points with two minutes left in the third quarter. From there it was a miraculous spring to the finish line.
Similarly to the game against the Ravens the Steelers’ offense started out slow. This time however, the team’s defense didn’t hold up nearly as well against the run. The Vikings ran for 242 yards in this one, with 90 in the first quarter and 176 in the first half alone.
Vikings Running Back Dalvin Cook returned in this game after a shoulder injury held him out last week. It didn’t slow him down however as he ran the ball 27 times for 205 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Offensively things started slow due to the Vikings impressive pass rush. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 5 total times in this game with 4 of those coming in the first half.
Again like last week, the Steelers turned it around with three scoring possessions in the fourth quarter. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how the Steelers lost this one to the Vikings.
Roethlisberger sure had his ups and downs in this one. In total he was 28-40 for 308 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. These numbers are especially impressive when you factor in he was just 8-11 for 68 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in the first half.
The Steelers offensive line had major communication issues throughout this game. Namely Center Kendrick Green, who struggled with snapping the ball, and blitz pickup throughout.
The Vikings did a good job of disguising who in the front seven would be blitzing. Often lining all seven players up at the line, then randomly dropping three back. Too often Green was left blocking no one, leaving Ben to end up on his back.
These problems translated to the running game with Najee Harris only rushing 7 times for 17 yards in the first half. He was able to get going by the end of the game. Choosing to bounce outside on a number of runs which is not something we’ve seen a lot from him. He finished the game with 20 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown, plus 3 catches for 10 yards and a touchdown.
The receivers also had their ups and downs, especially Chase Claypool. Claypool struggled early. Drawing a unnecessary roughness call for sticking his finger in a defender’s face after a catch, and fumbling the ball on a later drive. After being out for a while he bounced back big in the fourth quarter and ended the game with 8 receptions for 93 yards. He also made two crucial catches on deep 50/50 balls in this one.
Unfortunately the play that will be remembered came AFTER his last catch. Making the fourth down conversion with less than 40 seconds to play, a running clock, and no timeouts Claypool decides to celebrate. And then this happens.
The other pass catchers came up clutch as well. Making big play after big play on deep, contested targets. Dionte Johnson, James Washington, and Pat Freiermuth combined for 11 catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
A few plays later, the game ended on a near touchdown by Freiermuth. Roethlisberger through a great pass between defenders that the rookie tight end just couldn’t haul in.
As previously mentioned, the defense had its struggles early on in the running game. It didn’t help that Linebacker T.J. Watt went out of the game in the first half with his groin injury. They did tighten up in the second half only allowing 66 yards on the ground in the last two quarters.
Aside from a couple big pass plays the Steelers held up well against the pass. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was just 14-31 for 216 yards and threw 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The normally accurate and turnover-adverse Cousins certainly struggled in this one despite not being being sacked once.
The two interceptions came in the second half and both came from Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon has started in place of Joe Haden the last two weeks, who is still out with a foot injury. Both of Witherspoon’s interceptions led to a Pittsburgh touchdown.
Cornerback Cameron Sutton struggled in this one. With the defensive focus being on stopping the run he was often caught in one-on-one coverage with little to no safety help over the top. He “gave up” both passing touchdowns. One on a crossing route to Wide Receiver Justin Jefferson from the red zone, and the other on a deep shot to Wide Receiver K.J. Osborn.
Linebacker Devin Bush had two pass deflections (one leading to an interception) and Minkah Fitzpatrick had 6 tackles and 1 PBU. It certainly felt like all of his plays saved huge gains by the Vikings.
This defense played well enough in the second half to win. Unfortunately they did themselves no favors with the performance early on.
The Special Teams units were certainly disappointing in this one. Punter Presley Harvin III had 6 punts with an average distance of just 43 yards and a long of 49. Each punt distance was 40, 49, 45, 49, 41 and 34. Considering he was punting in a dome tonight, this is a bleak performance.
Kicker Chris Boswell missed a 49 yard field goal, and return man Ray-Ray McCloud let the final punt of the game land inside the 5 yard line. While not the reason they lost, had he fair caught the punt where it initially landed, it may have improved the team’s chances of scoring on their final drive.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have just decided to stop playing normal games. And to try and make half their fan base give up on them early on each night. That said, you have to admire this team’s grit to stay in the game after a physically and emotionally exhausting game on Sunday, playing on a short week, with travel halfway across the country.
Now that this defense is starting to create turnovers, we are seeing the formula for them to win. Get take aways. Limit the opposing offense. Play smart with the ball. And score only when you need to.
Had Pittsburgh kept their momentum for defending the run from after the Ravens game, this one might’ve ended differently.
The Steelers will try to shake off this loss to the Vikings with a long week of prep before a big AFC game against the Tenessee Titans on Sunday, December 19th.
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