The Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to start 2-0 without playing their best football. Just like last week, the coaching staff will have a lot issues to address if they want to find themselves back in the AFC Championship. The team continues to run hot and cold and looks like its own worst enemy. Last week, the Steelers had 13 penalties for 144 yards. This week, they had 10 penalties for 72 yards. This is a trend that cannot continue. If not for a confluence of Vikings poor quarterback play, Minnesota Vikings penalties, and the Steelers jumping out to an early lead, this game could have been a loss.
Pittsburgh Steelers Week Two Gut Reactions
Bell, Running Game, Unimpressive
The offense ran hot and cold against the Minnesota Vikings who field a playoff quality defensive unit. The offensive line has yet to get its 2016 form and battled minor injuries. The Pittsburgh Steelers struggled to get the running game on track for the second straight week. This week was not for lack of effort, the Steelers brought their hard hats and fed Le’Veon Bell 27 carries and four receptions. He finished with only 87 yards rushing and four yards receiving. Bell can’t always make plays in the running game if the lanes aren’t there, but getting him involved in the passing game is a necessity. Four yards receiving is almost embarrassing for someone who wants to be paid like a number two receiver and an all-pro running back.
Brown/Bell Not Producing Like Jones/Foreman
While Antonio Brown led the team in targets and receptions again, he wasn’t able to dominate the game like last week. This is mainly because he was matched against elite Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes for most of the game. This counts for another reason why getting Bell involved in the passing game is crucial. The combination of an elite receiver and elite pass-catching running back can give defensive coordinators fits. A great example is the system the Atlanta Falcons run. Julio Jones is a downfield threat and Devonta Freeman is a dual threat as a running back and receiver. That combination took the Falcons to the Super Bowl last season, and they dominated the New England Patriots for three quarters. That’s three more quarters than the Steelers did in their meeting with Patriots two weeks earlier in the AFC Championship.
Martavis Bryant showed how pivotal he is to the offense in week two. He only had three receptions and four targets. However, Bryant still racked up 91 receiving yards and a touchdown. His ability to make big plays is invaluable to this offense, especially with Bell not hitting his stride yet, and Brown being relatively contained. Bryant was critical to both touchdown drives the Steelers mounted against the Vikings defense. His 27 yard touchdown reception was a bullet that Ben Roethlisberger uncorked. Bryant caught it in stride, and scored. This gave the Steelers an early lead that they never relinquished.
Also, the 51 yard pass interference call against the Vikings while attempting to cover him set the Steelers up for their 2nd score. A play where rookie Juju Smith-Schuster took a shovel pass and rumbled into the end zone from the four-yard-line.
Defense Leaves A Lot To Be Desired
The defense looked shaky even against a backup quarterback in the Vikings Case Keenum. He only passed for 167 yards as the Steelers managed to keep his downfield passing game in check. Penalties and a poor third down conversion rate helped the Steelers defense get stops. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook rushed for 64 yards on only 12 carries. Luckily for the Steelers defense, it’s still a work in progress and hasn’t run into an elite quarterback or running back yet.
A Defensive Bright Spot
One positive about the Steelers defense is their ability to consistently penetrate into opposing offense’s backfield and create havoc. Even with Stephon Tuitt injured and Bud Dupree not playing at 100 percent, the team is able to generate persistent pressure. The unit finished with seven quarterback hits, and 5.5 tackles for losses. Consistent penetration is an essential foundation to a good NFL defense. It blows up plays and stops playmakers, which the NFL is full of, before they even get started.
If the penalties decrease and the third down and red zone conversion rate increase, the offense can still be a juggernaut. On paper, it looks like the Steelers should be scoring points with legendary offensive units like the St. Louis Rams Greatest Show on Turf. But, in a week where teams found their offensive footing and scored over 40 points, the Steelers couldn’t produce 30. The defense is young and energetic, but has to stay disciplined against the run. A lapse in gap integrity allowed Cook to break a 25-yard run which led to the Vikings only touchdown.
Next week, the Steelers play the 0-2 Chicago Bears in Chicago. Mike Tomlin‘s teams sometimes under-perform on the road against inferior opponents. If that’s the case, be weary of a trap game. The Steelers will be facing their a Bears unit that is rebuilding on both sides of the ball and should continue to feature Bell prominently in the offense. Hopefully they’ll play disciplined football and finish with less than five penalties. The three opponents the Steelers face in the first three weeks of the season are a combined 1-5 so far.
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