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David Todd: Quick Thoughts – Steelers Versus Vikings


By David Todd

The Steelers lost their fourth game 34-27 to the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium in London, England on Sunday, dropping their record to 0-4 for the first time since 1968. The Steelers again found themselves in an early hole from which they never recovered, playing from behind the whole game for the second week in a row. The defense was poor, missing a ton of tackles and giving up three plays of 50+ yards, two of which went for scores. It was by far their worst effort of the season on that side of the ball. The offense again showed some improvement and second round draft pick Le’Veon Bell looked good in his professional debut. But another poor performance by the offensive line and Mike Adams in particular hindered the offensive attack and the Steelers again lost the turnover battle, 2-0. On the year they have turned it over 11 times and, remarkably, continue to be the only team in the NFL to not force even one. Mike Tomlin sounded agitated in his postgame press conference and intimated there could be changes in store after the bye week this week. At 0-4 one would expect nothing less.

Injuries:

Ramon Foster left the game in the first half with a chest/pectoral injury, briefly returned, then was ruled out for the game. Kelvin Beachum replaced him at left guard. I’m sure the team has its fingers crossed that it’s not a torn pectoral muscle as that would likely require surgery. The last thing the Steelers need is to lose another member of an already short-handed O-line. Ben Roethlisberger suffered a hand injury when he and a Vikings players hit hands as he was releasing a throw on the Steelers last drive, but he was able to finish the game. Safety Da’mon Cromartie-Smith suffered a quad strain and linebacker Kion Wilson had a hamstring injury. Rookie wide Markus Wheaton dislocated or broke his pinkie but was able to return.

Offense:

The Good:

*Le’Veon Bell made his professional debut Sunday. File away that it was at Wembley in London, England as the answer to a good trivia question a few years down the road. He touched the ball 20 times, gaining 57 yards on 16 carries and adding four catches for 27 more. He also scored two touchdowns, one early on an 8-yard run where he bounced outside and outran everyone to the pylon, flashing all the talent that tantalized the Steelers during his limited work in training camp. There’s no question he will be The Man from here on out if he remains healthy.

*Despite turning it over two more times Ben Roethlisberger again almost single-handedly kept the Steelers in this one. He finished the day 36/51 (including three spikes to stop the clock) for 383 yards and a 48-yard pass interference call, but again was constantly under pressure, getting sacked five times. There is no question he occasionally holds the ball to long, but he repeatedly extended plays and kept drives alive with this pump-faking and scrambling ability. The Steelers were solid on third down, converting eight of 15 opportunities.

*Coming off a nine catch game for a career-high 196 yards, Antonio Brown caught a career-high 12 balls on just 13 targets for 88 yards and also set up the Steelers second touchdown by drawing a 48-yard pass interference call. Eight of Brown’s catches went for first downs and four were third down conversions.

*It’s hard to underestimate the value of a healthy Heath Miller to this offensive. After putting up 19 points in the first two games, the Steelers have put up 50 with Heath back. Sunday he caught 6 balls for 70 yards and provided the sealing block on the edge on Le’Veon Bell’s first touchdown run.

The Bad:

*The fact that Mike Adams played the entire game at left tackle speaks volumes as to how little depth the Steelers have on the offensive line. Adams was awful, giving up 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles-for-loss and a pass defensed to Jared Allen who created problems all game. The Steelers were forced to give Adams help as the game went on. I would be surprised if Adams is the team’s starting left tackle when they come out of the bye week.

*Ben Roethlisberger turned it over two more times. While overall Ben was the reason the Steelers stayed in this game, the turnovers continue to be a killer. On the last drive he got the Steelers in scoring position, but he absolutely cannot take a sack/fumble to end the game. He has to get the ball out and give the Steelers one more opportunity to tie it up.

*The Steelers were 3/6 inside the red zone and 2/4 inside the Vikings ten-yard line. They left a lot of points on the field. Had they converted an earlier opportunity they would have only needed a field goal to tie in the waning seconds.

*The Steelers again didn’t look fully in-synch or efficient when trying to run the hurry-up offense. Late in the third quarter they were huddling, down 17. They had to know they had only a limited number of possessions left, but there was no sense of urgency. On the final drive Ben chose to spike the ball on three different occasions to stop the clock. This didn’t come back to hurt them, but once the team has reached the line of scrimmage, giving away a down to stop the clock is a very risky strategy. Ben has to have more plays called in the huddle or be able to make calls at the LOS. They did not look well-prepared to deal with the situation and the finer details of clock management. Again.

Defense:

The Good:

*Cam Heyward batted down a pass? LaMarr Woodley had a strip-sack? The defense got a late stop to get the ball back with 1:43 to go? There was very little good on the defensive side of the ball, but those were three positives.

The Bad:

*Dick LeBeau’s defense has three basic principals.

1.) Stop the run. The Vikings ran for 145 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per play with almost all the damage being done by Adrian Peterson. The Steelers knew the task at hand beforehand and they didn’t get it done. They are now giving up a average of 122.8 yards/game, 29th in the NFL.

2.) Tackle the catch. The Steelers corners generally play soft rather than press coverage. On the Vikings second possession they had a 3rd-and-4 from their own 30 yard line. Cortez Allen, making his first start since being injured in the opener, played 8-10 yards off Greg Jennings, seemingly having no idea of down and distance. Jennings caught a six-yard hitch just past the sticks and Allen, William Gay and eventually Troy Polamalu missed tackles and Jennings turned it in to a 70-yard touchdown. The Steeler tackling was terrible throughout and I wouldn’t be surprised if the final tally of missed tackles is north of 20.

3.) Don’t give up the big play. The Steelers allowed a 70-yard touchdown catch, a 60-yard touchdown run and a 51-yard completion that led to another score. According to my Terrible Podcast co-host Dave Bryan and Pro Football Focus, that is the first time the Steelers have allowed three plays of 50+ since 1999.

*No turnovers. Four games, no turnovers. The Steelers were unlucky on the Woodley strip-sack, but the total lack of splash plays is astounding.

*The linebackers. Vince Williams was not good. The Steelers got no production or pressure out of the Jarvis Jones/Jason Worilds combo on the right side and they finished with one tackle between them and Lawrence Timmons has been invisible the last couple weeks despite leading the team with six tackles on Sunday. The linebackers are designed to be the playmakers in the Steelers defense. They weren’t on Sunday.

*Cortez Allen had a tough return to the lineup missing multiple tackles and getting beat in man coverage for a 16-yard TD late in the third quarter. There was some hope that Allen’s return to the lineup would provide a lift similar to the end of last season when he had a hand if five turnovers the last two weeks. Instead, Allen was a liability.

Special Teams:

The Good:

*Shaun Suisham.

The Bad:

*Last week I was critical of Zoltan Mesko. Well dial that one up again. Mesko punted four times this week. First from his own 37 and he got off only a 38 yard boot. Next, from the Vikings 48, he forced a fair catch at the 15 which was solid. Then, early in the second quarter punting from the Steelers 30, he got off only a 30-yarder to the Vikings 40. Adrian Peterson went 60 yards on the next play. His last punt originated from the Steelers 34 and was fair caught at the Vikings 24 for a net of 42. He finished with 4 punts for a 35.8 yard average. One of Mesko’s strengths is directional punting, but in four games we have yet to see him really impact field position. He is last in the league with only two punts inside the 20 and he’s also last in the league with a season long of just 52 yards. Mesko is next last in average at 41.9 and 27th in net at 37.6. I would not be at all surprised to see the Steelers bring in someone to challenge him for the job next week.

*Jarvis Jones has been excellent on special teams early in the season and the Steelers kickoff coverage unit led the league coming into the game. However twice on kickoffs Sunday Jones was the first guy down the field but ran right by Cordarelle Patterson the returner. He has to breakdown and be able to make the tackle or getting down field so quickly is of no value.

Coaching:

The Good:

*Despite their record the Steelers continue to play hard. They have battled back in every game until the end despite being down big at times.

The Bad:

*There is plenty of blame to go around. How much do you criticize Dick LeBeau for his players not making tackles? How much do you criticize Todd Haley when his O-Line can’t block? This is clearly Mike Tomlin’s biggest job to date. It will be interesting to see where this team goes from here.

Big Officiating Calls:

*Not many questionable or impactful calls in this one.

Up Next: The Steelers are off this week and will take on the New York Jets in New York Sunday October 11. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00 EST.

Reminder: You can hear me and Tom Bradley on the postgame show on the Steelers Radio Network after every Steelers game. You can listen on the Steeler Gameday app, the Steelers Nation Radio app on iHeart Radio or DVE or 970 ESPN in Pittsburgh. You can hear me weekdays on 970 ESPN from 4-7 pm and you can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.

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  • Brendon Glad

    I think we may be football soul-mates, based on that analysis. I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t say much more.
    I’ll just add exclamation marks and all caps to: 1)HEATH MILLER: BIG POSITIVE!!! 2)MIKE ADAMS: HORRIBLE GAME!!! 3) THANK YOU FOR CRITICIZING HOW OFTEN BEN SPIKES THE BALL WHEN THEY COULD JUST RUN A FADE-ROUTE OR SOMETHING TO THE SIDELINE….SPIKING SHOULD BE A LAST OPTION!!!!4)SPECIAL TEAMS ALWAYS SUCK OTHER THAN SUISHAM!!!!
    Spot-on analysis. I agreed with everything else too. But wanted to emphasize 4.

  • Jay Jaber

    I have a quick thought we are not good in the red zone we don’t have wr that can go up and catch it. I have a solution Peyton manning and Tom Brady throw a lot of slants in the red zone and it always works they have a legal pick set up and a guy runs underneath that’s what we need to do

  • psteelers

    I really think Ben struggles are just being exposed. He holds the ball because he’s slow at processing info. Yes Adams has sucked big time, maybe the stabbing and time he missed is showing up. But it all starts and end with Ben, I can’t recall the last time he has come through. and those results has eliminated the coaches trust in him imo. Ben makes too many rookie like plays. Holding the ball and throwing inaccurate passes on crossing routes. as bad as our record indicates we are it’s crazy that we are still ok from a standings stand point but it all rest on Ben and he can’t be trusted.

    The defense has one stinker out of 4 games I’ll give them that. This system was never predicated on getting turnovers. Those were always a bonus. Db’s will never jump routes in this scheme, they are taught tackle the catch, that’s why it never makes sense for us to draft cb high. We play press coverage once every 50 plays and even then the db’s don’t jam the receivers they just turn and run. this scheme is strictly structured to stop the run and when that’s not happening that is big time trouble.

  • dgh57

    Under Defense Good only 3 lines spent to tell all the good that happened tells it all in how bad the defense played vs. the Vikings!

    What’s up with Mesko? When signed he came with a good positive writeup and is so far turning out to be a bad signing! O well, I guess it goes along with everything else that’s going wrong.

  • Virdin Barzey

    Best analysis yet. Finally someone who knows the game. Nothing to add. I will copy this and send it to Steeler Nation.

  • Brendon Glad

    I’m a Ben-fan…but your second sentence about processing info cannot be ignored. I’ve noticed it too.

  • Brendon Glad

    I didn’t understand the Mesko signing from jump. Out of the 30 or so guys who played special-teams last year…Butler and Suisham were the last 2 on my list, as far as problems go.
    But just get used to it. Maybe you are younger than me…(i’m 42)…and I can safely say that other than the 2-3 years of George Stewart in the late 80’s, and the Bobby April days from 1992-1995…the Steelers break-even on special-teams on their BEST days…and normally damage or ruin seasons with their special-teams. So why would they pick the correct punter?
    See 1972, 1976, 1993, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2009, & 2012. (and THAT’s off the top of my head…probably more if we dig).

  • Brendon Glad

    Did Santonio Holmes have a huge punt-return in a playoff game against Baltimore? Yeah he did…but unless I’m mistaken, I’m pretty sure that’s the same game Mitch Berger flat-out dropped the ball on a punt…so it was not worth crowing about on the flip-side.

  • sean mcmartin

    Wondering if Ben still talks to Arians and is starting to lay the foundation to exit..maybe AZ..

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    It appears to me that the Steeler’s defense is really letting up before plays are over – no gang tackling, no real hard shots that pop the ball out, other team’s players always seem to get to the loose ball first – discouraging.

    Ben had a chance to tie it at the end of the game but was sacked – wonder if he did not have to spike it three times that more time would have allowed the Steelers to cooly put it into OT instead of the desperate last play that was fumbled away.

    Speaking of that, the stat I am curious about is the number of times Ben has had the ball at the end of a game with potential to tie or win the game but failed to do so ala the Super Bowl loss to Green Bay. I have seen it more than a few times.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    Wouldn’t that be something.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    The coaches need to give Mike Adams help. Double TE sets to chip then release or stay and pass block, RB chipping the rusher before releasing, screen play to Adams’ side. These would def help the young man and boost his confidence…it certainly won’t hurt.

  • METAL_HAMMER

    The only ‘real’ starter we had on the offensive line to begin with was Pouncey. The others are pretty much stooges. We’re screwed because of the whole offensive line situation and our defense needs to stop playing like they’re afraid to get fined if they actually tackle somebody. SMH

    -Steel M A Niac

  • Zack

    Start Gilbert on the left, Beachem on the right and Adams at LG. Alex Boone was another Ohio State OT like Adams who seemed to be ineffective backpedaling and he gets moved to guard where he can maul and he turns out to be great. Try Adams the same way. He’s not comfortable in pass protection as an OT and it shows. Move him over one spot at least until Foster is back and see where it goes.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    Ben has been hit in the head too often. Hell, last season, I forget which game, it was a close one we needed, Ben got the throw away for a big gainer but got hit hard and got up holding his skull…Next play should have been a TO or a run, but Ben threw a terrible pick. Dude’s brains are quite possible mush:(

    To answer psteelers, The last time BB came through was the SB win in 2008, back to back great throws to Holmes on GW drive.

    He’s been great for us, but this relationship is nearing an end.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    They always show the stat…so and so has had 30 game winning or tying drives…guarantee BB has had the most fails.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    I’d move Adams to the parking lot (safety cone), the front gate (turnstile), or the practice squad (blocking dummy).

  • John Hinton

    Excellent analysis. Especially your assessment with facts to back up Mesko’s pitiful performance through the first four games. I would love to see the FO bring Butler back to compete for the position he actually won during camp/pre-season.

  • dgh57

    But just get used to it?! I’m about as likely to do that as Tomlin is! Why do you think Butler was cut in favor of Mesko to start with? Because of his inconsistency. Special Teams is a very important part of winning any football game as a matter of fact it’s 1/3 of the game. Whenever we were nailed near are own goal line Butler would give us a 60 boom one time then a 30 yarder the next time which in turn gave the other team great field position which in turn put pressure on our defense to perform. I welcomed the Mesko signing especially after reading the good writeup about him on this site. As the above writeup says about Mesko and being 0-4 I think I can say Mesko job isn’t that secure. In fact all it will take is 1 shanked punt from our own goal line with the game on the line for him to get a pink slip.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Ben had the ball in his hands with an opportunity to win when the Steelers lost Super Bowl. Ben had ball in his hands with opportunity to win in OT playoff loss to Denver. I have seen ball in Ben’s hands in at least two regular season games with opportunity to win or tie and now this is the third, I am sure there are more.

  • charles

    Glue that ‘afraid to get fined’ to Ryan Clarks helmet. Nothing but arm tackling from him and the other safety, whats his name.

  • charles

    When Bill Cowher dropped Bam Morris for a trunkful of pot, I thought that it was very premature. Bam was the best player we had against Dallas in the previous SB. Adams getting knifed should have been handled the same way. Line em up Sweed,Wallace, and Adams and one thing comes through: inexplicable bad plays from what should be a dominant force. Poor decisions. They are all stoners and do not take their job seriously…Adams is totally confused, so many times against the Vikings, he did not block ANYBODY!!!

  • charles

    No turnovers, few sacks is really the main thing, the others we can overcome. 0-4, first time since 68. This D reminds me of the Steelers of 67 and 68. No teeth. Colbert made 2 very bad decisions in order to balance the books: Starks and Harrison. Stable blindside protection and THE moral leader on D. If we go 0-5 then it is time to give the rookies on D some playing time. Regardless, PLEASE RETIRE MR. LEBEAU. The team carries the personality of their coach.and to be honest, I really expected more from Mike Tomlin as well.

  • Bilgewater D

    I agree with this. He could be a great guard. Very similar players.

  • Bilgewater D

    Starks and Harrison is what your complaining about? Those two have done nothing on their new teams.

    What about Lewis and Wallace? Those are far bigger losses.

  • Eric

    or activate Moye

  • http://pittsburghsportsinat.blogspot.com/ bgsteelfan

    Lewis mainly. Wallace has done little in Miami, averaging only 44 yards a game with 1 TD on the season.

  • http://pittsburghsportsinat.blogspot.com/ bgsteelfan

    We do have that kid. Tomlin keeps him inactive.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    I started going through games since 2010, including playoffs, where the Steelers got the ball in the 4th quarter within a score, up or down. The number of 3 and outs made me sick and by 2012 I had to stop. Now there were an inordinate amount of fumbles lost by others, and a few occasions where just one first down and a punt just about sealed the victory, but, without tabulating, this offense under BB is fu$%^&$ terrible!

    I was so happy when they brought in Haley, and the Steelers were going very well last year until that big idiot decided he didn’t like to dink and dunk and win….right before his hissy fits started he was an MVP candidate…didn’t he then throw some terrible picks to miss the playoffs? Time to eat his salary cap hit in ’14 and move on.

    Thanks BB, you won a lot of games for the Black and Gold and played as tough as they come…but now we need someone without a scrambled brain who will protect the ball…this is the NFL, your time is done.

    OK, OK, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…BB is the bast damn game manager ever and is far from elite…when asked to be the star, he flames out.

  • charles

    First of all I am not complaining., secondly, the most important position on offense besides your franchise qb is blindside tackle. Third our D looks toothless without the menace of Mr. Harrison. Qbs are cool calm and collected when faced with our relentless pressure.

  • charles

    He dropped a couple of balls last night (as usual.)

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