The Pittsburgh Steelers are soon to embark on their second game of the regular season, and when they do so, they will be facing a Vikings team without their top two options at quarterback with Sam Bradford inactive due to a knee injury and Teddy Bridgewater on the PUP list.
Still, they will at the least have to contend with a running game that looked potent last week with Dalvin Cook, and do so without Stephon Tuitt. The Steelers are 9-1 in home openers over the course of the past 10 years, however, so Mike Tomlin’s teams have a history of making the most of their first game at Heinz Field every year.
Other notable inactives for the Steelers are tight end Vance McDonald and safety J.J. Wilcox, with a back injury and a concussion, respectively. As a result of these inactives, we see Daniel McCullers, Brian Allen, and all nine linebackers active. Despite an extra offensive slot open with McDonald out, Justin Hunter still did not get a helmet.
The Steelers received first, with Terrell Watson fielding the kick short of the goal line and returning the ball out to the 26. On first down, Chris Hubbard was on the field as an extra blocker in 22 personnel. Le’Veon Bell received the first touch of the game, but was stopped up the middle after two yards. Xavier Grimble replaced Jesse James on second down. Bell showed some hesitation to get out to the 33 on second down, setting up third and three.
With three receivers now, Ben Roethlisberger faked an end-around to Martavis Bryant, hitting Grimble for the first down, but the offense was flagged for an illegal formation penalty. Now third and eight, Roethlisberger’s pass was incomplete, wide of Eli Rogers, ending in a three-and-out. Jordan Berry got off a good punt with a favorable bounce, with Mike Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey both covering the punt well, settling down out of bounds at the 26.
The Vikings’ first play of the game was a bubble screen to Cook for one yard. On second and nine, Cook got a good head of steam for about seven yards, but was stopped hard from there. On second and two, Case Keenum was able to find Thielen at the first down marker.
From the 36, Cook was able to get to the left edge for a small gain, but a holding call brought the play back. Now first and 20, T.J. Watt recorded a pass defensed, getting his left arm up in the pass rush. Good play from the rookie. He came off the left side. The Steelers sent a blitz against the run on second down, which was stopped for no gain. On third and 20, The Vikings settled for a draw run for nine yards and a punt. Rogers fielded the ball with a Vikings player right in his face for no forward progress.
Starting from the 22, James was back on the field after getting checked out from the first play of the game. Bell got the carry but was dropped at the line of scrimmage. He tried to bounce the second-down run outside, but was again stopped for no gain. On third down, the offense spread out five, completing to Antonio Brown, but just short of the first-down marker. I believe that was the first four-receiver set of the game. They lined up for the fourth-and-one play and got the Vikings to jump offside.
With a new set of downs, Bell punched ahead for four yards on first down. Roethlisberger looked deep for Brown on second down, well over his head, but Xavier Rhodes was flagged for pass interference, an obvious call. That is his second pass interference penalty drawn in the first 70 minutes of the season.
From the 38 of the Vikings, Bryant was this time given the ball on a reverse for seven yards. On second and three, Bell was able to work his way up the middle for four and the first first down of the game via an offensive play and not a penalty.
James Conner checked in and got the ball on a sweep, finding space for nine yards, checking back out after the one snap. Now second and one inside the red zone, Bell stutter-stepped for two yards and another first down as the offense began to find some rhythm. From the 17, a hold on James wiped out a three-yard run from Bell to push them back out of the red zone. Roethlisberger pulled up on a pass for James to hit Bryant further down the field, with the catch and run for the score. The Steelers lined up to go for a two-point conversion, but a delay of game penalty forced the offense off. Chris Boswell’s extra point made it 7-0.
Following a touchback, Cook got the carry on first down but was met by Watt and Cameron Heyward for a loss of four. On second and 14, he was lucky to gain one. Quickly third down and 13, Keenum’s pass was wide of his target with Joe Haden in coverage against Stefon Diggs. Rogers signaled for a fair catch at the Steelers’ 40 after a 37-yard punt.
Back with good field position, Bell caught an inside angle and picked up 11 yards, just his second run of double-digit yardage of the young season so far. After a false start on Alejandro Villanueva, however, he was dropped for a sack, Everson Griffen spinning inside the left tackle for a loss of seven. Now second and 22, it was Bryant this time drawing the pass interference call working against Trae Waynes, so both of the Vikings’ first-round starting cornerbacks have drawn a long pass interference penalty. Bryant was under the ball and looked like he would have caught it without the interference, setting up first and 10 in the red zone regardless.
The 49-yard penalty put the ball at the 12-yard line. Bell picked up six yards to the right on the first play in the red zone. On second and four from the six, it was Bell again, this time up the middle for about three yards. On third and one, it was JuJu Smith-Schuster taking the ball on a shovel pass for the touchdown, his first touch of his career resulting in a score. The Steelers have gone up 14-0.
From the 25 after a touchback, Keenum hit Wright for nine yards off play action. Ryan Shazier came up from coverage to hit Cook, keeping him just shy of the first-down marker. On third and inches, however, he was able to pick it up and move the chains.
From the 35, the rookie back was quickly met by Heyward after a gain of one. Diggs got the ball on a sweep, but was only able to add four. On third and five, checking into the dime, Keenum was able to find Kyle Rudolph for 12 in zone.
Across midfield, play action helped open Thielen for a gain of 24 across the field against Haden. Now from the 24, Keenum just launched one deep and out of reach against unblocked pressure from Watt. On second down, off play action again, a blitz up the middle chased the quarterback out and forced him to throw it away. Yet more pressure forced another throwaway, but a field goal did put the Vikings on the board at 14-3.
With a touchback from Watson, Bell was good for about two yards on first down. Looking deep for Brown in double coverage, Roethlisberger’s pass seemed to be misplaced. Now third and eight, he chucked it for Brown again, incomplete working against Rhodes. Berry’s second punt of the first half. Apparently Watt got injured on the coverage and headed into the locker room.
Vince Williams made the tackle for a gain of one on first down. At the 45, Mike Mitchell broke up a downfield pass with a shove in the back. Now third and nine, looking for Thielen, Artie Burns broke up the pass to force a punt. Bounced out of bounds at about the 11.
Bell was limited to two yards on first down. Jumping over a defender or two, he found room for 10 yards on second and eight. Under pressure, Villanueva hit Roethlisberger’s ankle and then was tackled by the ankle, slow to get up as he threw the ball away. Brown couldn’t hold on to the second-down ball. On third and 10, his pass for Rogers was high. heyward-Bey helped induce a fair catch on the punt.
Following a six-yard hitter on first down, Shazier’s run blitz helped the defense swarm the run for a loss of three. On third and seven, Bud Dupree was able to get off the left edge and chase Keenum down for the sack. Rogers called for a fair catch at the 11. In the meantime, rookie T.J. Watt was declared questionable to return with a groin injury.
Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster on a drag route on first down for three yards. From the 15, A quick pass to James gained four to set up a third and three. Following the two-minute warning, stacking Bell and Brown, Roethlisberger found Brown for the second time of the game to convert.
It was James across the middle of the field for 11 yards. James again for four. On second down, Roethlisberger had rushers hanging in him, but got the ball out to Brown. After a booth review, the rule on the field was reversed, deeming it a good catch, and a successful third-down conversion for the second time in a row.
From the Vikings’ 46, Roethlisberger looked for Brown again but Terrence Newman nearly intercepted it, resulting in the ball bouncing off the receiver’s face. Now second down, Roethlisberger looked deep for Brown, catching it, but this time clearly out of bounds. On third and 10, Roethlisberger had to get rid of the ball quickly as he was about to get hit, but Bryant was not down the field. Harrison Smith, the safety, was the nearest player. Heyward-Bey among others induced a fair catch at the nine.
The Steelers were flagged for 12 men on the field on first down. McKinnon was good for seven yards on first down, but they just ran out the clock.