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Steelers Versus Vikings – First Half Notes And Observations

The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to regain their footing on the season, and they’ve traveled to London to do so. Le’Veon Bell makes his debut today, relegating Isaac Redman to the bench. Heath Miller returned last week, but should be even more involved in the offense this week.

The Minnesota Vikings received the ball first, with Shamarko Thomas making the tackle on the kickoff just before the 20. Vince Williams started ahead of Kion Wilson. On the first play, Matt Cassel found Jerome  Simpson for 13 yards. Adrian Peterson was held to three yards on his first carry. On second down, another pass to Simpson converted a first down. A facemask penalty advanced the Vikings beyond midfield.

Ike Taylor nearly intercepted a deep pass into the end zone intended for the rookie Cordarelle Paterson, however, and Peterson was held to three yards on second down. On third and seven, Cameron Heyward batted down his second pass of the season to force a long field goal attempt. Blair Walsh was good from 54 yards out, his 12th successful field goal from beyond 50 yards in his career in as many attempts, to put the Vikings up 3-0 early.

Felix Jones returned the kickoff, and was able to get out just beyond the 20, thanks in part to a block by Jonathan Dwyer. On first down, David Johnson bluffed a fullback role but moved to the line. Ben Roethlisberger avoided a sack and completed a pass to Miller for five yards. On empty set on second down, a screen to Markus Wheaton gained six yards and a first down for the rookie’s first career reception.

Le’Veon Bell gained one yard on his first career carry on the following play. A quick pass to Antonio Brown picked up five on second down. On third and four, the Steelers went empty again. Roethlisberger pump faked nearly half a dozen times, but his pass deep was well out of bounds, forcing a punt. The punt was nearly returned for a touchdown, but a flag brought it all the way back. The penalty was an invalid fair catch signal, which tacks on five yards to the end of the kick.

A missed tackle by Cortez Allen on third and three on Greg Jennings resulted in a long touchdown pass that was nearly all yards after the catch. Not a good start for Allen after missing the past two weeks. The Vikings grab an early 10-0 lead, as did the Chicago Bears the week before.

Le’Veon Bell was good for six on his second carry off the right side after a return to the 25 by Jones. On second down, Antonio Brown took an end around for a first down. After an incomplete pass on first down, Roethlisberger connected deep with Emmanuel Sanders for 36 yards down to the 23. In the no huddle, Bell got the carry again, but for no gain.

With Dwyer in at running back, Roethlisberger pump faked David Johnson open for eight yards to set up a third and short. Bell came back in on third down as Roethlisberger found Brown on a quick slant for a first down that set up first and goal.

On the first play after, Bell followed an excellent block by Miller to break out to the right side for the eight-yard touchdown to close the gap to 10-7. It was, of course, the rookie’s first career points, but it was also the Steelers’ first rushing touchdown of the season as well.

Much unlike the preseason, the regular season has seen the special teams become an asset for the Steelers, in particular the kick coverage unit, and once again they stopped their oppponents before the 20-yard line on a return. Brett Keisel dropped Peterson behind the line on first down.

On second down, Steve McLendon tossed aside the center to stop Peterson again after two  yards, setting up a third and eight. William Gay was in strong coverage on the third down pass to force a three-and-out. Antonio Brown fair-caught the ensuing punt on the 45-yard line.

Roethlisberger’s first down pass was tipped and nearly intercepted. On second down, Le’Veon Bell took a screen for seven yards. The third down pass, however, was thrown away after strong pressure, resulting in a disappointing three-and out.

Cortez Allen had strong one-on-one coverage down the field on first down for the Vikings and did not allow the receiver any room to run to the ball. On second down, Peterson bullied his way for five yards. Ike Taylor nearly intercepted the third down pass after jumping a short route to force another punt, however. This time the Vikings boomed a 57-yard punt to flip the field.

Felix Jones carried the ball for one yard to close the first quarter. A hold on second down backed the Steelers up even further. The Steelers ran a draw on second and 19 that gained one yard for Jones. Brown was able to gain 15 yards on a screen, but it was short of the first down. It appeared he was nearly brought down by the facemask, but there was no flag.

Adrian Peterson finally found a crease on the next play for a long touchdown to take a 17-7 lead. Missed tackles abound. These big plays are highly uncharacteristic of the Steelers defense. It is the second week in a row after Matt Forte got free for a long one last week.

Felix Jones returned the ball to just the 14, and Bell was dropped in the backfield on first down. Ramon Foster walked off the field after the play and Kelvin Beachum replaced him for his first professional action at guard. Jared Allen beat Mike Adams with ease for a sack on the following play. On third and long, Brown was able to once again take a short pass for a bigger gain, this time for the first down.

After buying time, Roethlisberger scrambled and found Brown open for 15 yards to the 44.  A high pass to Sanders resulted in only four yards because the receiver had to adjust to the ball, which resulted in him going to the ground. Roethlisberger unnecessarily took a sack on the following play after not seeing anything he liked when he could have thrown the ball away to set up third and 12. Heath Miller bailed the Steelers out with a big catch down the field, however, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Harrison Smith gave the Steelers the ball at the 15.

Right back to Miller, the Steelers picked up seven yards on first down. Antonio Brown seemed to have converted the first down to set up first and goal at the six, but the officials marked him just short. Bell was able to convert the third and short, however. On first and goal, Bell gained two yards. Heath Miller was lined up far right on second down, and it came to him, but the ball was well over his head. Jerricho Cotchery entered the game on third down, but Jared Allen once again sacked Roethlisberger after nothing was open. Shaun Suisham made it 17-10.

On the plus side, the offense held the ball for over nine minutes, allowing the defense to rest after giving up two long touchdowns. But Patterson had a good return after the score out to the 33. LaMarr Woodley stripped Cassel on third down, but the Vikings recovered it for a first down instead.

After the two-minute warning, Cassel found his receiver down the field to get into field goal range. A good tackle by William Gay stopped a third down pass from converting to a new set of downs, and the Steelers called a timeout in order to have a chance to score again before halftime. In the meantime, the second field goal by Walsh brought the lead to 20-10.

The Steelers went to the ground on first the play, and Bell got free for a first down, but the Steelers did not use a timeout. Another quick run and they allowed the clock to run out. It seemed rather pointless not to at least attempt a long pass in that situation. The Steelers trail by 10 entering the second half.

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