We’ll continue to write about specific moments and players throughout the week but as I did last year, here’s my overall game notes after re-watching it. Let’s dive in.
– I was able to identify most of the first team kick return unit. The front five: Anthony Chickillo, Bud Dupree, Arthur Moats, Terence Garvin, and Howard Jones. Jesse James and Roosevelt Nix served as the wedge while Sammie Coates was the upback for Dri Archer.
– For housekeeping purposes, the offenses starting 11. Kelvin Beachum, Chris Hubbard, Cody Wallace, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert. C.J. Goodwin and Sammie Coates at WR. Will Johnson and Matt Spaeth at tight end, Landry Jones at QB, and Cameron Stingily at RB.
– On the second play, Roosevelt Nix checked in at FB. Spaeth and Johnson continued to play TE.
– First team punt coverage unit: Coates and Doran Grant were the gunners with Ian Wild the upback. Cameron Clear and Nix were the wings. On the line: Anthony Chickillo, Shayon Green, Howard Jones, Greg Warren, and Arthur Moats.
– The starting 11 on defense. Stephon Tuitt, Steve McLendon, Cam Heyward at DL, Arthur Moats and Shayon Green at OLB, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier at ILB, Antwon Blake and William Gay at CB, and Will Allen paired alongside Alden Darby at safety.
– Going to look at some of the changes under Keith Butler throughout the week but twice on the first Minnesota Vikings drive, while in a 3×1 set, the Pittsburgh Steelers basically ran a 4-3. Pulled one of the outside linebackers off the line. Did this at various points throughout the game.
– Watch all the depth Lawrence Timmons gets. Hard to tell the coverage but he’s definitely acting the way a MIKE linebacker in a Tampa 2 would get. Turns to the passing strength and carries the Y (tight end) down the seam).
– Why I really like Blake. Watch how much ground he covers and how quickly he closes in on this tackle in the run game. Just a guy who loves to hit people.
– Steelers blitzed their slot corner four times, all in the first half. They averaged less than three per game in 2014 under Dick LeBeau. But you’re still getting that LeBeau feel. Cat blitz with Brandon Boykin, drop the away side linebacker into the flat on the back and drop the nose tackle McLendon to take away an immediate crossers, like this slant.
– Shayon Green didn’t have the game he hoped for. Gets turned and sealed inside by this tight end. Has to stay square, use his hands, stay in the fight.
– Again, Green with a negative play. Slow to react to the end around, isn’t a threat on the tackle. Ryan Shazier whizzes by, using his athleticism to cover ground in a hurry, take a much sharper angle, and make the tackle.
– Even in the Hall of Fame Game, Heyward is always hustling. Chases from the backside to help clean up the receiver on this screen.
– Having an athlete like Timmons lets you drop him into the deep middle on third down. Guy can close in a hurry underneath, delivering a knockout blow to the receiver a yard short of the sticks.
– As we’ve talked about, props to Shazier for sacrificing his body on 4th and 1. Goes low on the fullback, clearing a path for Timmons to clean it up.
– Stingily, before he got hurt, stumbled trying to cut back to his left. Wound up for a minimal gain. Just isn’t an athlete and yesterday’s game confirmed it.
– Todd Haley staple on the completion to Spaeth. Playaction, pulling the away side guard to create a false key, getting those linebackers to suck up, have the tight end outside stem before releasing back inside, and it’s a pitch and catch. Complete for a first down.
– Get the good and bad of Marcus Gilbert here. Has that great kickslide that lets him get two or three steps after the defender has only taken one. TV tape makes it hard to see what goes wrong but Gilbert falls off at the end, hitting the ground and letting the defender get his hands up and bat down the past. Gilbert always looks good until there’s contact. Then…it can get dicey.
– Steelers ran pistol several times with Landry Jones at QB. Don’t be surprised to see that in the regular season, too.
– Kudos to Archer for side stepping the DT, turning this several yard loss into a two yard gain. That’s what we like to see.
– C.J. Goodwin, as we’ve seen in practice, played in the slot and on the outside. Only receiver to do that.
– First delay of game. Vikings cover every gap, Jones runs out of time making his adjustments/calls. Has to speed things up though I realize playing with such a young group in a new environment hinders pace.
I thought Murphy made a couple mistakes.
Hands it off at the mesh to the back despite the end crashing. Murphy should have kept it and the end makes the tackle on Jawon Chisholm.
Should have hit Coates on the swing with the corner playing off and facing a heavy box look. Or at worst, give it to the back. Instead, Murphy tries to keep it around the edge but gets tackled near the LOS.
– Roosevelt Nix whiffing on the linebacker on this Power O. Lacks the change of direction ability to adjust while not having a good burst out of his stance, making it difficult for him to get to his spot when coming across the formation.
The other issue with Nix is dropping his eye level on contact. Not seeing what he hits and it causes him to struggle to stick to his blocks. He can clear a stationary target in the hole due to his size and power but in space? It’s a much different story.
– Poor stunt pickup by DeCastro and Gilbert. Gilbert should be in front of the defender, square to him, not hanging as the sidecar. Weird to see it this bad from two veterans.
– Coates with great concentration on his lone catch. Not only for it being tipped by the underneath defender but the ability to secure it with the corner in coverage trying to play the pocket.
– Jones didn’t break the huddle until there were eight seconds left on the playclock on the team’s 4th and 1, forcing them to call timeout. Not good in-game management.
– Goodwin definitely has to be a more physical wide receiver. Play to his size. On his fumble, he gets bumped by a blitzing corner way too easily, shouldn’t have been knocked off balance that severely, then leaves his feet to make the grab before fumbling at the end.
Though he didn’t react initially, nice hustle from Coates to make the tackle.
– Again, a slot blitz with the nose tackle dropping into coverage. Amoeba defense with only one DL playing with his hand down. Very LeBeau like.
– Second team offensive line: Alejandro Villanueva, Hubbard, Wallace, B.J. Finney, and Mitchell Van Dyk.
– The second team cornerback nickel grouping had Blake at his usual LCB spot, Brandon Boykin in the slot, and B.W. Webb in the slot. In base, Boykin played right corner opposite Blake.
– Sammie Coates and Kevin Fogg served as first team jammers.
– Villanueva doing a great job to hove the DE way up the arc. Totally out of the play.
– Finney needs to do a better job of finding work, helping out the center or tackle in pass protection. Don’t stand in no man’s land.
– Shakim Phillips with a nice stem and hand use, swimming over the flat-footed corner on his one-handed grab.
– Kick coverage, in no order. Too hard to tell from the TV tape. Goodwin, Darby, Dupree, Jordan Zumwalt, Moats, Grant, Howard Jones, Chickillo, and Ian Wild.
– Sean Spence doing a great job near the LOS. Sheds the trap block of the guard, fills and makes the tackle. This is the type of play that gets me really excited about him. In camp and in the preseason, you can tell he’s a more aggressive and physical player. No doubt because he’s more comfortable in the defense.
– Dupree and Darby don’t do a good job on the edge. Dupree can’t get his outside arm free while Darby sticks his eyes on the fullback and gets sucked up into the box, unable to reach the edge when the back bounces it to the outside.
– Touchdown to Mycole Pruitt. Green clearly looks lost. Unsure of where he’s dropping. Kind of floating around, thinking about taking the back in the flat, but that looks like Ryan Shazier’s responsibility. Doesn’t get depth and the Y cross to Pruitt is an easy six.
– Matt Conrath and Nix were the wedge pairing on the ensuing kick return.
– Finney tries to zone block but the DT spikes inside and the rookie guard can’t get a piece of him. Coates also is motioned to a nasty split to block the backside linebacker. He, like Goodwin, needs to be more physical. Gets knocked off balance with ease.
– Mitchell Van Dyk has a great anchor. You’d expect that at 330 pounds. On this play, he reaches a bit on his punch and looks like he’s going to double over. Able to recover, anchor the end, and shove him upfield.
– Reese Dismukes snapped the ball before Jones wanted it on the goal line. I get the playclock was at zero but that’s a major no-no. I’d take the delay of game over the fumble, in the red zone no less, every time. Luckily for the center, Jones was able to get a throw off.
– Miscommunication on the ensuing play. Slide protection but the center, right guard, and right tackle don’t seem to get the call, leaving a gap for the DT to rush in free.
– I’ll give Jones a pass for “missing” the open Goodwin in the end zone. He got the ball to Jesse James on the designed screen. It should have been six.
– Punt return unit at the end of the half: Coates and Fogg the jammers. Darby, Grant, James, Wild, Chickillo, Dupree, Nix, and Green.
– Kick coverage unit. Missing two players from the list. Gerod Holliman, Nix, James, Coates, Fogg, Jordan Sullen, Devin Gardner, and Howard Jones.
– Second-team defense. L.T. Walton, Cam Thomas, and Ethan Hemer along the DL. Dupree and HoJo at OLB. Terence Garvin and Zumwalt inside. Fogg and Webb at corner and Wild/Holliman paired at safety.
– Blake came back into the game in nickel packages while Webb moved to the slot. Anthony Chickillo also rotated in as a nickel ROLB, a position he hadn’t played in team drills (though got reps in one-on-ones) and would later filter in during base sets.
– Walton, as he’s shown in college and in camp, really works hard to run the ball. Was finishing plays, chasing down passes on his first couple snaps.
– Opening second half punt return unit: Gardner/Goodwin jammers to one side, Jordan Dangerfield and Jordan Sullen to the other. Green, Stingily, Hemer, Clear, Zumwalt, Hoard Jones on the line.
– First play for Miles Dieffenbach. Nice job reaching the second level and setting his hips to seal the backside linebacker.
– Goodwin moves like he’s going to crack the safety rolling into the box to fill the run but never makes contact. Again, he’s gotta get more nasty.
– Cornerback off the edge dips under Finney’s trap block, making the TFL. Finney was obviously frustrated.
– Steelers have six to block a five man rush. Shouldn’t be an issue. But James and Kelvin Palmer, who mixed in with the second team, double the defensive end, leaving a linebacker free up the middle. Palmer needs to have more active eyes, work inside out.
– Second half punt coverage unit: Phillips and Fogg the gunners, Darby the upback. Gardner and Conrath the wings. On the lie: James, Green, Hemer, and Zumwalt.
– Steelers did stay in their 3-4 base against 11 personnel more often than I expected. We’ll see if that’s because of the preseason or something they’ll try to do more often during the regular season.
– Howard Jones has to learn there are times where you can’t run the arc. Back chips to his side, ending Jones way wide upfield, taking himself out of the play without the tackle ever making contact. Has to understand when to change his approach, go with a bull, or an inside move. Needs to be thinking, entering his rush with a plan.
– Steelers in BoB (big on big) protection. Dismukes sees his man, #58 drop, and he does at least quickly work to help someone else. But he needs to do a better job of scanning the other side of the field to see if there’s anything more pressing to pick up. Aside from the quickest of glances, he turns to Dieffenbach and doubles the nose. Doesn’t see the stunt between the linebacker and defensive tackle, leaving the DT on Archer. It ends as well as you’d expect.
Hard for me to blame Finney, frankly. Stunt pickup revolves around communication. There’s no one to tell him about the slanting linebacker so he pretty much gets blindsided. Lost the battle before it began.
– Goal line personnel: Dupree/Walton/Conrath/Thomas/Hemer/Jones all with their hands down on the line. Wild/Holliman at safety. Zumwalt/Garvin/Spence at linebacker.
– Kick return unit: The front five. Zumwalt/Green/Sullen/Webb/Matt Conrath. Clear and Hemer on the wedge with Phillips the upback for Goodwin.
– Webb took an interception away from poor Sullen. If he didn’t knock it down, Sullen picks it off.
– But Webb makes up for it, doing a great job to play the pocket of the tight end, knocking it free as Chase Ford struggles to secure it cleanly, and Fogg picks it off.
– Holliman in the box. Eyes on the fullback, which is good, but struggles to change directions as the back cuts it back. Holliman can’t make the tackle. Lacks speed and agility.
– Conrath giving me a glimmer of hope, getting his arms extended to two-gap, shedding and making the tackle.
– Sullen played at RCB over Doran Grant, who didn’t see a snap on defense. That’s pretty strange. Grant was healthy and played on special teams.
– Third and 15. Jones throws it over the head of the tall Shakim Phillips. Can’t miss on a throw like that. One that would have gone for a first down. And the pocket was clean. No pressure.
– Darby had a nice day on special teams. A solo tackle, an assist, and forced a fair catch while playing as the upback.
– Jordan Zumwalt, as I wrote about immediately after the game, was very active. Great job to fight through this trap block and make the tackle.
– Third team defensive line: Conrath/Mike Thornton/Joe Kruger.
– Jordan Dangerfield took on a blocker, leaving Fogg as the only edge defender. To his credit, the corner made the open field tackle behind the line. Offenses normally embrace that matchup, getting the back on the corner instead of the safety, but Fogg made them regret that.
– Hard to see in the picture but kudos to Webb for sacfrifcing himself against the fullback on the edge. Took it on the way we’ve seen Ike Taylor and William Gay do it. No glory there but it’s vital.
– Phillips had one of those mistakes I wrote about before the game. Called for blocking a player while out of bounds. Teachable moment. Can be sure he won’t make it again.
– Niko Davis played on the last punt return unit. Also came into the game at RE during the Vikings’ kneel downs. Joe Okafor checked in at LE.
– Third-team offensive line. Kevin Whimpey, Collin Rahrig, B.J. Finney, Mitchell Van Dyk, Kelvin Palmer.
– Palmer beat to the inside on this swim move.
– Phillips with a mental mistake. Ran an out when Jones wanted him on a dig. Pass incomplete.
– One of Jones’ worst plays. Seven man rush with five blocking. Ball is obviously coming out quick. Jones knows he wants to go to Archer, Archer is signaling for it, but Jones’ throw is way off the mark. Accuracy evaporates anytime Jones has to throw from an unsound base. And that’s why he had a negative performance.
– Punter hangtimes.
Brad Wing: 4.48, 4.62
Jordan Berry: 5.05, 5.12, 4.85, 4.80, 5.02
Nice day for Berry. He needed one like that.
– The offensive line was naturally going to look pretty poor in their first game. Also consider the fact the Vikings run a 4-3 and the Steelers have faced a 3-4 each day in practice. You get into a game and it’s a totally new look with different blocking assignments. A lack of gameplanning only compounds the problem.