Steelers vs Vikings First Half Notes And Observations

After a couple of days’ delay, I’ve finally sorted things out with my Game Pass subscription and have gotten the opportunity to go through the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hall of Game 14-3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night. Below are my notes and observations from the first half of the game.

  • I always find it disappointing to see teams with established kickers go for touchbacks on the opening kickoff. It really gains you nothing and robs you of the opportunity to get a look at your kick coverage, which is difficult to simulate en masse on a practice field. Naturally, the opening kickoff went to the back of the end zone for Dri Archer.
  • Designed rollout off a half-hearted play-action on the first play of the game, perhaps to give Landry Jones an easy throw and build confidence, even if it went as a one-yard gain to Will Johnson.
  • Setting up off left tackle, Matt Spaeth is unable to get on the end’s inside shoulder, leading to instant contact at the line of scrimmage for Cameron Stingily.
  • Fullback Roosevelt Nix is also notable on this play as confirmation of his practice report. Though he leads to the far side of the play, he shows great straight-line power, but he lowers his vision at the point of contact. He gets good initial drive but quickly falls off the block.
  • On third down, Vikings safety Harrison Smith really did a good job of coming in hard on an Archer screen through the middle of the field, forcing him to stay between the numbers, where he was able to cut him down before he could get up to speed.
  • The Steelers’ first play of the game has right outside linebacker Shayon Green set off the line to present a 4-3 look, dropping into coverage. He misses bringing down the tight end on a crosser, but only after Ryan Shazier fails to do so first in his zone of coverage.
  • On the following play, it’s left outside linebacker Arthur Moats off the line in a 4-3 look. With this being a run, Moats stacks the far tight end in a two-tight end set and holds point. Shazier diagnoses the run and penetrates but falls off the tackle following a spin move by Jerick McKinnon.
  • Five at the line on the next play, Moats drops off into his zone…as does Steve McLendon. The problem with dropping a more athletic nose tackle into coverage is that it’s just not as funny. But I digress. McKinnon made Moats look like a rookie on this play with his nifty footwork to win the sideline for lots of YAC, then finishes off the play by trucking Antwon Blake on his way out of bounds.
  • On the Mike Wallace end around, William Gay is more than seven yards off the line of scrimmage when the receivers gets the ball. Meets him a yard behind the line of scrimmage and cuts him down, with Shazier assisting.
  • Nickel defense with everyone standing for a 3rd and 5 play. Showing six at the line, but both inside linebackers drop. Instead, Brandon Boykin comes on the blitz off the defensive right side. Hard to tell whose responsibility is whose, but it looks like Shazier gets fooled on a double crosser and sticks with the wrong player, Wallace, rather than the tight end, who makes the easy reception for a first down.
  • Back in base. Blake makes a nice tackle on the 6’2”, 215-pound Charles Johnson on a bubble screen.
  • Safety Will Allen in the box on the next play. Blake seems to get lost in traffic following Wallace across the formation, but he can’t hold on to a Teddy Bridgewater pass on a rollout that was slightly behind him.
  • The Steelers don’t get pressure on 3rd and 9, and Shazier slips coming in to make the tackle, but Lawrence Timmons trucks the 5’10” Jarius Wright, who bounces right back up, but short of the first.
  • Vikings go for it on 4th and 1, with the Steelers countering with their base. With the right guard working to the second level, Shazier slips in and takes out the fullback, but also wisely gets his shoulder up to trip up the back. McLendon, Timmons, and the rest of the defense finish the play.
  • Stingily loses his footing trying to cut behind the line of scrimmage. Left guard Chris Hubbard is late working a combination block out to the linebacker, who easily sheds and makes the tackle.
  • Two plays later, center Cody Wallace stumbles backward out of the gate. Hard to tell without the Coaches Tape yet, but I’m speculating his trips over David DeCastro. Regaining himself, he looks to help Marcus Gilbert, but ends up putting his foot in the wrong place. Gilbert trips over Wallace’s foot and goes down to a knee, allowing penetrating from the end and a batted pass. Rough sequence for Wallace, or a series of unfortunate events.
  • Wallace is slow to reach out to the penetrating defensive tackle, but Archer eludes him in the backfield. He manages to run past the right end for a one-yard gain instead of a four-yard loss.
  • Archer follows with an impressive run on a draw on third down with 14 yards to go. The right side of the line created the necessary space, while Archer did most of the rest, although he lost his footing on the end. But he showed vision and confidence on this run.
  • On 3rd and 13, Sammie Coates showed excellent concentration and fight to locate and retrieve a pass tipped in the air with the cornerback aggressive and playing the pocket.
  • Power O to the left with DeCastro pulling. Nix gets tied up behind the pulling guard and Stingily has to wait for his blocker. Ultimately wins the edge for three yards, but it should have been more.
  • Fumble to start the second quarter. C.J. Goodwin admitted after the game that he’s still not used to the size of the players he’s facing now. That was his first touch in a game since college more than a year ago.
  • The infamous Cam Thomas responds from the nose tackle position as the second-team defense—mostly—takes over. Shaded off the center’s left shoulder, the Vikings line shifts right and Thomas buries the left guard, pancaking him. With Sean Spence forcing the run inside Thomas gets to get in on the tackle for a short gain as evidence of his effective play.
  • Another 4-3 look with Moats off the line. Shazier shows off his excellent speed to close on the pass catcher for minimal YAC and sets up third down. Boykin willingly lays a shoulder in as well.
  • The Steelers blitz a pair of defensive backs off the left edge with Boykin getting free, and he tips the pass incomplete to force a field goal attempt, which goes wide ride.
  • Second-team personnel in now on offense, including Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle. Wallace gets out-leveraged at the line of scrimmage as the defensive tackle closes up the hole for Jawon Chisholm. Jesse James had a decent weakside block on the play.
  • On the following play, James gets the pass, but with Hubbard whiffing on his second-level block, the rookie tight end has nowhere to go with the ball.
  • Safety Alden Darby comes up in run support to get the first contact on the Vikings’ next drive, with Spence and Stephon Tuitt mopping up.
  • Nickel with Tuitt and Thomas, with Tuitt on the right. Green and Bud Dupree Shazier drops from the line at the snap. Tuitt gets penetration through a double team, forcing a checkdown to the tight end, with Boykin bringing the bigger player down nicely.
  • Thomas gets pressure on a four-man rush on a 3rd-and-8 play. Again, hard to tell without better tape yet but it looks like Green may have gotten around the edge and grabbed the quarterback’s jersey to force the bad pass. Otherwise it was just Thomas’ pressure that induced the poor throw. Shazier nearly got under it for a pick.
  • We see on the replay that Shakim Phillips made a great move on the Vikings’ first-round pick to fly past him and make an excellent catch down the field.
  • Wallace gets tripped up and can’t get out in front of a screen for Archer on the next play that goes for a loss.
  • Pretty good pocket on the next play, with Coates burning the cornerback with a double move, but Jones fails to deliver the ball to the right spot. Missed opportunity here.
  • No matter what the cause, Jones shows toughness on contact in the pocket, getting a ball off into the end zone that gives his wide receiver a chance to get under it, even though it ended up incomplete.
  • Steelers show a nickel 4-3 with safety Ian Wild playing in the box. Tuitt shows hustle to the ball on a screen to his side.
  • Poor play from Thomas here. Gets turned by a double team and then tries to back into the line of scrimmage. Tuitt, Spence, and Wild all make the tackle at the line.
  • Thomas the only man with a hand down, five rush with a double defensive back blitz. B.W. Webb playing 10 yards off on 3rd and 2 and gives up the underneath.
  • Back to base, with Ethan Hemer. Dupree loses contain and lets a run spill past him. Blake slips through a tackle.
  • Green is set behind the line. He and Spence both cross blitz and induce a bad pass.
  • Two plays later, he appears to blow his coverage assignment to allow a 34-yard touchdown, the Vikings’ only first-half points.
  • Archer gets his first look on a kick return. Shows nice burst through a lane and gets what he can out to the 30. He never returned one to even the 20 last season.
  • Archer’s speed is evident on a 3rd-and-10 screen pass as well, simply running past would-be tacklers for the first down.
  • Coates draws a pass interference call with his speed and size down the field to set up first and goal.
  • Jones gave his receivers three chances from the one-yard line for a touchdown. While the first two would have been difficult catches, we all know James’ drop on fourth down.
  • With the Vikings stuck on their own goal line, they hope to just end the half, but the Steelers make the stop to give Archer a chance to make something happen on the punt return with seven seconds on the clock. Instead, he muffs the ball and all he can do is fall back on it.
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