The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the second half of the Hall of Fame preseason game trailing 7-3 on the strength of a 34-yard Minnesota Vikings touchdown late in the second quarter on what seemed to be blown coverage. Both teams turned the ball over on downs in the red zone, however.
Landry Jones played the entire first half, with mixed results, but overall an improvement over his previous body of work. Shakim Phillips had the play of the half with a nice grab, but Dri Archer showed elusiveness that he lacked all season to match his elite speed. Rookie tight end Jesse James had a disappointing half that was punctuated with an easy drop on a walk-in touchdown from the two-yard line.
On defense, after an early missed tackle Ryan Shazier was seen flying around making tackles throughout the first half. Brandon Boykin also had a nice debut for the team. The second half will be reserved mostly for third-teamers, in all likelihood, at least for the positions that have enough depth to do so.
The Vikings took over a bit beyond the 20 after a solid kick return. Taylor Heinicke at quarterback now, complete for a first down on the opening play. L.T. Walton was in on the tackle on the following running play to his side for two yards. He showed great hustle on the following play to catch up with a screen pass to the opposite side of the formation from his starting point. On third and two, Walton held point but didn’t shed his blocker. The runner was short, however, forcing a punt with Kenzel Doe back to return, but the result was a touchback.
Third-team unit was in on that drive, including Anthony Chickillo, Howard Jones, Terence Garvin, and Jordan Zumwalt at linebacker.
Jones remained in at quarterback. Jawon Chisholm was bottled up at the line of scrimmage. Jones was wide to Archer on second down to force a quick third and 10. On third down, Jones had three wide and worked to the right side to Phillips, but Trae Waynes was flagged for holding, resulting in an automatic first down. The penalty came before the throw.
With a new set of downs, Cameron Stingily got the carry and took several hits, ended up getting folding backward. He’s taken an awful lot of abuse this offseason. On second down, Chisholm was tackled in the backfield by the legs for a loss of two. On third and 11, Jones, again with three wide, aired it up to Archer, but he put too much on the pass, not giving his receiver enough time to get under the pass. Jordan Berry induced a fair catch at the 30-yard line.
Garvin came up on first down to stick the back as he seeks to retain the roster shot he’s held for two years, for a loss of one. On second down, Thomas got late pressure, but the quarterback got the pass off out to his receiver in front of B.W. Webb for the first down.
From the 38, Thomas eventually collapsed the pocket and Ethan Hemer cleaned up the quarterback as he was flushed up the middle for a sack. On second and 12, Howard Jones did well to stay on the receiver after a screen to not get beat and made the tackle. On third and long, Garvin kept the play in front of him as he made the tackle on the tight end two yards short of the first down.
Doe signaled for a fair catch, but slightly bobbled the ball as he fielded it.
Chisholm got a full head of steam on first down with a deep set and spun off contact for about nine yards, but the rookie James was called for holding. Archer got the carry up the middle for a short gain. On second and 13, Jones passed to Cameron Clear, who didn’t look particularly agile after the catch he he spilled to the ground. On third and nine, Jones tried to step through pressure by was brought down for the first sack allowed for the Steelers.
Berry from the back of his end zone got a bit of distance on the ball, but significantly outkicked his coverage, and the returner nearly took it all the way. The Vikings got a walk-in touchdown from the one on the first play as the right side of the defense was washed down.
C.J. Goodwin was deep to return the kickoff, but it went for a touchback. Tyler Murphy came in on the series with a handoff on first down. Jones back on second and six, Chisholm was able to spin through the hole for a pickup of about three. On third and short, Jones couldn’t step up in the pocket and was brought down for the sack. A penalty was declined. Berry’ third punt again gave plenty of room for a return, and Alden Darby made the tackle, but the Vikings were flagged for an illegal block in the back.
Thomas got pressure on second down and got to the quarterback on the throw, which was into a crowd of defenders and had a chance or two of being robbed. On third and six, Webb helped induce a deflection on what should have been a conversion, and Kevin Fogg intercepted the ball. Webb looked to have nudged the ball as the receiver tried to corral it low to pop it out.
On first down, James let the pass hit his chest and bounce off on what should have been an easy catch, and it landed in the breadbasket of the defense for another interception. James will need to forget about this day as soon as it’s over.
The Vikings worked their way up the field after a few carries into the fourth quarter. A designed roll out was too wide for the receiver to catch inbounds. On second down, Matt Conrath made the tackle on the back on the way past him for a gain of four. On third and six, Conrath moved quick on a false start to set the Vikings back another five. Resetting the down, Heinicke with three wide under pressure found his receiver coming back to the ball, but shy of the sticks, forcing a punt.
Doe back to receive again, fielded it and sidestepped the first opportunity for a decent return. Murphy was in on a keeper on the first play of the drive for a short loss. On second down, Phillips had a bit of traffic near him for a catch to secure a third and short. Empty set, Jones stuck it in to Archer, who flanked, wide, for the conversion.
Jones’ next pass skated short on the field in front of Phillips, one of the few outright poor passes on the night. On second down, he launched one deep, but Phillips was flagged for pass interference to set up second and 20. Archer took a draw up the middle for a five-yard gain. On third and 15, the quarterback’s pass intended for Phillips was high. Disappointing series for Jones.
Coverage was slow to develop on the punt, but Darby was eventually the first one down there on the tackle, with Greg Warren helping clean up.
Jordan Zumwalt hung on for a leg tackle near the line on first down after the punt. From the 39, Bud Dupree lost the edge to allow a run for a first down off his side. Joe Kruger was first to make contact on a loss, but Conrath was flagged for being offside. On second and short after a gain of three, Zumwalt was again in the backfield but the back was able to get the first down.
Fogg showed good persistence to stay on the edge and make the tackle in open space on a run his direction for a gain of one. On second down from the Steelers’ 41, Garvin and Chickillo combined for a tackle near the line of scrimmage, perhaps slightly behind. On third and long, on a short pass, the receiver was able to bounce off Garvin’s initial contact after a quick close, but the linebacker stayed in front and made the tackle with help to force a punt.
Doe back once again, he signaled for a fair catch at the six, going down to a knee to field it. Phillips was flagged for forcing the gunner out of bounds and continuing to block him, resulting in a personal foul that sets up half the distance to the goal at the three.
Chisholm showed nice urgency on the carry from his own end zone to gain space for six yards. Jones was incomplete to Phillips on second down, but the cornerback was flagged for holding. His next pass was behind James, who could only get a hand on it coming back to redirect it incomplete. On second and 10, Jones grounded a ball at Phillips’ feet. His third-down pass never came as he took off, bouncing off a couple of defenders and showing determination to get the first down, taking a nice pop at the end.
Jones and Archer had a soft connection over the middle on the following play, moving the chains. With a pair of rushers coming in, however, Jones got antsy and was too high for the back. On second and 10, he just barely got the pass out to avoid a sack from the blind side. A delay of game knocked the Steelers back with a third and 15. Rushers came free off both edges, forcing Jones to dump the ball off to Archer for a loss of three, and the team had to settle for a punt following the two-minute warning.
Darby was able to get down on coverage again, this time inducing a fair catch. The first-year safety has been one of the few positives on special teams and logged first-team snaps at safety due to injuries.
The Vikings chose to take three knees with a 14-3 lead after the two-minute warning, giving the Steelers a loss in the preseason opener. The end result means little, but we’ve been provided with a wealth of data to sift through.