There are rumors circulating that a football game is about to break out, and that the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to take part in it.
A day after inducting another one of their own into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Steelers take the field in the Hall of Fame game against the Minnesota Vikings, for the first time we’ve seen football since the close of the 2014 season.
Things have certainly changed since then, as we have examined all offseason. We’ve posed the questions, now it’s time to start getting the answers.
7:38 EST We know some of the players that will definitely not dress for the black and gold. This list of players could grow by game-time.
QB Ben Roethlisberger (coach’s decision)
LB James Harrison (coach’s decision)
WR Antonio Brown (coach’s decision)
RB Le’Veon Bell (coach’s decision)
C Maurkice Pouncey (coach’s decision)
S Shamarko Thomas (shoulder)
S Mike Mitchell (hamstring)
LB Vince Williams (hamstring)
S Ross Ventrone (ankle)
WR Martavis Bryant (elbow)
WR Markus Wheaton (hamstring)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (unknown)
NT Daniel McCullers (hamstring)
LB Jarvis Jones (bicep)
CB Cortez Allen (unknown)
S Robert Golden (knee)
RB DeAngelo Williams (shoulder)
RB Josh Harris (hamstring)
T Mike Adams (back) – PUP
CB Senquez Golson (shoulder) – PUP
QB Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder) – PUP
The Steelers will be without a huge chunk of their 90-man roster, with few surprises, though it seems for some reason wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is inactive. Though he is a veteran, he is only in his second year with the team and can be regarded as a bit of a bubble player. In other words, he could use the time.
Still, this will provide great opportunities to get a long exposure time for C.J. Goodwin and Sammie Coates. And Landry Jones.
The Steelers called tails and the coin came up tails. They take the ball.
Dri Archer was back to take the opening kickoff, but the ball sailed to the back stripe of the end zone for a touchback. This is a coaching decision in the preseason I will never understand. If you know your kicker, then you should want to get a look at your return unit.
Cody Wallace and Chris Hubbard start. The game began with play action and a short gain to Will Johnson. On the following play, Cameron Stingily bounced off of contact with no push up the middle and gained maybe another yard. Prior to third and long, somebody on offense was flagged for presumably a false start. Now third and 14, Jones dropped back to set up a screen for Archer. After a pivot at the catch point, the second-year back picked up half the yardage. Brad Wing set back to punt and got plenty of distance, but allowed a substantial return close to the Vikings’ 40.
Teddy Bridgewater was good to Kyle Rudolph for a first down as he worked off contact from Ryan Shazier. From midfield, the run defense stood firm for a two-yard allowance. On second and eight, Arthur Moats was juked in tight space near the sideline for another first down. From the 35, as the pocket began to collapse, Bridgewater pulled the ball down and ran for six yards. On an end around, William Gay stuffed Mike Wallace on an end around for a one-yard loss. Facing third and five, Rudolph was the outlet again for another chain-mover. Shayon Green was in at right outside linebacker.
Antwon Blake did well to stay disciplined on a screen pass for a one-yard gain. On the following play, inside the 20, playaction let to a low pass to Wallace that was not handled. Now third and long, Lawrence Timmons laid the wood over the middle short of the first down. Shazier lost his footing. On fourth down and one, Shazier was first in with penetration to help trip the back up and force a turnover on downs.
Taking over from the 11, Stingily got another carry off the left side for five yards. Jones down the seam to Matt Spaeth for a nice pass and catch and the Steelers’ first down. Marcus Gilbert was brought to his knees and allowed the rusher to bat the pass down at the line on first down. Archer in the backfield, makes the first penetrator miss in the backfield on a carry, speeds past a second for just a short gain. On third and nine, Gilbert was flagged for a false start. Rough series for the veteran right tackle. Now third and 14 for the second time in two drives, Jones dropped back with Archer to his side and showed some impressive slippery qualities, likely the best run of his professional career.
Tyler Murphy was inserted as quarterback for one play. He pulled the ball out of the back’s chest and took off, but slipped and gained just one yard. Jones back in, Stingily and fullback Roosevelt Nix lacked the speed to get out to the perimeter, resulting in a loss. Hubbard had a solid initial block on the move. Third and 13, Jones dropped back, his pass tipped, but Coates came back and hauled it in through contact with the cornerback.
Fourth and one after the spot, the Steelers were forced to use a timeout as the play clock was set to expire. Stingiely sidestepped the penetrator to get well clear of first-down yardage. Excellent blocking along the right side. Handoff to Stingily again, up the left side for a short gain. On second and seven, at the 43, Stingily actually showed patience around the left side to allow a block to develop to set up third and four to start the second quarter.
Mitchell Van Dyke stepped in at right tackle for Gilbert prior to the conclusion of the quarter. Jones was completed to Goodwin for the first down, but he lost the ball just prior to hitting the ground and the Vikings recovered. Frustrating first preseason touch for the first-year player.
Mike Kafka replaces Bridgewater. Cam Thomas gets in the backfield and is in on the tackle at the line of scrimmage. Brandon Boykin in base. Shazier showed nice close to tackle the back after a reception to hold the gain to a short one. Third and three, Kafka’s pass was tipped at the line for an incompletion. Boykin on the blitz did the deed. Good first impression. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh from 48 yards out was wide right, failing to put the first points of the NFL season on the board.
Jawon Chisholm with his first snap, goes up the right side of the line to get what he can for a two-yard gain. Second-team offensive line now in with Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle, B.J. Finney also in. On second down, Jones set up a screen for rookie tight end Jesse James, but only picked up a couple yards on the play. On third and six, with three wide, Jones’ pass intended for Devin Gardner in traffic was popped up into the air, the Vikings missing an opportunity for a diving interception. Wing with another punt with good distance, but this one too much, settling in for a touchback.
Second-team defense trickling in, including Bud Dupree. Run it stuffed up left side of the defense for two yards. On second and eight, Boykin closed quickly to hold the pass to a short gain by the tight end. On third and eight, Kafka was under pressure and through up a bit of a duck. Shazier nearly intercepted the pass off the grass, but nice instincts. Fourth down, good showing by the second-team unit.
Archer back to receive his first punt. Bounced well short, barely crossing midfield.
First play is a run for three yards by Chisholm. On second and seven, Jones got vertical and Shakim Phillips made an excellent grab outstretched with one hand. Great first move against the first cornerback off the board in the draft. The Vikings were flagged and the penalty was declined. First big play of the game for the Steelers. At the 16, there was nothing for Archer on a screen and he was forced to eat a loss of two yards. On second down, Jones overthrew Coates in the end zone, but the receiver didn’t pursue the ball. Still, it should have been a touchdown on a better throw. Now third and 12, Jones went vertical again but Gardner couldn’t separate fast enough. The quarterback took a hit after the throw. Shaun Suisham hit the field goal for the first points of the year.
On the kick coverage, Goodwin made the tackle just shy of the 20-yard line.
Six-yard gain on a screen for the Vikings to open the drive. A two-yard gain up the middle set up third and short, providing situational work. On third and two, the pass was complete with B.W. Webb in coverage and tackling the catch. From the 34, Matt Asiata found space up the right side, slipping off of Blake. Dupree slow off the pile, held slightly. Kafka’s next pass was wide for second and 10. Sean Spence tackled the catch short of the sticks to set up another third and short. Kafka on the move to his right finds his receiver in front of Webb again for another conversion.
Off play action, Kafka found Mycole Pruitt lost in coverage, perhaps Green’s assignment for a 34-yard touchdown.
Archer this time got the opportunity to take the kick back, and showed better vision and burst than last year, reaching the 30. On first down, Jones threw across the formation to Goodwin for 12 yards. Stingily found little room on the left side with James blocking on the strong side. On second down, Jones and Coates appeared to be on different pages as the receiver cut toward the middle of the field and the quarterback’s pass was at the numbers. On third and 10, Archer showed more wiggle to pick up the first down. Good game so far for the second-year player who really needed a good look.
With Stingily again on the carry up the middle, the interior offensive line gained little push for three yards at the two-minute warning. Jones stepped up into pressure and launched a deep one to Coates with Trae Waynes in coverage. Pass was long but the rookie corner was flagged once again. Good preseason call by the officials. Ball now on the two, Stingily couldn’t punch it in on first down. On the next snap, the center snapped the ball to avoid a delay of game to Jones’ surprise. He still made a good throw to Coates on a back shoulder, but the rookie couldn’t hold it. On third and goal with three wide, Jones could not hook up with Gardner in the left corner. Good recovery defense by the cornerback. On fourth from the one, five wide, James turned his head too quickly for an easy back in touchdown.
Thomas made the tackle on first down, with Shazier and a group on second down, with the Steelers using a timeout to reach third down with 11 seconds remaining in the half. Asiata well short of the first, Pittsburgh used its last timeout to force a punt with seven seconds left. With Archer back to return, it’s worth the chance. But he muffed the ball, a surprise given his reportedly clean training camp, to end the half.