Winners and losers from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 36-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Thursday night.
Minkah Fitzpatrick: For much of this game, especially the first half, Fitzpatrick looked like the only one on defense who remotely showed up to play tonight. He prevented a couple of good Dalvin Cook runs from being great runs/touchdowns. Open-field tackling looks good. Shame he’s been asked to make so many tackles. The flag they threw on him for his end zone hit was completely bogus. They don’t get any cleaner than that and the ref was looking right at the play. At this point, they just react to how it looks and feels, not what actually happened.
Najee Harris: For the first 40-ish minutes tonight, it felt like he was the only one trying. Some tough runs, some work in the open field, and a touchdown catch followed up by a one-yard TD run. Helped get Pittsburgh into the game after being butt-whooped early.
James Washington: Washington made two huge second-half plays, downfield contested grabs we’ve barely seen from him this season, a guy who has struggled to see the field even without JuJu Smith-Schuster in the lineup. He made a simultaneous grab down the left sideline in the third quarter before following that up with a leaping 30-yard score in the fourth. Great to see him ball out. Steelers sure needed it.
Ahkello Witherspoon: Two interceptions get you on the list almost every time. Tip drill on the first one, and a great drive on a slant on the second with a long run back. Witherspoon definitely has his warts, but this defense needed splash plays to make up for its generally awful play on the night. We’ll take it.
Ben Roethlisberger: Obviously a big part of the rally tonight. Credit to Washington, Claypool, and Johnson for their second-half plays, but gotta give credit to Roethlisberger, who this team always rallies around. Came so close to leading an all-time, historic comeback. The final incompletion to Pat Freiermuth was an amazing throw. Just couldn’t end in a completion.
Chase Claypool (First Half): We’ll get to the defense in a moment, but it was Chase Claypool who frustrated fans first tonight. Claypool was called for retaliating in the first quarter, idiotically putting his hand in a Vikings’ player facemask. Easy call for 15 yards. He later nearly fumbled trying to stretch out for a first down on 2nd and 2, another poor decision that carried much more risk than reward. Lucky for him, he was ruled down just before fumbling the ball away. Claypool has shown a lot football IQ and makes dumb decisions on a weekly basis. He was briefly benched but with depth thin, he went back in the game.
To his credit, he followed that up with some great second-half catches, including an absolutely bonkers one falling to the ground late in the fourth quarter. Also had a 4th and 1 catch in the final minute, though his post-catch celebration again showed a lack of awareness. These WRs may be young, but they put mistakes behind them. So I’ll qualify this with just first-half Claypool being the evil twin version of himself.
Defense (not named Minkah Fitzpatrick): Don’t know how or where to begin this one. Just bad across the board. The Steelers are playing a lot of lesser-known guys, but these are the same guys who held their own against the Ravens’ strong running attack days ago. A complete 180 this time around. No one in a gap, no one could tackle, and Justin Jefferson ran free all day. Can list all the names here – Edmunds, Bush, Schobert, etc.
An unequivocally pathetic performance not worthy of additional words.
Defensive Gameplan: Players were bad. So were the coaches. Poor answers in the run game, like running their dime package on second down, as they did on one occasion tonight, leading to one of several long Cook runs. For a team who has effectively doubled and subdued top weapons all season long, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, Darren Waller, the Steelers for some unknown reason went away from that tonight, leaving Justin Jefferson 1v1 all game. That’s despite the Vikings being without #2 WR Adam Thielen. Jefferson scored an early touchdown and could’ve had two or three more had it not been for a couple of Steelers’ pressures.
Cam Sutton: Tough one for Sutton. Allowed two touchdowns in this one, a crosser to Justin Jefferson and the real killer, a 62-yard score to KJ Osborn. There was contact from Osborn but no flag. Sutton’s worst game of the season. Athletically, Sutton is pretty average, so he has to play everything perfectly in order to cover well. Didn’t go his way tonight.
Pass Pro: Bad as it’s been all season. Steelers had no answer for Mike Zimmer’s Double A gap blitzes, which tormented Pittsburgh’s protection all game long. Najee Harris missed LBs coming, the O-line missed or simply left unblocked defensive linemen. No adjustments were made all game. Reminded me of what Jim Johnson did to the Steelers as Eagles’ DC back in 2008.
Snapping The Ball: Pretty sad this is on the list. But here we are. The mere act of snapping the ball, getting the ball snapped and then doing so accurately, was a real struggle tonight. High snaps and on one good one, Roethlisberger flubbed catching the football. There were multiple times where Green simply did not snap the ball in time tonight. Crowd noise appeared to be a factor, maybe this was Green’s first game in a dome, but there’s no excuse. It was horrible.
Pressley Harvin III: Harvin’s struggles continue. Poor distance and hangtime, leading to ugly net results. His worst was a 24-yard net, a 41-yard punt followed by a 17-yard return. He has simply not been nearly good enough this season, and unless things really perk up the final four games, the Steelers would be smart to bring in veteran competition for him next summer.