Week 15 Game Recap: Pittsburgh Steelers 18, Minnesota Vikings 3
What you need to know
The Steelers stifled the Vikings by allowing 197 total yards including just 54 on the ground. The defense forced three turnovers, two interceptions and a fumbled kick return, but they effectively had two additional turnovers with a blocked field goal a safety. Their two interceptions saved two touchdowns, while the fumble recovery, blocked field goal and safety resulted in eight points. Toss in a 72 yard Antwaan Randle El punt return that set up Pittsburgh’s only touchdown, a three yard run by Ben Roethlisberger, and the offense got off easy despite its inconsistent play and misleading numbers.
The Steelers ground attack struggled mightily in the first half as it had 31 yards on 14 carries (2.2 avg.), the longest of which came from a Roethlisberger nine yard scramble. Willie Parker had just five yards on four carries while Jerome Bettis had six rushes for 15 yards. The Steelers didn’t necessarily open up the floodgates after the break, but a 49 yard burst for Parker and a double digit lead for the final 18 plus minutes of the game afforded them ample opportunity to grind out the clock with the running game. Pittsburgh finished with 142 yards rushing, led by Parker’s 81 yards.
As is usually the case when the Steelers are protecting the lead, Roethlisberger put up good numbers for a quarterback, not so good for a fantasy owner. Just as he and the offense got help from the defense, Roethlisberger also got help from his receivers to make his numbers look a bit better than one might perceive. His 66% completion rate and 149 yards on ten completions were inflated thanks to two excellent runs after the catch for 78 yards and another 20 yard pass to a wide open Antwaan Randle El on a blown coverage. To his credit, he managed the game as best he could under the conditions of a noisy Metrodome while wearing a glove over a splint to protect his unspecified injury to his right thumb.
Roethlisberger completed two passes each to Randle El, Hines Ward, Cedrick Wilson, Heath Miller and Parker. Miller led the Steelers with 58 yards which included a 50 yard catch and run that help set up the Steelers first field goal on the opening drive.
The Vikings shared their holiday spirit a bit early this year, as they did just about everything to give away the game. Through a series of turnovers, a muffed kickoff, a low field goal attempt that was blocked and coming away with zero touchdowns in four red zone trips, the Vikings looked nothing like the team that had won six straight before yesterday’s contest.
The running game was nearly invisible. Michael Bennett started and racked up 24 yards on his first three carries. He didn’t see another carry until the mid-second quarter, and by the time he got involved in the offense again during the second half, the Steelers were swarming the line of scrimmage with multiple blitz packages. He finished with 11 carries and 43 yards. Mewelde Moore emerged from the doghouse briefly for two carries and five yards, and rookie Ciatrick Fason was stuffed on all three of his goal line carries.
As a result, that put the burden on Brad Johnson (16-30, 143, 0 TDS, 2 INTs), who had the luxury of facing inferior defenses the last several weeks. That was not the case yesterday as he was picked off twice, sacked twice and had seven passes broken up by Pittsburgh’s defense. His 143 yards were spread out over 11 possessions, while no drive traveled more than 50 yards and only three of them hit the 40 yard mark. The Vikings were three of 12 on third down conversions. Koren Robinson and Travis Taylor each had three receptions, while Marcus Robinson had a team high 38 yards receiving.
Oddly enough, the Vikings only scoring drive, a field goal, began on Pittsburgh’s four yard line.
What you ought to know
Roethlisberger was concerned that wearing a glove over a splint to protect his injured thumb might make his hand sweat inside the warm confines of the Metrodome, which might have been the reason his five incompletions were off the mark as badly as they were. Yes, Roethlisberger completed two thirds of his passes, but attempts were of equal high percentage as he rarely threw the ball longer than 20 yards. His only deep ball was severely under thrown, and twice he threw behind his ace receiver Hines Ward. Some nifty runs after the catch padded his 143 yards, including on the opening drive when he found TE Heath Miller cutting across the right side of the field before turning it up field for a 50 yard gain. Antwaan Randle El turned a screen pass into 28 yards and he also caught a pass wide open in the flat for 20 yards, ten in the air, ten on the run. Roethlisberger did play smart, however, and he scored the Steelers’ only touchdown in the second quarter when he saw a huge opening left of the pocket and he lumbered to the goal line diving into the end zone for the three yard score.
While Parker has proven less and less to be a reliable every down running back, he also keeps showing why he’s on the field as much as he is. For every five to ten poor carries, there’s a chance “Fast Willie” will rip off a big gain to open up the offense. Parker had five yards on four carries in the first quarter and no attempts in the second quarter as he watched Jerome Bettis have marginal success. He ran for six yards on his next two carries and just when you thought the Steelers would go back to Bettis, Parker darted up the left sideline for 49 yards to help set up the Steelers’ second field goal and a ten point lead. On their next scoring drive, Parker opened up with a 13 yard carry before regressing in the fourth quarter for ten yards on his last seven carries. He added 16 yards on two receptions.
Bettis spelled the struggling Parker when the Steelers began a drive on the Vikings 14 yard line. He ran for nine yards his first two carries to help set up Roethlisberger’s three yard scramble for a touchdown. His remaining seven carries gained seven yards.
Haynes picked up 36 yards, primarily in mop up duty, during the fourth quarter, which included seven consecutive carries while running out the clock on the last drive of the game.
To say Randle El led the Steelers as a receiver might be a stretch, but his play making abilities gave the Steelers just enough push to score their only touchdown of the game. His 72 yard punt return in the second quarter gave Pittsburgh the ball on the Vikings 14 yard line and they scored five plays later. His two receptions gained 48 yards highlighted by a 28 yard catch and run on a third down and 20 screen play. Randle El had 85 punt return yards, 16 kick return yards and a two yard rush. He also laid out the finishing block on a defensive lineman clearing the final running lane on Roethlisberger’s touchdown run.
Ward had a tough afternoon catching just two balls for 11 yards. He would have had at least two more receptions had Roethlisberger not thrown the passes behind him, but the yardage would have been minimal. Ward was the target of an end zone pass in the second quarter from Minnesota’s three yard line when Roethlisberger rolled to the right sideline, but DE Darrion Scott batted the ball down.
Wilson had two receptions for 16 yards, including a key third down catch on his knees for 12 yards. Officials ruled him short of the first down, but replays showed that he caught the ball upright before contact by a defender pushed him backwards. The play resulted in a first down, and the Steelers eventually tacked on another field goal to go up 13-3 in the third quarter.
Miller caught the first pass of the game for eight yards. He followed that up two plays later when he took Roethlisberger’s rollout pass and broke two tackles en route to a 50 yard gain inside the Vikings’ ten yard line, setting up a field goal. Miller, who was technically the target in the end zone when Roethlisberger threw the ball away before the field goal, did not see another pass the rest of the game.
The Steelers allowed Michael Bennett 24 yards on his first three carries and then gave up 30 yards on Minnesota’s next 14 rushing attempts. They smothered Ciatrick Fason on three goal line carries and earned a safety when Casey Hampton pushed center Cory Winthrow back into Bennett before Larry Foote brought him down in the end zone. Foote had a career game with seven solo tackles (five for losses), the safety and a sack.
Pittsburgh confused the Vikings with blitz schemes, fake blitz schemes and solid coverage while taming Brad Johnson to just 143 yard passing. They helped force the Vikings to five false start penalties and picked off Johnson twice – once inside the five yard line, the other in the end zone. Joey Porter had a sack and an interception, Ike Taylor had four passes defended and Deshea Townsend came back from a potentially serious neck injury to get an interception in the end zone just before halftime. Clark Haggans had a sack and forced fumble nullified on a neutral zone infraction.
|QB Brad Johnson, Pass: 16 - 30 - 143 - 0 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 1 - 6 - 0|
Johnson has proven to be a reliable veteran in leading the Vikings to a six game winning streak. But in every win he’s had help in one form or another. Yesterday he had no help from his running game or special teams. He was efficient in the first half completing 14 of 21, but he also shot himself in the foot early in the second quarter, with the Vikings on Pittsburgh’s six yard line by forcing a shovel pass to Koren Robinson, who tipped it right to Joey Porter for an interception. Johnson ruined their next scoring chance in the red zone by tossing a floater intended for Marcus Robinson, but closer to Deshea Townsend for another interception just before halftime. Things really fell apart in the second half as he completed two of nine attempts for nine yards.
Bennett had early gains of three, 18 and three yards and it looked like the Vikings would be able to run on the outside of Pittsburgh’s defense. That mirage quickly evaporated as Bennett ended up with 43 yards and negative five receiving. On Bennett’s third carry, he was stripped of the ball as he was falling, but the ball barely had time to bounce before he was right on top of it for the recovery. That may have been why he didn’t see the field for Minnesota’s next two possessions, but he still saw very little time for someone who averaged five yards a carry for the first half. He also did not see any time near the goal line, even though Ciatrick Fason was shut out of the end zone three times in the first half. While he remains the starter, it is also clear that Mike Tice hasn’t lost his knack for abandoning the run, even when only down seven or ten points in the second and third quarters.
Moore made brief appearances to the tune of two carries and five yards. He saw additional time as a receiving back and had two catches for nine yards. He also added 41 kick return yards.
Fason, the smallest of the three running backs, has been given the goal line carries lately, but he gained zero yards on all three goal line attempts yesterday. He also muffed a short kickoff and the Steelers, who turned it into a field goal and a 16-3 third quarter lead, recovered it.
Robinson, the go-to guy of late, was the most targeted by Brad Johnson, but he couldn’t break away for that big play he’s been getting in previous weeks. His only two deep balls were broken up and he tipped a shovel pass (a last minute improvisation by Johnson) into a Steelers’ defender for an interception inside the five yard line. He had made a 15 yard diving catch a few plays earlier.
Taylor had three catches for 28 yards, including an 18 yarder into Pittsburgh territory in the second quarter, but Johnson threw his second interception four plays later.
Burleson had averaged two receptions and 23.33 yards per game over his previous three games. Yesterday he caught two passes for 24 yards.
Robinson matched the Vikings inconsistencies by making a sensational leaping 20 yard catch while being pushed out of bounds in mid-air. He also dropped a four yard touchdown catch on a fade pattern in the first quarter. The play was originally called a touchdown, but replays showed DB Ike Taylor’s hand rattled the ball loose just before Robinson’s second foot landed and he then lost control of the ball for the incomplete pass and the Vikings had to settle for a field goal.
The Vikings’ leading receiver was held in check with two receptions for only nine yards.
The Vikings did well considering the Steelers ran the ball 39 times, yielding 3.6 yards per carry. The problem of course is that the Steelers had the ball long enough to run 39 times. Their only blemish was a 49 yard cut back run by Willie Parker. Jerome Bettis could not score from two yards out, and Roethlisberger’s touchdown run was originally a passing play. Sam Cowart led Minnesota with nine tackles (seven solo).
The Vikings were not tested down field but they missed several tackles on the Steelers longest gains of 50 and 28 yards. They did earn four sacks, primarily thanks to good coverage, two by rookie Erasmus James, one by Lance Johnstone and the other by Kevin Williams, who also had six solo tackles.