The Acceptable, the Objectionable, and the Appalling: Vikings @ Steelers

photo via Steelers.com

I guess I’m going to have to stick with this format until the Steelers start impressing on both sides of the ball. Once again I’m not too cheesed off, because the Steelers won. But, due to no fault of their own, the Steelers’ defense is still going to be questioned until they have to face a more formidable quarterback, and the offense is going to get questions about when they are going to start producing like it seems reasonable to expect of them. So let’s get started:

The Acceptable

There were still a lot of penalties, but less of them were on the Steelers this week. In the end the Vikings were penalized 11 times for 131 yards, which almost matches the Steelers’ breathtaking total from last week. The Steelers, while they were penalized 10 times, had a rather more modest total of 72 yards, with none of the annoying and expensive Personal Foul variety.

And while I’m sure the coaches would say that a single penalty yard is one too many (except, I suppose, when the choice is holding a defender as opposed to having him decapitate your quarterback) nonetheless the penalties were improved from last week, and we always like to see improvements.

The Watt Swat. I’m hoping we see a lot more of those in the days to come…

The Vikings’ defense managed two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger, but at least one of them was on Ben in my opinion. And given how respected their defensive front is, that’s more evidence that the offensive line is doing a great job in pass protection for the most part.

It looks like Martavis Bryant shook off most of the rust last week. He only had three catches (although he also drew a 51-yard pass interference penalty, I think it was) but those three were for 91 yards and a touchdown. That is definitely acceptable.

As was JuJu Smith-Schuster’s very first touch in the NFL resulting in a touchdown. And speaking of JJSS, he threw a block that had to have Hines Ward smiling…

James Conner made the most of his one carry—for nine yards. Nice average so far : ) And Eli Rogers is continuing to be a very nice safety valve for Ben.

While the Steelers’ defense only managed two sacks of Keenum, this seemed to me to be in large part because he was quick to chuck away the ball when things got hot in the backfield. He got hit anyhow—seven times.

Sticking with the defense, the number which jumped out at me was six pass defenses, all six by different players. That’s very heartening. And while the defense didn’t get an interception, Artie Burns grabbed a fumble to end the game.

Ben’s first touchdown pass gives him a streak of 45 home games with a touchdown. This still puts him in third place, behind Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Ben also managed to be interception-free, and in fact there wasn’t even much in the way of near-misses. There were no fumbles, either, despite some nefarious activity by the opposition at times.

Tyler Matakevich seems determined to make a weekly appearance in this portion of the write-up, and did so today by sniffing out a fake punt and knocking the ball away from the receiver.

Terrell Watson returned a kick, which had to be returned because it was a bit shy of the end zone, and got 25 yards. That’s a start.

Chris Boswell was four for four on field goals, thanks to a really stupid penalty by the Vikings. He got to take a mulligan on his missed 51-yard kick, and nailed it nicely from 46 yards out. Thank you very much to whichever Viking was lined up on the wrong side of the formation, and thank you to the officiating crew for catching it.

And finally, the most obvious thing—the Steelers won the game quite handily. At the end of the first half the Vikings had considerably more penalty yards (86) than offensive ones (67.)

In fact, the Steelers won by a score more consistent with what we expected to see against Cleveland last week. It was Case Keenum they shut down, but they did. And the Vikings’ rushing attack, so potent against the New Orleans defense last week, didn’t crack 100 yards, quite.

The Objectionable

I’m finding the rotating cast of injured defensive stars to be annoying—today it was T.J. Watt going out with a groin injury. Apparently he doesn’t think it is serious. Happily, Anthony Chickillo seemed to fill in more than adequately.

Ben blocking is not something I really ever want to see again. I hope someone gives him the memo. Okay, maybe in the Super Bowl, when it might be the difference between a win and a loss. And if so, I hope he will execute it rather more handily than the two blocks he threw in today’s game…

I complimented the O-line on their pass protection, but now let’s bring up the run blocking. It was definitely improved this week, or so it would seem, but still the team just cracked 100 yards and was just over a 3 yard average per carry (even if we eliminate the two “runs” by Ben that lost two yards.) Given that they are one of the very highest-paid lines in the league, I would like to see them get their run-blocking act together…

And now to start whining about the offensive production. With the “Killer B’s” all on the field we surely shouldn’t be seeing four-field-goal games, especially when one of the field-goal-ending drives began at the MINNESOTA 35 yard line! C’mon, guys, you can do better than that.

Early in the fourth quarter it was third and two, and while Bell had admittedly been tripped up on second and two for no gain, they went empty backfield, and I wrote “Ivan is probably screaming right now.” And of course Ben’s pass was deflected. However, a defensive holding penalty made all right with the world again. But really, you can’t get two yards on the ground on third down?

Now that the NFL allows more than one player to participate in a touchdown celebration, Martavis, AB, and Bell, I think it was, had a good time with a mimed crap game in the end zone after Bryant’s touchdown. The Objectionable part of it was, they messed about long enough that the Steelers couldn’t get lined up in time for the two-point conversion attempt and had a Delay of Game penalty, thus moving the line back to the seven and forcing the Steelers to just take the extra point kick. Had the Steelers lost the game by one point, there would have been a lot said about this…

And speaking of Ben once again, he’s got to quit trying to draw the offsides penalty on 4th down, at least if you’ve already fooled them once. In the end they had to burn a time out. If that is going to work very often you have to actually snap the ball now and again.

And in fact after that was a very stupid penalty on the field goal attempt which moved the attempt from the 48 to the 53, and Tomlin elected to punt. (This should probably be in the Appalling category, but as has just become a tradition by my doing it twice in a row, I won’t put anyone in the doghouse after a win, unless the circumstances truly warrant it.)

Some Random Stuff

Did you all hear the “HEEATH” calls for a couple of Jesse James’ catches? Fortunately he doesn’t appear to mind, and indeed he should take it as a compliment.

I enjoyed Ronde Barber (who is now a Fox broadcaster) talking about what it was like to have Mike Tomlin as a coach (when Tomlin was the defensive backs coach for the Vikings.) It was Barber’s best year statistically, and here’s what he said about MT—this isn’t quotes but a summary:

Tomlin is “the smartest guy in the room.” He loves that while Tomlin has his hand in everything, he’s not a micromanager. He also mentioned how well he relates to his players and how much they like playing for him.

20 comments

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    I enjoyed Ronde Barber and the other fellow he was with. I usually have low expectations for broadcasting teams but I thought they a decent job.

    JJSS’s block brought a smile to MY face. It was a thing of beauty, worthy of a very good FB. The kid is still wet behind the ears. I look forward to seeing him develop.

    Speaking of developing, T.J. Watt is a gem. I hope his groin heals quickly. I want to see more of this kid as well.

    I think you have pretty much covered it all except, in my opinion, it did seem like Ben was trying a little too hard and too often to get the ball to AB but, for all I know, maybe that was the only play that was open on those occasions.

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  • An honorary category for the week should be the beautiful and bittersweet. The Rooney tribute was touching and classy, as one would expect. Rocky and Mel Blount raised DMR shamrock flag, and Mean Joe and Franco were honorary captains. The four-jet military flyover and the PSO doing the national anthem were nice touches, too. It wasn’t a perfect game, but I think there is much to feel positive about, and he would have appreciated the performance.

    I never, ever assume a win, but this one was never in question. It felt destined.

    The game ball went to Art II, who will take it to his mom.

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    • Agreed. I felt more confident about this game than I have about any supposedly competitive game in a very long time.

      For me, the sight of Ben carrying the flag onto the field literally took my breath away. Knowing the history of Dan and Ben, and Ben’s path to redemption and honorable manhood, it told me all I need to know about their relationship.

      Now permit this thought: Dan was to Ben as Chuck Noll was to Bradshaw. Only Ben listened better, understood, and took it to heart. Discuss.

      Liked by 2 people

      • My impression has long been that a lot of Bradshaw’s problem with the Steelers – then and now – was that he was a bit of a petted Southern hometown hero who never quite managed to acclimate himself to the sports culture of the Rust Belt north. I might be risking a bit of oversimplification here, but this notion was really solidified for me after reading Gary Pomerantz’s “Their Life’s Work.” I’m also saying this as a Southern boy myself who moved north fairly early in life, who had to get over a bit of culture shock myself, and who has long since grown comfortable with moving between and dealing with different folks in all regions. It was probably easier for me in a way than it was for Bradshaw, because I was *not* a star athlete and my folks were poor mountain people, so I had to develop a thick skin early in life anyway. To this day a talented football player in a southern town, by contrast, is something near a walking god – greeted warmly, celebrated widely, and forgiven probably a bit too easily and often (again, I’m speaking from inside a culture which on balance I still love and enjoy and respect, but I’m aware of our faults). I don’t think Bradshaw ever quite got over the transition to the pros in a hard-bitten post-industrial northern city where in the early pre-SB days he’d get boo’ed and laughed at by his own fan base for failures. I also don’t think he knew quite how to relate to a guy like coach Noll, who partly by his nature and partly as a matter of principle tried to keep a very impersonal, business-first-and-only relationship with the players. He was NOT unfeeling – quite the contrary – but it just wasn’t his way to freely express warmth, and I think Bradshaw more than other players internalized that as coldness. Ben being an Ohio boy, there were far fewer cultural humps to get over between him and Dan – they being both brought up pretty much in the same larger culture.

        This is me tossing off random thoughts, and I’m sure you could poke plenty of holes in the narrative. I expect that younger readers might object that I’m overstating the cultural differences between the regions. I could understand that, but I would submit to them that those differences were a lot sharper in the late 60’s and early 70’s – I have watched them grow less over time. It really wasn’t until my early lifetime that much of the south finally caught up with the north in modernization, and in turn economic decline has reduced much of the north to a state more like most of the south used to be. Add to the mix that becoming a kind of Silicon Valley outpost has softened good old Steel City a bit (I think some of the cantankerousness of “yinzers” is unconsciously affected and exaggerated in a kind of reaction against this). Also, I am an ex-military man who has seen plenty of my fellow good ole’ southern boys adjust perfectly well and professionally to working as part of diverse teams, but I’ve also seen a few who for whatever reason (upbringing, whatever) just could not manage to flip that switch. That’s my impression of Bradshaw, and the older he gets and the more society changes (and watching his response to those changes), the more confident he makes me about that impression.

        Feel free to agree or dismiss as nonsense. Amateur psychoanalysis is always risky, but if you can’t indulge in it on a fan forum, where can you?

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        • Really interesting thoughts about the culture. My mother was raised in North Carolina (and probably never went any further than South Carolina), married a Northerner, and they moved to Michigan for dad to finish his degree thanks to the GI Bill at Michigan State. Mom went to work for the Michigan Department of Conservation, and said that for the first six months she thought everyone was mad at everyone else because they talked loud and they talked fast. She eventually figured out that a) that’s just the way they were all the time, and b) a Southern accent made them think she was lazy and not too bright. So she shed the accent and got used to the culture. As you say, the experience for someone who had been a pampered darling his whole life had to have been a rude shock, and Bradshaw, who never struck me as the sharpest knife in the drawer, may not have been able to make the connections and adjustments that my mother did.

          Liked by 2 people

        • cold_old_steelers_fan

          This is interesting. I am used to trying to comprehend the cultural differences between Manitobans and Minnesotans so it is illuminating to see someone else trying bridge/comprehend another, similar, cultural gap.

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        • I love this discussion thread. Let me suggest a couple things about culture, particularly as it relates to football.

          I remember one of the first Big 33 high school football games was played between Texas and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania won. The reactions were illuminating. Texas equated it to something akin to the launching of Sputnik. The South, and particularly Texas thought of football being their turf, perhaps true now, but certainly not then. As I remember it, the reaction in Pittsburgh wasn’t ‘Woo Hoo, we beat Texas’, but more of ‘What were they thinking coming up here?’ This area was the cradle of football, a direct outgrowth of the local culture. Pennsylvania and Ohio represented a distinction without a difference. Think of Paul Brown, the Rooneys, Chuck Noll, Ben, etc. as consistent with one culture and the extraordinary influence and legacy they represent. TnSteelers’ comments introduces the possibility that there are some aspects of Pa/Ohio culture as it relates to football that is serious, unforgiving and unrelenting. Perhaps Ben, as a product of the culture got it, while Terry never did.

          There is something mysterious about the culture of this area; Appalachian, Eastern and Mid-Western all at once. As Huffington Post editor Howard Fineman, a Pittsburgher has asserted, Pittsburgh, reputedly ‘blue collar’ was also Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley, and is becoming Silicon Valley post Silicon Valley. Football is not more than life, but it is life, or can be when properly understood. In this sense the Steelers are a Trojan Horse for so many other things. Too much for Terry. Too much for most of us really.

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          • I am a Southerner but also an EAST Tennessee “Appalachee.” One of the reasons I am a Steelers fan, aside from some family, friendship, and business ties to the ‘Burgh, there are certain ways that I relate to the hardscrabble culture of northern Appalachia that you describe more than I do to the rest of the south (and of course, vice versa…but somehow not as much vice versa). I know I’m far from alone in that respect, as any county-by-county fandom map will show you just how far south from Pittsburgh what I call “Outer Steelers Nation” extends.

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        • Another piece of the puzzle in Bradshaws introduction to the Tri-State area was Terry Hanratty, the Steelers second round draft choice in 1969. Hanratty was born and raised in Butler Pa. attended both Butler Catholic and Butler Public High School .He was the starting qb for a winning Notre Dame team and with those credentials he had a rapport with Steeler fans. Hanratty was articulate and interviewed well, while Bradshaw struggled with his accent and tone. Bradshaw was way too much Mayberry/ Andy Griffith Show small town Southern.
          The standard joke was the team needed to graft Hanrattys brain into Bradshaws body. Somehow Bradshaw survived the 70 and 71 season with his toughness and his running ability. 1973 brought The Immaculate Reception and the Steelers were on their way.

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      • Ben’s tribute was incredibly touching and I thought, quite appropriate. To balance it out, James Harrison with the flag made me smile. The only person I noticed as missing was Ike Taylor, and for all I know, he may have been there.

        Tnsteelersfan makes some really good points about the cultural issues, and how they have evolved over time. I think the observation about Noll’s interpersonal style is also quite important, especially when considering that Terry was dealing with all of the good and the bad of pro football (and life) through the filter of then-untreated clinical depression and anxiety****. A boss who was professional and maintained emotional distance could have been perceived as cold and non-supportive, even punitive.

        Depression catastrophizes everything; even small obstacles are huge mountains. There is a sense of hopelessness, which to everyone on the outside, seems completely irrational. Being booed and hated by an entire city full of people, could be a bummer for many people, even thick with thick skin, but through the lens of depression, it could feel like a confirmation of those dark feelings and fears. Even on the other side, it could be hard to forget just how that felt.

        ****I actually am a mental health professional, and want to be clear that I have never met nor done a clinical assessment of TB. I am only aware of some info in the public record. My thoughts above are speculative only.****

        Liked by 1 person

    • Great call, Rebekita, and I missed it because I missed the whole ceremony. I had to record the game to watch later, and it started with Ben running out with the flag. I didn’t even know the PSO had played until I read that in this morning’s paper.

      From everything I hear it was extremely classy. My favorite quote from the follow-ups? Ben Roethlisberger saying that it didn’t matter who you were, you were important to Dan Rooney. That’s a rare trait, and one that deserves celebrating.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Among other things, I’ve been really impressed with the amount of improvement Jordan Berry has shown over the last couple of years. That punt that squeezed the Vikings back up against their own end zone was a beautiful thing. Makes it easy to forget how often you used to see furious, ALL CAPS cries for his head a mere couple of seasons ago when most of ST was a mess. I have to admit sometimes I *might* have been one of those angry voices myself, especially after a beer or two too many, but I LOVE it when a player evolves and makes me eat crow. Crow is delicious. A reliable punter, like a reliable kicker, is really easy to take for granted, but boy do you see the difference when you don’t have one.

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  • I thought the Vikings defense was a great test for the Steelers offense, as the Vikings D is one of the best the NFL has to offer. Antonio Brown was shut down by Xavier Rhodes for the most part, which IMO, is a big reason that the Steelers were ineffective on 3rd down. Conversely, the Steelers need to learn from this example and find ways to move the chains on third down that don’t involve AB. The Steelers could have scored more points in the 4th quarter when they basically already had the game won.

    Why didn’t they put more points on the board? This was an actual question I was asked on the 2nd best Steelers website next to this one. My answer, one word, Integrity. And it is better to give recs than receive them, but I was surprised my comment didn’t receive a single recommendation. With the game in hand, it is time to time to put in the reserves, at least that was the way we did it in High School when sportsmanship was one of the reasons sports of any sort were justified.

    The Steelers did leave their starters on the field, which wasn’t wise in my opinion, at the least John Connor should have replaced Bell in the last drive. But the important thing is they didn’t run up the score on an opponent who had basically tapped out by that point. Scoring points just to blow somebody out is better served in Boston, but a team with integrity takes the win without embarrassing the opponent, needlessly.

    Go Integrity! Go Steelers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting point about running up the score. There was actually a big discussion about this point in re high school football, when the talk show host was outraged by discovering that an area high school team was leading by 80-3 near the end of the game, had the ball, and the poor opposing kids thought they would just take a knee, but no, they ran a play and punched it in the end zone to finish with a score of 87-3. That coach should be fired in my opinion. What is he teaching those kids?

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