By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) got a dominant performance from its defense in their 26-9 victory over the Minnesota Vikings (0-2) on Dan Rooney Day. Rooney, of course, is the late owner of the Steelers, who passed away on April 13. With the victory, the Steelers improved to 10-1 in home season openers under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Pittsburgh sputtered on offense for a second consecutive week. The Steelers came into the season with perhaps their most dangerous offensive unit since 2010. The team has reached the end zone four times this season, twice in each of the first two games. However, the Steelers did score on two of their first three offensive possessions against the Vikings.
But the story so far this season has been the superb play of the Steelers' defense—particularly their ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks without having to blitz. Pittsburgh's defense has given up only 27 points and 574 yards of total offense, and while the Steelers haven't been able to create many turnovers (2), they have recorded nine sacks.
Each of the Steelers' touchdown drives were aided by long pass interference penalties on the Vikings. The Steelers ate up nearly nine minutes of time of possession and 138 yards, with 81 of those yards coming via penalties on those drives.
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant showed why the team is so high on the 25-year-old. Bryant scored the team's first touchdown of the day, catching a 12-yard slant pass and out-running the defense the remaining 15-yards for a 27-yard score. He finished with three receptions for 91 yards, including a 51-yard pass play that was the longest of the game.
Ben Roethlisberger completed over 65% (24-for-36) of his passes for a second straight week and threw for 243 yards. His biggest problem came on throws of 10 yards or more, hooking up with Bryant and Antonio Brown a combined four times out of 10 attempts. Overall, Roethlisberger did a better job at distributing his passes to different receivers then he did against Cleveland.
Le'Veon Bell has yet to have a game that everyone is accustomed to seeing from arguably the best back in the game. Bell did run better than he did during Week 1. Yet, he managed a measly 3.2 yards per carry as he finished with 87 yards rushing on 27 attempts. His longest run was 11 yards.
The offense was awful on third down, converting 3-of-13 opportunities. They scored on each of their four red zone chances, coming away with a mere three points on two occasions.
The Steelers' defense was outstanding once again. The defense, which held Vikings' rookie running back Dalvin Cook in check, made life miserable for quarterback Case Keenum by getting constant pressure on him. As a result of the Steelers' pressure, Keenum was able to complete only 20-of-37 passes for 154 yards. The Steelers held the Vikes to one offensive touchdown and 237 total yards of offense. They recorded two sacks, four tackles for losses and seven quarterback hits.
Undrafted first-year defensive back Mike Hilton had a huge game for the Steelers and led the team with nine tackles. Ryan Shazier demonstrated why he is the leader of the linebackers as he made several big-time plays and finished with eight tackles.
Pittsburgh held Minnesota without a first down on six of their 12 possessions. The Steelers also did a bang-up job on third down, limiting the Vikes to 5-of-15 on those conversion attempts and 0-of-3 on fourth down tries.
Special Teams: B
Kicker Chris Boswell finished with 14 points, nailing all four of his field goal attempts. Boswell missed a 51-yard field goal, but the Vikings were flagged for an illegal formation penalty. Boswell buried the subsequent 46-yarder through the uprights to give the Steelers a 17-3 lead.
Punter Jordan Berry had a beautiful 33-yard punt early in the fourth quarter to pin Minnesota at the one-yard line. The Vikes were able to get out to 18-yard line before having to punt the ball back to the Steelers. Berry averaged 38.5 yards per punt for the day with two punts landing inside the 20.
The special team's biggest play came on the first offensive possession of the second half when ace Tyler Matakevich smelled out a fake punt and knocked punter Ryan Quigley's pass away. The Steelers took over at the Vikings 36-yard line and the possession ended with Boswell's first field goal of the game.
The Steelers did a better job mixing up the play calling, with almost a 50/50 run-pass balance this Sunday compared to last week when the play calling was more than 2-to-1 in favor of a pass play.
What was more impressive was the creativity in the play calling. The Steelers ran a reverse for seven yards (Bryant) and also scored off a shovel pass to rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger pointed to the Steelers' coaching box following the touchdown.
The Steelers head to Chicago to face the Bears at Soldier Field. Chicago is 0-2 on the season after getting shellacked by the Tampa Bay Bucs 29-7 on Sunday. The Bears have struggled offensively with Mike Glennon behind center through the first couple of games, so a change to rookie Mitch Trubisky may be forthcoming.
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