The first grievance I want to air after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-half Minnesota meltdown Thursday night is about … me.
Hey, this column is nothing if not transparent.
I’m an idiot. As I wrote Thursday, I circled the game in Minnesota on the day the schedule was released as a surefire, typical Mike Tomlin-era, Steelers letdown game.
At the time, I said a .500-ish Steelers team would head to Minneapolis in need of a win against a mediocre Vikings team. They’d be coming off a short week recovery from a tough rivalry game against the Baltimore Ravens the previous Sunday.
And I said the Steelers would get totally — how did master wordsmith Chase Claypool once phrase it — clapped.
That’s right, clapped!
Then I saw the Steelers beat the Ravens. I saw the Vikings lose to the Detroit Lions. I saw Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen and tackle Christian Darrisaw out. I saw running back Dalvin Cook questionable and playing with a shoulder harness.
So I changed my mind and picked the Steelers.
No, I’m not blameless in this either. I gave some of you hope. That makes me an accessory to a crime. Guilty as charged.
Now let’s get to our “Airing of Grievances” about the guys who committed the real crimes Thursday night: Your 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers!
Crimes against football. On both sides of the ball. The Steelers (6-6-1) dug a 29-0 hole, only to storm back and make a game of it, before losing 36-28 to the Vikings (6-7).
Here’s how it happened, as recounted in our usual postgame tradition of uninhibited grousing.
Airing of Grievances
The rush defense: As of Monday, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook wasn’t supposed to play because of what was believed to be a badly injured shoulder.
Maybe the coaches put on the tape of the Steelers rush defense and figured he’d never get hit anyway, so it was safe to play him.
During his weekly press conference, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin diligently outlined the need for his defenders to lock down the perimeter and prepare for the Vikings’ effective pitch game in the rush attack — regardless of whether Cook started or Alexander Mattison played.
The defensive players either didn’t listen, didn’t understand, or aren’t good enough to stop it.
Who am I kidding? It’s probably all three of those things.
Cook scampered through gaping holes in the defensive line that never got filled by the linebackers and brushed off tackles from the secondary all night long. Not only was Cook barely hit, he barely broke a sweat en route to 205 yards on 27 carries for an eye-popping average of 7.6 yards per attempt. He added two touchdowns as well.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 10, 2021
As a team, the Vikings totaled 242 yards on the ground, joining the Lions and Cincinnati Bengals as opposing offenses to reach at least 195 yards rushing against the Steelers this year.
The pass defense: With former Pro Bowler Adam Thielen out, the Vikings really didn’t have a second receiving option to target besides Justin Jefferson.
Especially in the first half, quarterback Kirk Cousins just kept pumping it to Jefferson who was often all by himself. Cousins missed a few throws to Jefferson when he was wide open as well, or else the score could’ve been worse. As it was, Jefferson still finished with seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.
The one time Cousins really needed to find a second receiving option, he found K.J. Osborn for a 62-yard touchdown bomb.
Vikings fans can exhale a bit…
62-yard strike for Minnesota!
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 10, 2021
In the second quarter, Fox play-by-play man Joe Buck was critical of Keith Butler’s unit, saying, “This defense just hasn’t showed up yet.”
Sorry, Joe. I beg to differ, Joe. It did show up. And that’s exactly what it is.
Claypool acting the fool: Wide receiver Chase Claypool ended up with eight catches for 93 yards. Two of them were impressive, contested catches.
— NFL (@NFL) December 10, 2021
That said, in the first half alone, Claypool got a post-whistle penalty for running his mouth. Much like he did against the Bengals two weeks ago. He also fumbled but got a gift of a replay overrule, so the Steelers maintained possession.
However, a few snaps later, he whiffed on a block that killed a play and helped halt the drive.
Claypool also held onto the ball while getting up to celebrate a catch by signaling first down after a fourth-down conversion with a running clock and under 40 seconds left.
Twitter had some fun with that.
Thankfully, Trai Turner pulled it away from him. But the ball rolled loose and burned some time.
The offensive line: For as dreadful as the defensive front was for the Steelers, the offensive line was equally abhorrent.
Particularly in the first half.
Roethlisberger was sacked five times. Holes did open for running back Najee Harris eventually in the second half. He had 94 yards. But the Steelers were down by 23 points at the time.
Not only did Kendrick Green have some accuracy issues on his shotgun snaps, he had some issues snapping the ball when Ben Roethlisberger wanted it as the play clock was expiring.
Because … why not?: As the Steelers were rallying back from 29-0 down to 36-28, they forced a fourth-quarter punt with 2:26 left.
From (wait for it) Jordan Berry.
The ex-Steeler boomed it 51 yards and pinned the Steelers at their own 4-yard line.
Roethlisberger engineered a masterful drive with only 2:16 left. But it took so much time to reach the 12-yard line, the offense only got one shot into the end zone. Roethlisberger threw a beautiful pass to Pat Freiermuth. But Minnesota safeties Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods combined to jar it out of his hands.