Gameday grades from Week 2: Steelers-Vikings
Ben Roethlisberger became the seventh quarterback in NFL history to win 125 regular-season games and 70 home games as a starter. In terms of performance, this wasn’t the best of those 125, but it wasn’t the worst, either. Roethlisberger completed more two-thirds of his passes. Among his 12 incompletions were a couple of missed targets and perhaps a miscommunication or two. But those are easy to overlook on an afternoon in which he won, threw two touchdown passes and, most importantly, avoided interceptions.
Skill positions: C
The obvious center of the Vikings defensive gameplan, Antonio Brown’s efficiency of a week ago wasn’t close to replicated: This time, he caught fewer than half of his 11 targets. Still, he made at least two contested catches. JuJu Smith-Schuster not only made his first catch, he had a touchdown. Yet it remains apparent he is a work in progress. Martavis Bryant was quiet much of the game — but he made two big plays, which is all he needs to do. Jesse James again was workmanlike. Eli Rogers has yet to find a groove in 2017. Le’Veon Bell was better … but still hasn’t broken a big play in two weeks.
Offensive line: C+
The left tackles didn’t have an answer for Everson Griffen, who had two sacks. And some of Bell’s pedestrian production (3.2 yards per carry) has to fall on the offensive line. But on a hot day in which both starting tackles were forced to leave the game for periods of time, the unit gets a passing grade.
Defensive line: B
It again was exclusively a four-man job to man the line on a hot day against what is purportedly a run-first team. Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Javon Hargrave and L.T. Walton did yeoman’s work. Not perfect, but more than good enough. (An aside: Daniel McCullers, per the official NFL box score distributed immediately after the game, did not play at all, making it all the more curious that he made the team out of camp.)
Bud Dupree returned and had a sack, giving him 5½ in his past five regular-season games dating to late last season. T.J. Watt continued to be a playmaker until a groin injury knocked him out of the game. That was OK for the Steelers, though, because Anthony Chickillo again handled fill-in work admirably. Vince Williams had a sack among his four primary tackles. Ryan Shazier had eight combined tackles and a pass defended.
Going against Case Keenum wasn’t the most challenging assignment in the world, but it’s difficult to build a case that the Steelers’ defensive backs had anything resembling a poor outing. Just four Vikings pass plays gained more than 12 yards, and none went for more than 27 yards. Minnesota was 5 for 15 on third downs.
Special teams: B
For the second consecutive game, the punt return unit made a big play — this time, it was sniffing out a fake-punt attempt by way of a Tyler Matakevich pass breakup. Chris Boswell made all four of his field-goal attempts, but punter Jordan Berry had an up-and-down day. Rogers netted minus-1 yard on two punt returns, and Smith-Schuster had another poor kickoff-return effort.
Todd Haley & Co. clearly wanted to go old-school in establishing a running game. Against a backup quarterback, it was probably the smart route. Special teams coordinator Danny Smith again emerges looking good, and the defensive gameplan helped limit the Vikings to 4.5 yards per attempt.
This has been far from the most entertaining or dominating 2-0, but it still is 2-0. Only five other teams could say that through the first 11 days of the regular season (pending the Sunday night game outcome). The offense clearly hasn’t reached its full potential, and the defense hasn’t yet been tested by a replacement-level quarterback. But the Steelers have done more than enough to win their first two games with relative ease.