The day after: 5 things that stood out from Steelers’ win over Vikings
Five things we learned from Steelers 26, Vikings 9.
1. The Steelers truly haven’t been tested and might not be until they travel to Baltimore for Week 4.
They beat the Browns who were starting a rookie quarterback and they beat the Vikings who were starting a backup.
Everyone expected the Browns to be bad, and they have played true to form. The Vikings looked good in Week 1, but showed they can’t compete with a backup quarterback under center. Now comes the 0-2 Chicago Bears, another team with quarterback issues. Journeyman Mike Glennon had three first-half turnovers, including a pick six, in a 29-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For now, coach John Fox is sticking with Glennon and not benching him in favor of No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky.
To show they are serious about claiming the top seed in the AFC, the Steelers must avoid a repeat of last season when they started 2-0 but were thumped, 34-3, in Philadelphia. A 3-0 start would be a first for the Steelers since 2010, which led to their most recent appearance in the Super Bowl.
2. Cam Heyward doesn’t need Stephon Tuitt to be unstoppable.
Heyward was the unquestioned star –- on offense or defense -– in the 26-9 win. He set the tone with six tackles, including one for a loss in the first half, as the Steelers jumped to a 14-3 lead. He added two quarterback pressures in the second half in his first game at Heinz Field since he tore his pectoral muscle in a loss to Dallas last November.
The Steelers showed they could weather the loss of Heyward for the second half of 2016. This year, Heyward is showing they can withstand the loss of Tuitt, who probably could benefit from another week to rest his injured left biceps muscle.
3. The Steelers haven’t cornered the market on needless penalties.
One week after committing four unnecessary roughness penalties against Cleveland, nobody was guilty of a late hit or shot to the head against the Vikings. True, the Steelers were flagged 10 times, but that was one fewer than the Vikings, who at times resembled the football version of the Bad News Bears. Like the baseball equivalent of the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move, the Steelers tried the good ol’ draw-’em-offsides play on fourth-and-short that never works. Except this time it did, as defensive Brian Robison flinched and guaranteed the Steelers a first down on a drive that led to their first touchdown.
The Vikings also tried a fake punt on the first drive of the third quarter, with Ryan Quigley floating the ball long enough for Tyler Matakevich to cover the tight end and bat it away. The Steelers were able to take advantage of those penalties, plus two pass interference calls, to score 17 points.
4. JuJu Smith-Schuster is quickly endearing himself as a hard-hitting receiver.
It wasn’t the 4-yard touchdown catch on his first NFL reception that stood out in Smith-Schuster’s second career game. Rather, it was the block that leveled Vikings safety Harrison Smith.
Smith-Schuster put Smith on his back while blocking for Le’Veon Bell on a running play. It was reminiscent of the type of blocks Hines Ward used to put on defenders.
Smith-Schuster’s physicality is one of the traits that attracted him to the Steelers, and he has not disappointed at this point of his young career. Now, if only Smith-Schuster could do something about eliminating those penalties. He had a false start in the fourth quarter, running his penalty total in two games to three. That equals his number of career NFL receptions.
5 The Steelers are lucky to have Chris Boswell.
A long-term contract for their kicker didn’t happen before the season started, but the Steelers would be wise to lock up Boswell as soon as possible once the calendar flips to 2018. His stock continued to rise with four field goals against the Vikings, the 12 points accounting for all of the Steelers’ scoring in the second half.
Even when Boswell missed, he really didn’t. After his 51-yard attempt in the third quarter sailed wide left, Boswell got another chance courtesy of the Vikings having an illegal formation. Given the second chance, he put the ball through the uprights from 46 yards for a 17-3 lead.
Boswell also had five touchbacks on his seven kickoffs. The two times the Vikings did bring the ball out of the end zone, they started drives at the 18 and 17.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.