We all probably knew the Minnesota Vikings weren’t going to go 16-0. But that said, there is plenty to be concerned about after the Vikings fell to 1-1 following a 26-9 loss to the Steelers on Sunday.
The advantages: It’s a loss outside the division, so it doesn’t hurt the record terribly. The Steelers feature one of the top defenses in the NFL, and they’ll likely contend with the Patriots for the AFC spot in the Super Bowl.
The disadvantages: The Vikings’ current quarterback situation is a mess. The offensive line took a pretty big step back after a solid performance against New Orleans. Case Keenum faced pressure most of the afternoon, and didn’t handle it very well. The Vikings defense took costly penalties, the kicker missed an extra point and a fake punt attempt went horribly wrong. Puke.
The good news is that the Steelers are one of the best teams the Vikings will face in the regular season. But there is plenty to fix as Minnesota gets ready to host Tampa Bay on Sunday. Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s loss.
Sam Bradford or Case Keenum?
The Vikings quarterback situation went from in great hands to murky in a matter of days. Sam Bradford had a stellar performance in a Week 1 victory, but suddenly ended up not being able to play Sunday after swelling and discomfort in his twice surgically repaired knee. Enter Case Keenum. He faced pressure most of the afternoon, and simply can’t make some of the throws Bradford made in the win over the Saints.
Keenum didn’t turn the ball over, but he didn’t play well enough to win. The bigger question, though, is if and when Bradford will return? If he can’t play this week, do the Vikings stick with Keenum or make a move for another veteran until Teddy Bridgewater can try a comeback? He’s on the PUP list and can’t return until Week 7, so the hope is Bradford feels better and can return to practice. The problem? Mike Zimmer said Sunday Bradford is “fine,” but he’s not fine enough to play and take hits. And even if Bridgewater comes of the PUP list for Week 7, he’ll need a few weeks of practice to get ready for live game action. So for now, the hope in the Vikings season lies in Bradford’s knee.
Offensive Line Issues
Some regression on the Vikings’ offensive line was probably anticipated after they played very well against a less than stellar Saints defense Monday night. But play after play, somebody on the line lost their battle against the Steelers and it impacted the flow of Minnesota’s offense. Case Keenum attempted 37 passes Sunday, and he faced pressure on at least 15 drop backs. He often didn’t have the time to look for receivers, who were open, down the field.
The Steelers also blitzed a lot, and many of them weren’t picked up. That leads to a scrambling and uncomfortable quarterback in the pocket. And when you’re playing your back-up, who is the No. 2 for a reason, it’s never a good thing. The play that epitomized the day happened when pressure actually caused Keenum to slip and fall without being touched by a defender. To add insult to injury, Riley Reiff was called for holding on the same play.
The silver lining? Pittsburgh is one of the best defenses the Vikings will face all year. But the offensive line must play better and more consistent for the Vikings to have a chance.
Vikings Secondary Tested
The Vikings secondary, and defense in general, played well enough for a victory on Sunday. Pittsburgh star Antonio Brown had only five catches for 62 yards, mostly against Xavier Rhodes, who kept him out of the end zone. But Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Shuster both had first half touchdowns to give the Steelers a 14-0 lead.
The secondary did what it could, other than creating a turnover, but the Steelers made just enough plays to pull away for the victory. They also made plays in key situations against the Vikings to extend drives.
Penalties Led To Points
Penalties proved to be very costly for the Vikings in multiple situations in Sunday’s loss. Early in the game on a fourth down, Brian Robison inexplicably jumped off sides to give Pittsburgh a first down. It was a situation where the Steelers weren’t going to run a play, and everyone knew it. They were trying to draw the Vikings off sides, and that’s what happened. The Steelers scored on the drive.
Opposing quarterbacks also like to throw at Trae Waynes. He’s still young in the NFL and prone to give up big plays. He committed a costly pass interference penalty of about 50 yards that led to another touchdown. Later in the game, the Vikings were called for an illegal formation on a Pittsburgh field goal try that they missed. The Steelers made the ensuing try. That’s 17 points Pittsburgh scored directly as a result of penalties.
It makes the loss that much more frustrating, knowing the game was there for the taking with more disciplined play. But that can and often does happen in the first road game of the season.
The focus this week will be all on the quarterback. If Bradford can return, Vikings fans will settle back in their chairs. If it’s Keenum again, good luck and enjoy the game with a cold beverage.