Steelers vs. Vikings: Takeaways from Minnesota's 34-27 Win over Pittsburgh
The Minnesota Vikings finally held on to a fourth-quarter lead, securing a 34-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The win didn't come without another hold-your-breath finish, as the Steelers were sitting on the Vikings' 6-yard line with only 0:19 left in the game.
In the end, the Vikings defense came up with their fifth sack of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, that resulted in the second turnover of the game for the Steelers. Vikings' backup quarterback Matt Cassel took a knee to end the game, and start a quarterback controversy.
The game featured multiple two-touchdown performances for Cassel, Greg Jennings and Adrian Peterson. Cassel threw two touchdowns to Jennings, his first two touchdowns for the Vikings. Adrian Peterson rushed for two touchdowns, including a 60-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He finished with 140 yards on 23 carries.
The Vikings head into their bye week on a high note, avoiding an 0-4 start. With another home game on the horizon, this may be the start of a turnaround to their season.
Here are some takeaways from the Vikings' win over the Steelers.
Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Quarterback Controversy
Not only did Matt Cassel open the game completing his first two passes, he also led the Vikings offense to scores on its first two drives and a season-high 34 points. He closed the game by taking a knee with eight seconds left.
He finished the game by completing his last 11 passes—going 10-of-10 in the second half. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, he did not throw an interception and finished with a passer rating of 123.4.
His favorite target in the game was Jerome Simpson, who caught seven passes for a game-high 124 receiving yards.
His biggest contribution, however, was the two touchdowns to Greg Jennings. The first came on a nice catch-and-run by Jennings in the first quarter when he caught a seven-yard pass from Cassel and turned it into a 70-yard touchdown.
Despite what head coach Leslie Frazier wants to admit, Cassel's performance not only creates a quarterback controversy, but it also advances the argument.
In a USA Today story on Friday, Frazier still believes Christian Ponder is the starter.
"I don't foresee a quarterback controversy. But we want (Cassel) to play lights-out – want him to have the best game of his NFL career on Sunday."
It may not have been Cassel's best game of his career, but it was a whole lot better than what Ponder has been able to do this season. In three games, Ponder has two touchdowns and five interceptions, with a passer rating of 65.9.
If Frazier still doesn't believe there's a quarterback controversy, it might just be because the decision to stick with Cassel is an easy one—for now.
The Vikings Defense Has a Game of Firsts
Entering the game, the Pittsburgh Steelers had not scored a touchdown in the first quarter this season. On top of that, they had not scored a rushing touchdown since Week 15 of last season.
Against the Minnesota Vikings defense, they got both on their second drive of the game. Rookie Le'Veon Bell scored two running touchdowns against the Vikings in his NFL debut.
The Steelers finished the game with a net 77 rushing yards—the first time the Vikings defense has held the opposition to fewer than 100 yards on the ground. Of course, the Steelers entered the game with the 30th-ranked offense running the ball.
It was also the first game of the season the Vikings allowed less than two passing touchdowns. They were ranked last in the NFL having yielded nine touchdowns in their first three games.
The Defense Continues to Give a Lot of Yards, but They're Getting Turnovers
The Minnesota Vikings defense gave up 434 yards to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Week 4 win—not exactly something to brag about. After three weeks the defense was ranked 29th in yards allowed and 30th in points given up.
One area they have excelled is turnovers.
Linebacker Chad Greenway got his second interception of the season against the Steelers. He shares the team lead with fellow linebacker Erin Henderson and safety Harrison Smith.
The Vikings Defense Cannot Stop the Pass
In martial arts, there's a saying to use your opponent's strength against him. It's something the Minnesota Vikings' opponents continue to use against them. The Vikings' defensive line likes to rush the quarterback, something teams have taken advantage of this season.
The Detroit Lions started the trend by utilizing the screen pass to Reggie Bush in Week 1. The Steelers used it several times on Sunday. On a 3rd-and-17 play in the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on a screen pass for a 14-yard gain.
Despite sacking Roethlisberger five times, he finished with 383 yards on 36-of-51 passing. His passer rating was 90.6. It's the third time the Vikings defense allowed a quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards, and the third time a quarterback finished with a passer rating greater than 90 against them.
Sure, the Vikings were without starter Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford on defense, but they were giving up plenty of yards even with those two in the game.
Why is Antoine Winfield still retired?
The Vikings need to send a private jet to wherever Winfield is living these days and convince him to come back to the team. The defense could really use the veteran cornerback and his 14 years of experience in the their defensive backfield.
I'm Sorry, but Josh Robinson Is No Antoine Winfield
The Minnesota Vikings desperately need some help in the defensive backfield. Josh Robinson was exposed again by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On the Steelers' first touchdown drive in the first quarter, he was burned for a 36-yard gain when Ben Roethlisberger hit Emmanuel Sanders. That gave the Steelers the ball on the Vikings' 23-yard line. It was Sanders' longest catch of the game.
On the Steelers' second touchdown drive, Robinson was burned on a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery that gave the Steelers the ball on the 49-yard line.
On the very next play Roethlisberger picked on him again, throwing a long downfield pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown. Robinson was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, and the ball was placed on the 1-yard line.
The Steelers kept picking on Robinson as he led the Vikings defense with 12 tackles.
Adrian Peterson Is Still a Beast!
It was a typical Adrian Peterson game. He opened the game with only 17 yards on six carries, but then broke off a 60-yard touchdown run on his seventh carry.
Following the Vikings' first drive of the the second half, he had 109 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. He finished that touchdown drive rushing for the final 25 yards on four straight carries, the last for seven yards as he walked into the end zone untouched.
Last season, it took four games for Peterson to exceed 100 rushing yards in a game. Against the Steelers, he finished with 140 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns—his best game so far this season.
After opening the season with a 78-yard touchdown run against the Lions, Peterson only had 203 yards on his next 68 carries—an average of only 2.9 yards per carry.
After his 140-yard performance against the Steelers, he has 89 more yards than last season after four games, and his average is up to 4.6 yards per carry.
Jared Allen's Slow Start Is Officially Over
After starting the season with only one sack in the first three games, Jared Allen recorded 2.5 sacks against the Steelers.
Now, with 3.5 sacks through four games, he's back on pace to finish with 14 sacks. Since joining the Vikings in 2008 he has led the team with an average of 14.8 sacks per season.
Here's hoping, that just like the Vikings as a team, Allen's slow start to the 2013 season is over.
Something Is Wrong in Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Steelers came into Sunday's game with a Top 10 passing offense. They were ranked ninth with an average of 258.7 passing yards per game.
However, the Steelers had averaged only 14 points per game, and Roethlisberger only had four touchdowns coming into this game. The Steelers really miss wide receiver Mike Wallace who had 32 touchdown catches in four seasons in Pittsburgh.
Against the Vikings defense, ranked 28th in the league with an average of 315.7 passing yards per game, Roethlisberger was able to pass for 383 yards and a touchdown.
Roethlisberger, a grizzled veteran in his 10th season, could not beat the Vikings on a neutral field, yet Brian Hoyer, a third-string quarterback was able to pick apart the Vikings defense for three touchdowns in the Metrodome to beat the Vikings in Week 3.
My how far the Steelers have fallen.
Blair Walsh's Perfection Continues, Kind of
Blair Walsh finally missed a field goal, but his perfection remains intact.
Walsh entered this game a perfect 6-of-6 on field goals. That streak ended on this third attempt of the game when he missed a 44-yard field goal.
On the Vikings' first drive of the game, he hit a 54-yard field to open the scoring. It was his 12th straight field goal from greater than 50 yards.
Perhaps, it wasn't a good thing that, on third down, the Vikings gained six yards and shortened the attempt to less than 50 yards. If Jarius Wright had dropped the pass from Matt Cassel on third down, that third attempt would have come from 50 yards—where Walsh is perfect.