Ugly wins are trending right now in the NFL.
Don’t buy that? Well Sunday’s 26-9 Steelers win over the Minnesota Vikings might be considered ugly, in terms of the end result. Hours before the game, Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, who came off a career game the prior week at home vs. New Orleans, was placed on the inactive list due to an injury of his left knee.
That meant Case Keenum was thrown into battle, hurting the Vikes plans, and it showed as the norsemen could only muster 2 scoring drives all day. The Steelers defense put up another solid performance and looks much improved from last season.
But that story is for another day. Everyone knows this team will live and die by its ability to score, and to do so in bunches. The weapons Pittsburgh possesses, in all its forms, did show progress against a very stout Vikings defense that is only going to get better.
As I’ve stated in the past, this football team is at its best when the offensive tempo is set by it’s once-in-a-lifetime quarterback. Take a look at the only two touchdown drives the team had in the 1st half. The arm of Ben Roethlisberger gets unleashed, and with the return of Martavis Bryant, good things are going to keep happening.
There is no mistaking the need to have Roethlisberger and the passing game set the tone early in games. Today was no exception. After a 3-and-out to start the game, the Steelers put together the games first scoring drive. A 22-yard pass interference call aided the drive, as Xavier Rhodes got beat down field by Antonio Brown. Had he not held Brown, it could have been worse.
The black and gold would run the ball for a series of 1st downs until Ben hooked up with a streaking Bryant down the middle of the field for a 27-yard touchdown pass which was a thing of beauty. Bryant one-on-one with any defender is a mismatch, and he’s going to get plenty of good matchups all season with No. 84 across from him.
That’s what makes this offense so potent, and the possibilities are exciting to envision.
Speaking of matchups, the matchup problems this team will give opponents all season have to be frustrating to plan against. Consider how Le’Veon Bell is still warming up into being 100-percent game ready. Losing six weeks of prep time has shown the first two games. I did like how Bell ran in the 2nd half, not that his play in the 1st was bad, as the Vikings came to play on the other side.
What I noticed about Bell in the last 30 minutes was his cutting, and being more decisive while hitting holes the line opened up. Perhaps we will get a good look at the superstar fans have grown accustomed to seeing in the coming weeks. What I’m hoping for is some improved pass catching numbers out of the backfield. Bell caught four balls for just four yards. That number should only increase as the season progresses. So far, Bell has caught just seven passes in two games. Expect that to play a factor as the season moves along.
The trend of Antonio Brown being held in check by a Mike Zimmer defense continued. Xavier Rhodes did a very good job against his old high school teammate, holding Brown to five catches for 62-yards. Now his total grabs lead the team, so that was a positive, but in the end, the amount of attention he gets will only free up the other wideouts.
3rd down continues to be an issue. 3 for 13 vs. Minnesota won’t cut it as the games get more important. In fact, over the 1st two games, the Steelers are just 8 for 26 in that statistical category.
Normally, I’d be all over the four 2nd half field goal drives as a sign of problems with the offense, but I’m going to let it slide. If this team’s achilles in the past was settling for 3 and not 7, it sure won’t be this campaign with the players they have.
The team is just two weeks into this 2017 season and it’s still too early to hit any panic buttons. With another week of practice, and the 0-2 Chicago Bears up next, the progress will only gain momentum on what is a 2-0 start for the season.
Ugly is in, baby.
And its never looked so good.
John Phillips is the author of this article and has covered Pittsburgh sports for over 20 years, both in radio and television. JP hates Twitter, so go check him out at https://www.facebook.com/john.phillips.161009