Although squeaking a 2-point win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Pittsburgh Steelers just couldn’t find the red zone, yet alone the end zone, in pre-season week 3. Although some credit must be given to the Minnesota Vikings defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line, QB Ben Roethlisberger, and running back Willie Parker never got into sync, leaving the valuable end zone property uninhabited.
Like the submarine with a screen door, the offensive line let the Vikings defense flow right through. Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin had hoped to give his first string offense some quality play time against a worthy opponent, but as the first half ticked by, it became evident that summer training camp had broken too early. With a measly 76 yards in seven possessions, Steelers fans can expect to see more shuffling of players before the offensive front is shored up. Should Justin Hartwig get the start at center, both Darnell Stapleton and Sean Mahan will be available for the guard position as well as backups in center.
In a post game appearance, Coach Tomlin talked about second-year player Darnell Stapleton, “Sometimes you say he’s a good little football player, but he’s 310 pounds. He plays with great leverage. He’s football smart. He has position flexibility. He’s a guy who always is in the hunt and probably will be up until the 11th hour.”
Questions about Big Ben Roethlisberger’s health have again raised their ugly heads. Like the 2006 season when Ben had barely managed to become healthy after crashing his motorcycle, then underwent an emergency appendectomy, his game play suffered a slow start. Possibly his hand or head; on Saturday against the Vikings, Quarterback Roethlisberger again held onto the ball too long, only to then release wobbly late passes to open receivers itching to make a first down. Overall, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice and completed only 10 of 17 passes, for a total of 65 yards.
The Steelers starters also struggled with their running game. Often running backwards, Willie Parker ran 10 times for only 18 yards. Again, the offensive line had trouble with the brute strength of the Vikings’ defense, leaving little room for Fast Willie to slip through. Fortunately, young Rashard Mendenhall showed real promise as the rookie running back, racking up 76 yards in 15 carries. Unfortunately, he also made rookie mistakes, allowing the Viking D to strip the ball away for two fumbles.
“It’s something we were concerned about, something we made him aware of,” Tomlin said. “It’s part of being a ball-totter in the National Football League. It’s a little different and he sensed that. He has the skill set to be successful but the prerequisite is ball security and he has to shore up that element of his game.”
On a good note: The Pittsburgh Steelers defense was very impressive even without Safety Troy Polamalu. With just one touchdown, the Vikings struggled against the Steelers’ first-team defense for nearly three quarters. The defense also managed to keep hard-hitting running back Adrian Peterson in check and sacked quarterback Gus Frerotte three times.
With Kicker Jeff Reed being the team’s best and only point scorer of the game, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to take possession of the end zone or there may be another property foreclosure in the near future.