The Pittsburgh Steelers offense failed to show up until late in the second half of their Week 14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The team was held scoreless in the first half and had just 56 total yards in that span. However, the offense came alive late in the third quarter. The team scored 28 points within the final 18 minutes of the game. Many of the Steelers playmakers had great games, but other players, however, struggled to keep drives going.
Offensive Takeaways for the Pittsburgh Steelers After Week 14 Loss to Minnesota Vikings
Big Ben Keeps Fighting
Ben Roethlisberger is a warrior. The 39-year-old quarterback struggled to get going in the first half. Big Ben tallied just 68 yards in the first half, as well as an interception. He had a hard time even finding time to throw; he was sacked five times in the first half, due to his weak offensive line. Most of the sacks had Roethlisberger taking some big, nasty hits. He struggled to get up after a few of the hits, and it was evident that he was upset with his offensive line.
But the big hits could not stop Roethlisberger from throwing for 260 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. The veteran quarterback made some great throws and connected with Najee Harris, James Washington, and Pat Freiermuth for touchdowns. His deep ball looked really good for one of the first times this season, and it is likely that they will keep attempting to throw deep if it is effective.
Roethlisberger also made several throws that would normally be very difficult. He was threading the needle and hit receivers in double/triple coverage several times. He was able to get the ball to his talented receivers and let them do the rest of the work. Although it seems he has had a down year, the veteran has really picked up his play in the past few weeks and is giving Pittsburgh some hard-to-find hope.
Najee Harris Is a Stud in the Making
Najee Harris, the rookie running back out of Alabama, continues to impress this season. He had a phenomenal start to the season but had died down the few games prior to the Steelers Week 14 matchup. But in Thursday night’s game, Harris played well both rushing and receiving the ball. He had 90 yards on 24 carries and a rushing touchdown. He also added three catches for 10 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. Harris’ longest run in Week 14 went for 23-yards. Although he has not had many long runs, he still makes his presence felt in the power-run game.
Harris is a great downhill runner who is not afraid to make contact and fight for extra yards. He has had to deal with a very weak offensive line that hasn’t opened up much space for him to run. But despite all of the problems, Harris has already established himself as one of the league’s top runners. His ability to break tackles and get extra yards makes him a special talent; the Steelers certainly struck gold when they drafted Harris 24th overall in last year’s draft.
Diontae Johnson, Pat Freiermuth Are Special Talents
Diontae Johnson, once again, had himself a good game. The third-year receiver out of Toledo finished with 76 yards on five catches in Week 14. After the game on Thursday night, Johnson now sits at fifth in the NFL in receiving yards and seventh in catches. He has had a phenomenal season and has solidified his spot as a top receiver in the NFL. Johnson is a great catch-and-run receiver who, if given space, will run free with his speed. Johnson also has some great hands; he made multiple deep and seemingly-impossible catches against Minnesota.
Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth has received a lot of criticism for his late-game miscue in Week 14. On the final play of the game, Roethlisberger threw a pass to Freiermuth, who seemed to have caught the pass at first. However, Freiermuth was hit by three different players, including Pro-Bowl safety Harrison Smith. And Smith’s punch knocked the ball out and saved the game for Minnesota. While it counts as a drop for the rookie, it certainly was not his fault and he still deserves tremendous respect for his performance this season. In the Steelers 13 games this season, Freiermuth has seven touchdowns, which is made even more impressive given he is a rookie.
James Washington Deserves More Playing Time
James Washington has always been on the lower end of the Steelers depth chart. Despite his lower value, Washington still possesses great skill as a receiver and has made many spectacular plays throughout his tenure in Pittsburgh. Before their Week 14 game, he had just 17 catches, 184 yards, and one touchdown on the season. But he added four catches, 65 yards, and a spectacular 30-yard touchdown score on Thursday night. His fantastic, leaping catch on a great deep throw brought the game within nine points.
Even after his consistent, spectacular play at the wideout position, Washington also helped break up an interception by knocking down an errant pass intended for him. Washington has consistently been a dependable receiver for the Steelers, and it is past time that he sees more playing time. Washington needs to get some reps at the wideout position, especially due to the absence and potential departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster. With his good performances against Minnesota and the Detroit Lions a few weeks back (caught a touchdown), he has certainly earned more opportunities to be a part of Pittsburgh’s receiving corps.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 10, 2021
Chase Claypool’s Roller-Coaster Type Day
Second-year wideout Chase Claypool had such an up-and-down game that it was hard to describe his performance. The best thing about his day was that he was the Steelers leading receiver; Claypool led the way with eight receptions for 93 yards. He is a generational talent on deep balls and is a tough, vertical threat. He has been the most targeted deep-ball receiver all year, and justly so. But his production has all been outweighed by the costly penalties he commits and the mistakes he makes.
Claypool has had several unsportsmanlike calls against him this year for things that happened after the play. Football is a physical game, and to win you have to play physically. But committing worthless acts and skirmishing after plays can drag a team backward. Claypool has had too many of these calls, and he needs to start becoming more mature.
Another issue stemming from Claypool is his lack of awareness during late-game situations. Claypool caught a key nine-yard pass on a fourth-and-one with about 38 seconds left. He got up and started celebrating the first down, not realizing that his team was trying to spike the ball to stop the clock. After some tussling between teammates, the ball was finally set down and spiked with about 24 seconds left. Claypool’s lack of awareness cost the Steelers 14 seconds and a chance to run more plays in a tight game. Claypool is a really talented player, but he has to get his act together.
The Offensive Line Has Got To Improve
The offensive line was simply not good in Week 14. They allowed five sacks in the first half, many of which left their quarterback banged up. There were plenty of times when there was a miscommunication between members of the offensive and/or Big Ben. The center, Kendrick Green, had a hard time getting the snaps off in time, or when Big Ben wanted the ball to be snapped. The line looked to be completely disheveled and just could not do their job well. They have had a tough time this year, but a performance like this is still unthinkable. They have got to put in serious work, or they will continue to get bullied in the trenches.