NFL from the Sidelines

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O-R Sports reporter Dale Lolley gets you the insider scoop on the NFL.

After hobnobbing around the NFL in the press boxes and sidelines, sports reporter Dale Lolley will let you know the insider scoop. Dale can also be heard on the Steelers radio network pre-game show prior to every game. Follow him on Twitter at dlolleyor.

Post Steelers vs. Vikings notes, thoughts

September 17, 2017
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant (10) scores after taking a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

The Steelers played better on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings offensively in their 26-9 victory Sunday at Heinz Field. They made some plays down the field, ones they didn’t really make in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns.

And they were able to grind out enough of a running game to win this game.

But they most certainly aren’t a finished product on that side of the ball.

The offensive line, for the second week in a row, didn’t play particularly well. And that’s somewhat troubling.

Regardless of what else was happening with the skill players, you looked at the line and said they should be OK because that line is back intact.

We learned after this game that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva had been ill on Saturday and even into Sunday morning. And he looked a little off in this one.

Everson Griffin is a good player, a Pro Bowl player. But he spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh’s backfield.

And the rest of the Vikings’ defensive front four is good, as well.

But the expectations for this offensive line are better than one that, through two games is averaging 2.8 yards per carry.

That has to get better.

@ It was promising to see Martavis Bryant shake off a bad game last week in Cleveland to catch three passes for 91 yards and also gain another seven on an end around.

Bryant also drew a 49-yard pass interference penalty when he got behind Trae Waynes.

Bryant becoming more like his old self is a big deal for this offense.

@ Le’Veon Bell’s 87 yards on 27 carries wasn’t very Bell like, but he’s getting closer to looking like himself, as well.

I asked him after this game if he even thinks about the groin injury he suffered last season that required surgery.

He said he’s doing some extra stretching in warmups because of it, but it hasn’t been an issue in games.

Still, he averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and had a long run Sunday of 11 yards. It is something of a concern.

He also had just four catches for four yards.

The Vikings are good and linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the few linebackers in the league who can match up athletically with Bell out of the backfield.

But Bell still looked better this week than he did last.

If he makes similar improvement between this week and next at Chicago, the Steelers should be fine.

@ I didn’t see James Harrison play a snap in this game.

That’s significant because T.J. Watt left in the first half with a groin injury.

Anthony Chickillo got all of the snaps replacing Watt on the left side, while Arthur Moats got a few on the right when Bud Dupree came out.

Watt said he doesn’t think his injury is serious. We’ll see. But if he doesn’t play next week, it appears Chickillo has passed Harrison in the pecking order.

@ Some fans on Twitter wondered why Mike Tomlin would not kick a field goal from the 29 after Minnesota was penalized for running into the punter on a kick from the 34.

After all, Tomlin had just lined up to do so before than when long snapper Cameron Kanaday was penalized five yards for an illegal snap.

But the punt had been downed at the 1.

And with 10 minutes remaining, Minnesota had not yet gotten 200 yards of offense.

With the Steelers leading 20-9 at the time, it was more likely that kicker Chris Boswell would miss a 46-yard field goal attempt than it was the Vikings were going to go 99 yards for a score.

Tomlin was playing the odds.

@ The Steelers were still highly penalized in this game, drawing 10 for 72 yards.

On the plus side, they cut their penalty yardage in half from Week 1, when they drew 144 yards in penalties.

This just seemed to be one of those games, though, as Pete Morelli’s crew hit Minnesota for 11 penalties for 131 yards.

@ The defense played great again Sunday. It didn’t hurt that Case Keenum, not Sam Bradford was playing quarterback.

But you play who you play and you don’t apologize for winning.

As good as the defense has been, it has still had a drive in each game where it just can’t stop anything.

You’d like to see that cleaned up.

Sean Davis was a big part of this one, allowing a 21-yard pass down the sideline to Stephon Diggs on which he had good coverage but never got his head around. Then, after that, he got trapped inside on a 25-yard run by rookie Dalvin Cook to the 1.

Davis was good down the stretch last year. And sometimes we forget he still has less than a year’s experience starting under his belt.

@ JuJu Smith-Shuster had his first career touchdown catch and had three catches for 16 yards.

But he also had a false start penalty and brought a kickoff out of the end zone from five yards deep to the 15, much to the surprise of fellow return man Terrell Watson.

Smith-Shuster was the youngest player in this year’s draft. And he also had a decleating block on Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith right after his ill-advised return.

The young man is learning on the fly, especially as a returner, so we can give him a pass for that.

But through two games, he has three catches and three penalties.

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