Steelers raise intensity against Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS – Apparently no one wanted to answer to outside linebacker James Harrison.
Seeing its most (and probably last) extensive action of the preseason Saturday, the Steelers defense played with the kind of urgency and intensity that Harrison said –- well, huffed is more like it -- had been noticeably absent during the team's first two exhibition games.
The Vikings managed just one touchdown in the almost three quarters they played against the Steelers' first-team defense. And the Steelers dominated the line of scrimmage, shutting down Minnesota's running back tandem of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor while sacking quarterback Gus Frerotte three times in a 12-10 win over the Vikings in front of a sellout crowd of 62,625.
Jeff Reed kicked a 47-yard field goal at the end of the game to deliver the victory.
Unfortunately for the Steelers (2-1 in preseason games), their offense hardly put on a clinic as it mostly sputtered amidst the ear-splitting noise inside the Metrodome. And its struggles probably left Mike Tomlin rubbing his temples more than anything in what amounted to something of a homecoming for the Steelers coach.
The Steelers couldn't establish the run Saturday night and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger probably had to sidestep Minnesota's pass rush too many times for Tomlin's liking.
“We wanted to control the ball and move it a little bit and play grimy football and make sure we controlled time of possession,” said Tomlin, who served as a defensive coordinator for the Vikings before becoming coach of the Steelers. “We expected it to be a close, hard-fought game that was going to be decided in the fourth quarter.”
Willie Parker rushed for just 18 yards on 10 carries Saturday night but at least the Pro Bowler hung onto the ball.
Rookie first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall fumbled on his second carry of the game -– the first of two he had Saturday -- and the Vikings recovered the loose ball at the Steelers' 47-yard line late in the first quarter.
Frerotte, starting for the injured Tarvaris Jackson, completed three straight passes, moving the Vikings inside the Steelers' 5-yard line. And Peterson broke a scoreless by diving into the end from the 1-yard line.
The Steelers went three and out on their ensuing possession but Ike Taylor gave them excellent position when he intercepted a Frerotte pass at Minnesota's 34-yard line.
The offense netted only 18 yards during a nine-play drive and the Steelers had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.
The Steelers only have one more exhibition game before the start of the regular season. And the starters on both sides of the ball figure to play sparingly Thursday night when the Panthers visit Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger completed 10 of 17 passes against the Vikings but he managed just 65 yards passing. The top three Steelers' wide receivers combined for two catches for 17 yards. Santonio Holmes did not have a reception.
Harrison and fellow outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley each sacked Frerotte while defensive end Aaron Smith also recorded a take down of the Ford City native.
“We came out with a totally different attitude,” Harrison said. “Not laid back and just going out there to get our plays. We did a lot better than we have in the previous two preseason games. We did what we had to do in this third preseason. I feel a lot better.”
The news was not all good on the defensive side of the ball as starting inside linebacker Larry Foote left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Tomlin said he didn't think the injury was serious.
In the second half, Mendenhall rushed for 75 of his game-high 79 yards but he lost another fumble with the Steelers trailing by a point late in the fourth quarter and driving.
Reed, however, bailed him out with the game-winning field goal that came with less than four seconds to play.
“He does have great running instincts and cutting ability," Tomlin said of Mendenhall. "But fundamentals of being a pro and understanding how guys are going to go after the ball in this league is big. What happened to him validates what we've been talking about since he's been here.”