In the late portion of the second quarter, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, in his first game back from a shoulder injury, had 13 carries for 144 yards, while averaging 16.7 yards per carry. This was a microcosm of the miserable first half that the Pittsburgh Steelers had on Thursday night.
On many occasions, Cook had tremendous gaps to run through. If one were to replay those sequences, the Steelers defense front had already lost all their battles in the trenches before the ball was even handed off. This was not just a one time occurrence, it was a constant throughout the first half, reminiscent of their horrible performance in Week 12 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Remember when the offensive line allowed no sacks the previous week? Well, they looked very much like a group that had no idea how to protect their quarterback. By halftime, the Vikings' defense had registered four sacks, multiple pressures, and had made quarterback Ben Roethlisberger miserable in the first half. What was worth noting is how none of his teammates, notably members of his offensive line, helped him up after the third sack. This speaks volumes about the type of relationship they have as a unit.
From the opening whistle, it was clear they were not prepared to play a full game. The idea that it was a short week has no bearing on the fact that they failed to even put up a reasonable effort in the first half, keeping in mind the playoff implications coming into this contest. Their valiant effort to make a comeback was too little, too late. If anything, it adds to the frustration of this team in the sense that they are better than their record suggests.
So, the pending question is, where do the Steelers go from here? I believe the word "playoffs" should not be in their vocabulary from this point on. Even if they somehow win their remaining games, there are no guarantees of gaining a playoff spot. The objective for this team should be consistency. The same type of effort and resolve they showed in the second half, should be applied in their remaining games from start to finish. Ultimately, what is holding this team back is themselves, and the solution to their problems comes from within.