2021 Dynasty/Fantasy Game Analysis Week 14: Vikings 36, Steelers 28 (By Ross Jacobs)
If you haven't seen this one yet, I'd recommend you go watch it for yourself. What an absolutely wacky game.
The entire first half can be summed up by saying the Steelers didn't show up to play. They looked like a legit JV high school team. Not even kidding. It was painfully obvious to everyone watching. The score was 23-0 Minnesota at the half and we were all wondering if Cook was going to run for 400 yards.
And then the 3rd quarter started and not a whole lot had changed it seemed. The Steelers were still sputtering around on offense like they've done all year. The Vikings kicked a couple of field goals and the game looked over at 29-0 with just over one quarter still to play.
And that's when the crazy started.
All of the sudden it was like Pittsburgh suddenly realized they had a project due the next morning and they needed to down a couple cups of coffee and start working feverishly to get it done in time. They scored 3 straight TD's before Minnesota got nervous and tried to put them away with one of their own. Sure, the Steelers did great cutting it to an 8 point game, but now the Vikings were up 16 again and all was well, right?
Wrong. A Cousins interception gave Pittsburgh new life and they capitalized with a score and 2-point conversion to make it 36-28. Minnesota tried to run out the clock with just minutes left, but the Steelers finally found their defense and stopped them.
Pitt ball with a little over 2 minutes left. The Vikings had done nothing to slow the Steelers for the past quarter, and the game felt like it was headed to OT. But at the last second the Vikings defense bowed up and halted Pitt while the clock ran out.
The Vikings hang on for the win after utterly dominating early. We've seen this pattern so many times this year it's become routine. 20 point leads essentially mean nothing anymore if the teams are close in talent level because the team that is leading just goes into conservative prevent defense mode and the trailing team is allowed to complete tons of short passes underneath that lead to easy scores.
Minnesota gets to 6-7, easily the best team with a losing record in the league. 5 of their 7 losses this year have come by a combined 13 points. They just are not doing well in close games, and basically every game has been close for them this year.
The Vikings finish out the year with games against the Rams, Packers, and twice against the Bears. They will likely go 2-2 but possibly 1-3 to finish with a losing record and out of the playoffs. All year I kept thinking they were ready to make a turn and possibly sneak into a wildcard spot, but it just never materialized. At this point you have to think Mike Zimmer is probably on the hot seat. We'll see if he survives for another year or not.
Pittsburgh falls to 6-6-1 and are trailing in the NFC North race. They have performed poorly all year and I hope they lose all 4 remaining games, but looking at the schedule...there's hope for them to sneak into the playoffs or even win the division if the Bengals and dying Ravens fall apart at the end.
The Steelers have the Titans, Chiefs, Browns, and Ravens left. I don't think they can take down the Chiefs, but the other three are winnable games against solid but injured teams. Most likely Pitt goes 1-3 or 2-2 in this stretch and just miss the playoffs, but a few lucky breaks could see them find a way in. I'm betting they come up a game or two short.
After that is anyone's guess. There's a lot of heat on Tomlin right now, but the Steelers never make coaching changes hastily. I'll bet Tomlin survives and is given another year. It's not going to go well though because Ben is done in Pittsburgh and Tomlin in all his arrogance is either going to roll with Dwayne Haskins as his QB intentionally or try and fail to trade for an elite QB from another team (none of whom want to play in Pittsburgh for obvious reasons). Like it or not Haskins is likely the starting QB for the Steelers in 2022, and we all know how that's going to go. Good luck running the ball with Najee in 2022!
--I guess now we have to take Big Ben seriously for fantasy the last couple weeks of the playoffs. He has 11 TD's his last 5 games and the passing numbers are trending up as well as he tries to garbage time his team back into games. If you need a QB streamer this week against an average Tennessee secondary is as good a spot as any. You could make an argument for using him in garbage time against the Chiefs the following week, but personally I'm not that brave.
*RC NOTE: And the Titans passing defense is starting to take a turn as guys get healthy and rookies develop, etc. They flustered Mahomes Week 7 (held to 3pts!!) and they pick-sixed McStafford twice in a Rams passing game squash.
A rising Titans pass D and cold weather…don’t love it for Ben this week, but he’s not totally dead like he was a few weeks ago.
--There was quite a bit of noise made about Chase Claypool (8-93-0/9) after this game due to a penalty he got for poking a defender in the eye and then for a first down celebration late in the game that might (or might not) have lost his team some time trying for a field goal.
After the game, Tomlin did admit that he benched Claypool for a period of time during the game due to the penalty and obviously wasn't happy with the late sequence either, but I don't get vibes that this is as big an issue for the Steelers as the media is making it out to be. Tomlin actually sounds quite patient and willing to work with Claypool right now.
Despite all the many reasons I dislike Tomlin in his managerial style, this is the correct move. Claypool is far too talented to just discard. As Tomlin says, he's a young guy and still learning maturity. It's not like he's out partying with strippers or stealing crab legs from restaurants or something. He celebrated a first down the same way he always does and was a little lax in taking notice of the clock situation. He'll learn in time. If he doesn't then the Steelers will move on, but that's farther down the line.
I don't expect any adverse effects from this right now. Claypool is a big part of this offense (even though it hasn't felt like it lately). In his last four games he's been targeted 9-8-3-9 times and has gone over 80 yards each game with 8+ targets. It isn't the numbers we want because he and Ben are struggling to connect on these hail mary deep balls, but he's back to being more WR3 than random WR4. He's also overdue for a TD with only 1 on the entire season (that blows my mind too...).
--I heard some talk about James Washington (4-65-1/6) getting more time because of the Claypool problems and Washington being such a good worker bee...blah blah blah. It isn't happening. Maybe they put him in a tiny bit more just to push Claypool, but he's not taking anyone's job. Washington is still a distant 4th behind DJ, CC, and McCloud.
If anything we'll see McCloud elevated over CC for the time being. That's what happened here with the snaps after Claypool was benched for the penalty. I have no interest in Washington.
*RC NOTE: I think James Washington earned Ben’s trust a touch more…and he might see 3-6 targets per game vs. his normal 0-3. Ray-Ray has been the one earning more trust/targets/snaps…6-32-0/8 here, and three weeks prior he had a 9-63-0/12 game with Claypool out hurt.
A little rise in Washington, more snaps/trust for Ray-Ray…I think it all hurts Claypool’s case for ‘he’s all Ben’s got when not throwing to Diontae’ FF hopes week-to-week. Claypool has been mostly a WR3-4 dud until this breakout…and it happened late in all-passing, desperate comeback attempts. It’s hard to trust CC right now, for FF, based on typical game flow for weeks…but now if JW and Ray-Ray are going to see some more looks, even worse.
--Adam Thielen still hasn't practiced since his high-ankle sprain injury and will probably be out again this week.
In his absence we can expect another healthy dose of KJ Osborn (3-83-1/9). If you started Osborn here it worked out pretty well because of his long TD, but things were a little scattershot outside of that. I watched this back trying to see the problem, but I didn't notice anything on Osborn's end. He was moving well and getting open. Kirk just wasn't getting it to him accurately.
It was clearly a Kirk issue too as he had similar problems with Jefferson who only caught 7 of 15 passes. Not really sure what was going on with Cousins though. Maybe just an off night.
I'd expect a more solid showing from Osborn against the Bears this week. I think we're in for another 5 or so catches for 75 yards with a shot at a TD against a suspect Bears secondary. I don't see anything to fear with Osborn and think you can start him with confidence as a WR2-2.5.
--There were multiple reasons for Dalvin Cook's big day here, but one high profile guy stood out as a clear problem for the Steelers, former 1st round pick Devin Bush. Now, I will defend Bush a little bit because his defensive line was allowing blockers to get on him literally every play, but regardless Bush was out of position constantly, couldn't get off blocks, and was just getting absolutely abused here, especially in the first half.
Thinking back to a few weeks ago, I bet Bush was a big part of why Joe Mixon crushed them as well. Bush just doesn't look right compared to his first season. Maybe the 2020 injury robbed him of some athleticism. Maybe he still hasn't fully recovered but will get back to normal with another year.
I don't have those answers, but I do know he's a liability right now and I am loving this for D'Onta Foreman this week. Fire that bad boy up because he's got some huge upside against this sieve of a defense.
--That was a negative IDP look, but now we've got a nice positive. Armon Watts (3 tackles, 1 sack) is looking mighty good as an up and coming defensive tackle. He's got 5 sacks on the season now since having his snaps elevated in week 4.
His playing time steadily grew for the next 6 or 7 weeks until he was playing around 70-75% of the time, but they have gone back down the past two weeks. I don't think that's going to last. He looks excellent. Prototype size, good movements skills, very light mover for as big as he is, power to push blockers back...if he's not one of the best defensive tackles in the league next year I'm a monkey's uncle.
Watts was a 6th round pick out of Arkansas in 2019. He had some fans around the league due to his excellent highlight tape, but there were some questions about his effort and experience/playing time due to being a one-year starter. It looks like he's answered those questions and is living up to the flashes of talent he showed in college.
Snap Counts of Interest
72 = Diontae Johnson
63 = RayRay McCloud
44 = Chase Claypool
30 = James Washington
67 = Justin Jefferson
60 = KJ Osborn
29 = Dede Westbrook
3 = Ihmir Smith-Marsette