Steelers Get Gronked: Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski Dooms Steelers in 26-16 Loss to Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered their week 7 match up against the New England Patriots without Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Marcus Gilbert, Markus Wheaton and DeAngelo Williams and with Sammie Coates injured. The Patriots have looked unstoppable this season, and the Steelers had just laid a gigantic egg Miami.

  • Sounds like a recipe for a blood bath, doesn’t?

As it turns out, there’s a reason why we play games. No one gave the Steelers a chance and, in the end, they in fact lost the game. While this loss will carry consequences for the Steelers, it is entirely possible that the Steelers gained something, or perhaps potentially gained something important, the final score notwithstanding.

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Malcolm Butler intercepts a Landry Jones pass intended for Antonio Brown. Photo Credit: Pete Madia, Tribune-Review

It Would Have Had to Have Been Perfect….

No one should kid themselves. There’s a very good reason why the Vegas bookmakers have the Patriots as Super Bowl favorites. As much as we might hate to admit it, the New England Patriots play quality football and they play it consistently. One criteria would have been sufficient to any scenario that would see the Pittsburgh Steelers upset the Patriots with Landry Jones under center:

  • Perfection.

If the Steelers were going to win this one, they would have had to have been absolutely perfect. No, that doesn’t mean 100% completions of passes, a series of no-hitter 3 and outs on defense, and every run gaining a first down. But it would have meant the Steelers would need to execute at all times – as Jim Wexell titled his pre-game article “Do. Your. Job.

The truth is that Steelers Nation saw glimpses of that, and that’s why Pittsburgh gave the Patriots a run for their money.

  • The Steelers offensive line provided incredible protection for Landry Jones,
  • Likewise the line was opening holes, early on, for Le’Veon Bell
  • Todd Haley smartly exploited the Patriots playing to stop the run, and got the ball to Antonio Brown
  • The Steelers defense held Tom Brady & Co. check, for the game’s first 40 minutes or so
  • Greg Warren, of all players, was up field and recovered a fumble
  • Jarvis Jones played with gusto, stripping the ball and making several plays behind the line of scrimmage

Those are the types of plays that allowed the Steelers to stay in a game which they had no business winning. Unfortunately, the Steelers couldn’t play consistently enough across the line. The Steelers suffered 10 penalties for 85 yards – 85 yards which the offense needed and/or the defense did NOT need to yield to the Patriots.

  • The Steelers also gave back a touchdown because of a penalty
  • They also missed two field goals

That´s 13 points left off the board in a game that the Patriots won by 11. The Steelers were also in field goal range when Landry Jones threw his first interception in the end zone. Those are 16 points which never made it to the board for the Steelers.

You simply can’t fail to capitalize on those opportunities when you’re playing the New England Patriots, not matter who your quarterback is, let alone when your second string is starting. But even taking that into consideration, the Steelers STILL could have found a way to beat that Patriots, except for one minor detail.

Steelers Defense Gets Gonked (Again.)

Rob Gronkowski is perhaps one of the biggest difference makers in the NFL and has easily earned a spot alongside the JJ Watt’s and Antonio Brown’s as an undisputed best at his position. Yet for 2 and ahalf quarters, Keith Butler and his defense found away to keep the ball away from Gronkowski.

In the next series, the Steelers got good pressure on Tom Brady and momentum seemed to have shifted in Pittsburgh’s favor….

It only took Brady 5 plays on the Patriots next poession to find Rob Gronkowski and they made the Steelers pay. The Steelers answered with a field goal, but as soon as the Patriots got the ball back Brady waited three plays before hitting Gronkowski on back to back plays, including a spectacular 37 yarder right through the center of the Steelers defense.

  • And that, ladies and gentleman, was the story of the game.

Tom Brady and Rob Grownkowski can do their damage very quickly. To beat the Patriots, you must either find a way to shut them down completely or you have to play flawless football everywhere else.

  • Leaving the kind of plays the Steelers left on the field and only stopping them for 3 and a half quarters worth of football simply doesn’t cut it.

The Steelers defense, to their credit, managed to force 3 and outs during the Patriots next two drives. While the Steelers could and did hand the ball to Bell, they were now in a position of needing to scores, and with Antonio Brown out and then back at less than 100% that simply wasn’t going to happen.

(Note to Mike Tomlin, don’t have Robert Golden cover Rob Gronkowski by himself again next time.)

Reminder of Another Game, Played a Long Time Ago

Mike Tomlin, to his credit, doesn’t do “moral victories.” Never has and hopefully never will. But watching this undermanned Steelers team scrap against the almightly New England Patriots brought to mind another game.

Back in 2005, a fully healthy Pittsburgh Steelers team traveled to Indianapolis and played a Colts team that looked even more unstoppable than the 2016 Patriots. And the Steelers hung with this team until the beginning of the 4th quarter.

  • The Steelers of course lost that game to the Colts, by the score of 26 to 7.

But when the Steelers broke down the game tape, point by point, they concluded that the difference in that game came down to mental and execution errors, not differences in talent.

  • The 2016 Steelers 27-16 loss to the New England Patriots calls to mind the 2005 regular season loss to the Colts.

Hats off to the New England Patriots. They beat the Pittsburgh Steelers fair and square no ifs, ands or buts. Make no mistake about it, this loss will hurt the Steelers, and probably eliminates any chance they have of getting home field advantage over the Patriots, should Pittsburgh make the playoffs.

But if a Steelers team missing four starters and several key backups can offer a serious challenge to the Patriots, then the Pittsburgh has legitimate hope for something more, should they earn the opportunity for a rematch.

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6 Improbable Steelers Backup Quarterback Upset Wins

Raise your hand if you’re Steelers fan excited to see Landry Jones start against the New England Patriots. OK. Didn’t think we’d get too many takers. Fair enough. With Ben Roethlisberger recovering from knee surgery and Cameron Heyward also the odds makers have been rather generous in installing the Patriots as 7 points favorites.

  • Still, should Steelers Nation abandon all hope?

Perhaps, but Steelers backup quarterbacks have a history of delivering some surprising results under duress. Here are six notable Steelers backup quarterback upset wins dating from 1988 to 2012 (no disrespect to Steelers 1976 rookie Mike Kruczek, just not old enough to remember him.)

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Charlie Batch won his final start as 2012 Steelers upset Ravens on the road. Photo Credit: Chris Knight, The Patriot-News

1. 1988 – Todd Blackledge Leads Steelers to 39-21 win over Denver Broncos

It had been a bad week for Chuck Noll that began with a 34-14 drubbing in the Astrodome at the hands of arch nemesis Jerry Glanville. Noll cut short his weekly press conference when reporters asked him what it would take for him to step down. Terry Bradshaw called for Noll’s dismissal su

ggesting he was too old for the job. Bubby Brister was injured, and back up Todd Blackledge was struggling even to get snaps from Mike Webster.

In short, no one expected the explosion that was coming, led by Rodney Carter who took it 64 yards to the house on the game’s third play. Carter rushed for 105 yards, caught a touchdown and completed a pass, as Noll employed uncharacteristic trickery. Merril Hoge ran for another 94 yards, and Rod Woodson set up another score with a 29 yard interception and Gary Anderson kicked 6 field goals.

Todd Blackledge was only 9 of 17 for 129 yards on the day, but that was good enough to give Pittsburgh the win.

2. 1991 – Neil O’Donnell Authors 26-15 Upset of the Houston Oilers

1991 had been a tough year for Chuck Noll, and his Steelers had just been humiliated at home by the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. Scalping dished out by the Redskins the week before at Three Rivers Stadium had given the Steelers a 4-7 record, and 4-8 seemed certain against the 9-2 Oilers.

It is also true that perhaps Neil O’Donnell should be considered a backup, having started since relieved Brister 5 weeks earlier against the Giants, but Noll had been coy about designating a “starter.”

The Steelers ability to shut down the “Run ‘N Shoot” offense is one of the reasons why that never “stuck” in the NFL, but that was far from apparent in 1991. Games like this began to change the tune, as Bryan Hinkle, Thomas Everett, and Shawn Vincent picked off Warren Moon 5 times.

Those turnovers set up 3 Gary Anderson field goals, a 43 yard pass from Neil O’Donnell to Dwight Stone, and a Warren Williams touchdown. For the record, Neil O’Donnell went 12 for 29 for 155 yards one touchdown and 1 interception.

3. 1994 – Mike Tomczak Out Guns Dan Marino, Steelers Beat Dolphins 16-13

Perhaps the lead up to this game would have been different in the age of social media, but news that Mike Tomczak got the starting nod over Neal O’Donnell came as a surprise when game day arrived.

  • Imagine getting to the sports bar to learn that Mike Tomczak would square off against Dan Marino.

But got toe-to-toe Tomczak did, and how! In 1994, 300 yard passing games were relatively rare in the NFL but both quarterbacks broke the 300 yard mark, with Tomczak topping Marino’s yardage total. But for all of that passing, the game represented more of a defensive chess match. Chad Brown, Jason Gildon and Joel Steed team to sack Marino 4 times, with Levon Kirkland intercepting him once.

  • The Steelers held the lead until the Dolphins tied it a 48 yard field goal as time expired.

The Steelers won the toss, but could not score. The Dolphins took over at their 40, but the vaunted Steelers 1994 Blitzburgh defense stopped him cold at Pittsburgh’s 47. Mike Tomzcak excelled in overtime, scrambling twice and completed passes of 27 yards to Barry Foster and 23 yards to John L. Williams to set up Gary Anderson’s game winner.

As this site has previously observed, Tomzack’s ’94 wins against the Dolphins and the Raiders marked the shift of the focal point of the Steelers passing attack away from Eric Green and to Yancey Thigpen, Ernie Mills, Andre Hastings and Charles Johnson.

4. 2002 – Kordell Stewart Rebounds to Lead Steelers over Bengals 29-13

Time to fess up. Just as Neil O’Donnell wasn’t really the “Steelers backup quarterback” in the 1991 Astrodome upset of the Oilers, the Steelers win over the 1-10 Bengals can hardly fall into the category of an “upset.”

But its author, Kordell Stewart, most certainly was a backup. Less than one year removed from winning the team MVP award, Kordell Stewart found himself on the bench in favor of Tommy Maddox. Raul Alegre of ESPNDeportes had revealed 5 weeks eailer during the Steelers Monday night game vs. the Colts, Bill Cowher had confided in him that he hadn’t wanted to bench Kordell, but felt he had to because Kordell had lost the confidence of the Steelers locker room.

  • Expectations don’t get much lower than that.

Nonetheless, Kordell Stewart fearlessly took the reigns after Tommy Maddox’s injury the week before in Tennessee. The Steelers raced to a 17 point lead on a Jerome Bettis touchdown run, a 64 yard bomb from Stewart to Hines Ward, and a Jeff Reed field goal. But the Bengals fought back, scoring 14 points in the second half. The Steelers tacked on another 3 in the third quarter, but midway through the 4th the Bengals took the lead.

  • Kordell Stewart rallied the Steelers, first bringing Reed into range to boot a field goal, and then rifling a 27 yarder to Hines Ward which set up a 24 yard rumble by Bettis.

Kordell Stewart was flawless that day, going 22 for 26, one touchdown and zero picks.

5. 2005 – Charlie Batch off Bench @ Lambeau as Steelers beat Packers 20-10

2005 was a rough year for Green Bay, who entered the game at 1-10. On the face of it, that might make it difficult to categorize this win as “an upset” but if you’re playing at Lambeau Field, who do you want to be your quarterback Brett Favre or Charlie Batch, a man who hadn’t thrown a non-mop up time pass since 2001.

  • And did we mention that Jerome Bettis was out and that injuries limited Willie Parker to 5 carries?

The Steelers struggled in this one, as did Batch, but he played well enough to win, as did Duce Staley who saw his last real NFL action, and helped the Steelers win with 76 yards rushing and a touchdown.

6. 2012 – Charlie Batch Wins Finals Start, Steelers Upset Ravens 23-20

This Steelers 2012 game against the Ravens at M&T Stadium was one for the ages. The Steeler were reeling, having suffered back-to-back divisional losses, including an 8 turnover game to the Cleveland Browns. Charlie Batch had quarterbacked that game, and committed 3 of the turnovers, all interceptions.

And here the Steelers were, traveling to the home of their arch rival, with their 3rd string quarterback, 3rd string wide out, 2nd string outside linebacker. During the game, they would also lose their starting guard.

  • This was as hard fought game as you get.

The lead changed 5 times. Twice in the second half, Steelers turnovers gave the Ravens a chance to put Pittsburgh away, and twice Pittsburgh clawed back. James Harrison led the Steelers final rally, with one of his patended strip-sacks which came shortly after the Steelers had turned over the ball. Charlie Batch fired a missle to Heath Miller, who then willed himself into the end zone.

  • The Steelers defense held on the next drive.

Charlie Batch then took over at Pittsburgh 15 and with 6:14 remaining, led the Steelers on 13 play drive where Batch completed 7 straight passes, as Pittsburgh reached the Ravens 24 yard line. Shaun Suisham booted in a 42 yard field goal, and the Steelers had won.

Is Landry the Steelers Next “Legendary” Back Up Quarterback?

So, could Landry Jones author a game worth of inclusion of on this list above? With Cameron Heyward, Markus Wheaton, Marcus Gilbert and DeAngelo Williams out the odds are against him. But the odds were also once against Todd Blackladge, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomzcak, Kordell Stewart and Charlie Batch and they proved everyone else wrong.

Let’s hope Landry Jones follows in their footsteps.


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Like It Or Not: Steelers Will Live and Die with Landry Jones Until Ben Roethlisberger Returns

Pittsburgh Steelers fans had better get used to the sight of Landry Jones with his hands under Maurkice Pouncey’s but, as they’ll see it  week vs. New England and, if reports are correct, perhaps beyond that.

Not that concern isn’t warranted. This was a Steelers team that came close to upsetting the New England Patriots team in the 2015 season opener and has been itching for a rematch faster than you can say “HeadsetGate.”

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Like or not, Steelers Nation must get used to seeing Landry Jones under center

So fans’ desire for Ben Roethlisberger rise from the trainers bench, al la the Karate Kid, are well founded:

But if the longing for John Norwig to morph into Mr. Miyagi is understandable, the calls to start Zach Mettenberger or even more outlandish suggestions that the Steelers trade for Mark Sanchez, are not. For better and for worse, the Steelers will live and die with Landry Jones as their signal caller for as long as it takes for Ben Roethlisberger’s knee to heal.

There are lots of reasons for this, but everyone overlooks the biggest one….

Steelers Nation Keeps Up with the Changing Times

Bob Labriola and other members of Steelers Nation’s “4th Estate” have derided the outcry to immediately purge Landry Jones form the roster. And they’ve got the right reaction, unless you really think that Peyton Manning, Johnny Manziel or Tim Tebow would do better.

But if the sarcasim of the Labriola’s of the world is justified, then you also must credit these Steelers fans for being smart about one thing: They know a franchise quarterback when they see one.


From 1984 to 2004 the most popular player on the Steelers roster was whoever was backing up Mark Malone, Bubby Brister or Kordell Stewart. Neil O’Donnell won a bit of a respite, but even he heard calls to start Mike Tomczak in mid-1994. (Tommy Maddox was around long enough.) But between Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger’s time, if the backup quarterback wasn’t the most popular player in Pittsburgh, he certainly earned an honorable mention.

That’s has changed, and as well as it should, but “Landry Jones Anxiety” also reflects another more recent change.

Steelers Nation Appreciates What It Had When Its Gone

Since the beginning of the Bill Cowher Era the composition of the Steelers quarterback has remained pretty predictable: A designated starter, an experienced backup, and an up and comer.

The Steelers coaching staff and front office, whether it’s been headed by Tom Donahoe or Kevin Colbert, believe in experienced backups but have repeatedly tried to staff the 3rd string quarterback position with a player they can nurture into a backup. During the 1990’s they tried, unsuccessfully, with Mike Quinn, Pete Gonzalez and Anthony Wright. In the 00’s the Steelers tried it with Brian St. Pierre and a slew of 5th round draft picks.

  • The closest they got was with Dennis Dixon, who started 3 games for the Steelers, but he never matured into a stable backup.

Landry Jones is the first to achieve that status, and he’s unlikely to lose it save for an injury or a meltdown.

Mike Tomlin Stands By His Quarterbacks

Fans hoping to see Landry Jones on a short, or even medium leash can hold their breath for one simple reason: Rightly or wrongly, Mike Tomlin stands behind his quarterbacks. Going into his 10th year as head coach, Mike Tomlin has never pulled or benched a starting quarterback because of performance. Tomlin is loyal, sometimes to a fault, to his quarterbacks.

In both 2011 and 2012, Mike Tomlin had an experienced, healthy Charlie Batch standing on the sideline as his starter struggled, noticeably limited by injury, but Tomlin kept Roethlisberger and Leftwich in.

  • Given that precedent, it is hardly likely that Tomlin will turn over his offense to newly arrived Zack Mettenberger, who has yet to throw a pass for the Steelers in preseason.

Love it or hate it, the Steelers will live and die with Landry Jones until Ben gets back.

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Have Injuries Finally Caught Up with the 2016 Steelers?

When you follow a  team like the Pittsburgh Steelers on a consistent basis, it’s kind of easy to fall into a false sense of security regarding the capabilities of most players on the roster–and that includes the backups.

For example, reserve inside linebacker Vince Williams was absolutely dominant in back-to-back victories over the Chiefs and Jets. Williams combined for 25 tackles and two sacks, and as you watched him perform so well, you surely didn’t miss Ryan Shazier, the guy he replaced in the lineup.

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Vince Williams limps off the field during the Steelers 30-15 drubbing at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla Tribune-Review

Speaking of the Jets game, Chris Hubbard went the entire way at right tackle, thanks to injuries to starter Marcus Gilbert and backup swing tackle Ryan Harris a week earlier vs. Kansas City, and did more than yeoman’s work, as part of an offensive line that hardly allowed a scratch on superstar quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

In the game against the Jets, star defensive end Cameron Heyward left with a hamstring injury and never returned.

Maybe you didn’t notice Heyward’s absence, as Pittsburgh scored 17-unanswered second half points to run away with a 31-13 victory.

  • But here the thing about injuries:  They tend to have an accumulative effect.

As Vince Williams was flying around Heinz Field for two weeks, making tackle after tackle and playing like a man possessed, maybe you didn’t miss Shazier because:

a) Heyward was such a dominant presence along the defensive line, he gave Williams plenty of room to roam or

b) you simply didn’t know what you were missing.

For as annoying as Ryan Shazier’s injury history has been over the duration of his two-plus year career with the Steelers, the reality is, nobody on Keith Butler‘s defense is capable of being the difference-maker he is.

  • When he plays, Ryan Shazier makes things happen, whether it be a tackle for loss, a forced fumble or a key interception (Just ask Jeremy Hill of the Bengals).

Vince Williams can provide his share of tackles–even tackles for loss–but he has yet to prove he can be the impact player Shazier is.

As for Cam Heyward, his absence was a little harder to miss, what with such a drop-off in talent on the defensive line, due to the journeyman pedigree of backup Ricardo Mathews and the rookie pedigree of the otherwise utlra-talented Javon Hargrave.

Along the offensive line, while he doesn’t get the hype of a Maurkice Pouncey or David DeCastro, and while his story may not be as inspirational as left tackle Alejandro Villanueva‘s, fact is, Marcus Gilbert is one of the premiere right tackles in the NFL.

Gilbert may not have been everyone’s cup of tea over the first few years, when he was having hiccups that involved accidentally injuring his own teammates, but through hard work and commitment, he turned himself into a valuable member of the offensive line.

Was Marcus Gilbert an indispensable member of the line? It sure didn’t seem that way after the March signing of the veteran Ryan Harris, who started in Super Bowl 50 a year ago and began the regular season as a backup behind both Gilbert and Villanueva.

Unfortunately, after holding his own against the Jets, Chris Hubbard had a whale of a time trying to stop the Dolphins edge-rushers that included accomplished veteran linebacker Cameron Wake, as Ben Roethlisberger was harassed most of the afternoon and sacked twice.

  • Back to the Steelers defense.

Sunday’s game may have been physical, but the unit that appeared to be on the receiving end of most of the beatings was a Steelers defense that barely laid a hand on Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill and allowed an astounding 222 yards rushing.

You don’t have to be a football guru to see that Sunday’s game against the Dolphins was lost at the line of scrimmage, and Pittsburgh was missing a handful of key contributors on both sides of the ball.

Head coach Mike Tomlin’s “Next Man Up” mantra is rather appealing, inspirational and catchy. But, like most backups in the NFL, the more they play, the more they get exposed.

  • And the more backups that are in at any given time, the more a team may be weakened and exposed.

This coming Sunday, when the Steelers take on the Patriots at Heinz Field with Landry Jones as their starting quarterback, you may unfortunately get to witness the immediate effect of an injury to the most important player.

But in Miami on Sunday, you witnessed the accumulative effect of several injuries to a handful of valuable players.


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Steelers Report Card for Dolphins Debacle

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is once again concerned at the complacency with which his students address low-level tasks, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the drowning suffered at the hands of the Dolphins.

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Jarvis Landry beats the Steelers’ Artie Burns to set up the Dolphins 1st touchdown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Yes, Ben Roethlisberger played hurt, but Ben Roethlisberger was out of sync with his receivers long before he tore his meniscus. It is true he faced more pressure than he has in recent weeks, and it is also true that the receiving corps was ailing. But the Steelers couldn’t get it done when they needed to get it done, namely on third downs. Landry Jones came in for a series and threw one pass which should have been intercepted. Grade: F

Running Backs
Finger pointers will find plenty of places to point in the wake of the Dolphins loss, but the running backs won’t provide one of those targets. Le’Veon Bell started the game strong and on the carries he got immediately after Roethlisberger’s injury, looked hot enough that he might simply be able to take over the game. And that’s only counting Bell’s work on the ground, as he also was the Steelers leading receiver with six catches. DeAngelo Williams only ran 3 times but looked good. Grade: A

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That stat sheet shows that Jesse James caught 2 passes on two targets and that Xavier Grimble caught 1 pass on two targets. That’s fine, but the truth is that Jesse James continues to struggle as a blocker, as his inability to block led to a Roethlisberger sack on third down, followed by a Dolphins score. Grade: C-

Wide Receivers
Darrius Heyward-Bey authored the best play of the wide receiving corps with his 60 yard reverse. That’s nice, but receivers are supposed to catch the ball first and foremost. Antonio Brown made a couple of nice catches, but openly complained about his lack of targets. Sammie Coates played in spite of 7 stitches in his left hand, but was in effective. Eli Rogers returned, and had two catches, but also dropped a catchable ball. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t make it easy for this group, but they didn’t make it easy on him either. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice and knocked down 6 more times. Those are not pleasant numbers to see. The Steelers offensive line did a fairly strong job of run blocking during the game, but they failed to protect Ben Roethlisberger when it counted. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Just how much do the Steelers miss Cameron Heyward…. A lot. I would be unfair to scapegoat Ricardo Mathews but the Dolphins did have tremendous success running to their right. Stephon Tuitt had three tackles and a quarterback hit, but clearly failed to function as disruptive force. Daniel McCullers saw extensive playing time, but was unable to corral Ryan Tannehill when he got into the backfield, and Tannehill turned the opportunity into money. 200 yards rushing and zero pressure tells an ugly tale. Grade: F

Jarvis Jones almost got to the quarterback a few times early in the game, and that reminded me of Gil Brandt’s assertion that Jones 40 time represented the difference between almost getting to the quarterback and getting to him. James Harrison had a nice tackle for a loss, but was a non-factor after that. Lawrence Timmons had 5 tackles but was ineffective. Vince Williams had 6 tackles including a nice one for a loss, but had to leave the game. Tyler Matakevich actually led the team in tackles, but missed (along with others) on Jay Ajayi’s final embarrassment touchdown. Anthony Chickillo got his first start, but the Dolphins had success running his way. This unit got ZERO pressure on the quarterback. Grade: F

The knock on Artie Burns was that he couldn’t tackle. Well, he has yet to disprove the doubters. The secondary gave up passes to 9 Dolphin receivers including long gains of 53 and 39 yards, both of which set up scores. Miami was also 50% on third down conversions, and dominated time of possession. Injuries forced Steelers coaches to mix and match members of the secondary, but none of the combinations worked. Grade: F

Special Teams
On the positive side, the Steelers managed a blocked punt. But Miami had punt returns of 15 and 13 yards. Jordan Berry saw two of his punts take a Miami bounce. The Steelers tried to return 3 kicks, but only averaged 19 yards. Like the rest of the team, the Steelers special teams couldn’t get it done. Grade: C-

Just what the hell exactly was that supposed to be? From top to bottom, the Steelers performance against the Dolphins screams that question.

On offense, the Dolphins came into the game with the NFL’s worst rushing defense, yet Todd Haley only found a way to get the ball to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams 13 times? On a day when the Steelers were effectively limited to pairing Antinio Brown with their 4th, 5th, and 6th wide receivers? And did we mention that Ben Roethlisberger was misfiring long before he got injured?

Per Dale Lolley’s observation, the Dolphins and employed Wide-9 techniques to effectively pressure Ben Roethlisberger. But as Lolley observed, so did the Eagles. Why wasn’t the Steelers offensive line ready?

  • It is easy to second guess play calls that don’t work, but Todd Haley didn’t even appear to employ a strategy that explited the Dolphin’s weaknesses.

The defensive debacle was just as bad. It’s been 16 years since someone put up 200 yards on the Steelers defense, but people still remember Fred Taylor’s name. The lack of pressure and the inability to produce turn overs – these two factors are not unlinked – has continued to a point in the season where one wonders if the 2015 explosions in those areas were not a mirage. If the Steelers couldn’t get pressure on Ryan Tannehill, how can they hope to get on Tom Brady’s face?

Keith Butler wasn’t the one out there missing tackles left, right and everywhere in between, but Butler certainly must find a solution.

  • And that brings us to Mike Tomlin.

Following the Dolphins debacle, Mike Tomlin dutifully accepted responsibility, as he should have. The problem is this mea culpa speeches following flat performances against inferior opponents have become all too common.

Following the Steelers late December melt down against the Ravens, Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola assured readers that he’d observed the Steelers doing nothing different prior to the Ravens game. After this loss, Jim Wexell issued similar reports on his site, even assuring readers that the Steelers had had productive week of practice. So we’ll take them at their word, the Steelers aren’t doing anything before going out and laying big fat eggs against inferior opponents.

Clearly Tomlin must try something different. The experiment has been replicated too many times. Grade: F

Unsung Hero Award
Choosing an unsung hero is challenging at best after a game like this. But unlike the Eagles game, there was one player who not only did everything that was asked of him, he showed flashes that he could have put on just the dominant performance that his team needed on a day when nothing else went right. And for that, Le’Veon Bell wins the Unsung Hero Award from the Steelers drowning against the Dolphins.


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Dolphins Drown Steelers 30-15, Mike Tomlin Tanks ANOTHER Trap Game

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Miami on a roll. They’d won two straight games, had gotten their star running back back, their defense had perked up, and they were facing a 1-4 Dolphins team that had already given up 17 sacks. What’s more, their starting running back Jay Ajayi’s game high rushing total was 42 yards, or less than Le’Veon Bell’s longest run of the season.

As my 8th Grade World Studies teacher would say, it was a gimmie for the Steelers.

  • And of course, as if on cue, the Steelers blew it.

And Pittsburgh blew it badly. The final score of 30 to 15 masks just how one-sided this one was, the Dolphins dominated the Steelers in every phase of the game that counted. The root cause behind the Dolphins drowning the Steelers is easy to pinpoint, its solution however remains elusive.

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Dolphins running back Jayy Ajayi burns Lawrencey Timmons as Dolphins drown Steelers 30-15. Photo Credit: Wilfredo Lee AP

Is the Standard Still the Standard?

Since the day he was hired, Mike Tomlin has preached, “The standard is the standard, injuries will not be an excuse.” And the truth the men Tomlin leads in the locker room have taken this to heart. Backup really do see themselves as starters in waiting and the recent performance of former practice squanders Jordan Dangerfield, Chris Hubbard, and B.J. Finney offers proof.

But seemingly, there’s a limit to this? Seemingly, at some point injuries pile up beyond the point where focus and determination of the understudies can longer compensate for the collective drop in talent. Right? That’s what one Steelers fan argued on Twitter:

And there’s plenty of ammunition to support this argument:

All of that makes Miami’s cakewalk performance against the Steelers easier to understand, if not accept, right?

Wrong, that’s all a bunch of bull.

Injuries, in Fact, Are Not an Excuse

While the Steelers would have certainly liked to have had Shazier, Heyward, Gilbert, and Wheaton suited up and ready to go against Miami, their absence excuses nothing.

On the Steelers 5th series, Ben Roethlisberger threw his first interception before he left the field injured, and it looked to be a bad one. The Dolphins turned that into 3 points giving them the lead. Steelers injuries didn’t force Ben Roethlisberger’s the poor throw.

  • Going into the game, Ryan Tannehill had been sacked once in every 10 drop backs.

To put that into perspective, had Ben Roethlisberger been sacked as often, he’d have been dropped 19 times this season instead of nine. Now there’s no doubt that not having Cam Heyward in there makes a difference, but does that explain the fact that the Steelers defense only touched Tannehill twice?

  • And what about the inability to contain Watler Peyton er, um, Jay Ajayi?

Coming into the game, the Dolphins had NFL’s worst rushing offense and the Steelers boasted the NFL’s the best rushing defense. Jay Ajayi’s rushing total for the season was 117 yards. This should have been a slam dunk. Instead, the Dolphins imposed their will on the Steelers, with Ajayi enjoying better and longer runs as the game wore on.

You’d have to go back to Jon Vaughn’s 131 yard rushing performance the day after Christmas in 1993 to find a similar occurrence of a no name back dominating the Steelers run defense. That Steelers defense was ravaged by the flu, this one doesn’t have quite as convenient of an excuse.

  • Then there the issue of play calling.

Anytime you see Ben Roethlisberger heading to the training room, you fear the worst. And if fan’s expectations of Landry Jones are unreasonable, seeing him warm up should still make you long for the days of Charlie Batch.

So Todd Haley did the right thing, he handed the ball off to Le’Veon Bell. Bell got 12 yards on his first carry. A false start on Alejandro Villanueva put the Steelers in the hole on first down. No problem. Bell ripped off runs of 8 and 6 yards, bringing in a third and one.

Instead of running the ball, or even trying a play action pass Jones threw it vaguely in the direction of David Johnson only to see the Dolphin defender mercifully fail to reel in what should have been an interception.

  • So we ask, did injuries force Todd Haley into that play call?

Ben Roethlisberger clearly wasn’t himself after the injury, throwing another ugly interception, and failing to get the ball enough to Antonio Brown for Brown to be a factor. Darrius Heyward-Bey had a nice reverse, but couldn’t come down with the ball on either of his targets. Nor could Sammie Coates, who got targeted 4 times. Eli Rogers made 2 catches on 3 targets, but he dropped one that could have made a difference.

An offensive explosion like the only Steelers enjoyed vs. Kansas City wasn’t likely, but do injuries really justify a 3-11 thrid down conversion rate against a middling NFL pass defense? I dare say they do not.

Another Tomlin Team Caught Up in Another Trap Game

Let’s entertain the thought, just for a minute, that this game might mark the turnaround for the Miami Dolphins. ….

…..Maybe Miami will end up as the 2016 version if the 1989 Steelers.
…..Maybe Jay Ajayi will go on to out rush Walter Peyton, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith
…..Maybe the Dolphins not only make to playoffs, but shock New England with an upset at Gillette Stadium.
…..Maybe the Steelers rebound too, and we have another Steelers-Dolphins AFC Championship game.

Maybe not.

If even some of the above things come to pass, the Steelers loss to the Dolphins will be easier to swallow in the rear-view mirror. But right now the Dolphins still look like a team destined to compete for draft position rather than a shot at the Lombardi.

  • As for the Steelers, are they still a legitimate Lombardi contenders?

Losses like the one to the Dolphins make it hard to make the case. The “Fire Everyone” crowed undoubtedly is using this game as an example of why Art Rooney II should summarily fire Mike Tomlin on Monday morning.

On the flip side, criticizing Tomlin for seeing his teams give up trap games has become somewhat of a Taboo for Tomlin supporters, of which I remain.

  • Nonetheless, the criticism remains valid.

The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers are a more talented unit than the Miami Dolphins, but you’d never know that watching today’s game. As we observed in our 2016 Steelers season preview:

The fact is trap games trip up Mike Tomlin teams just as overconfidence self-destructed so many Steelers squads during the Cowher-Donahoe era.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Super Bowl window remains open, but it’s closing nears with each season, and that means that Mike Tomlin must find a way to keep his team from playing down to the competition.

The Miami 30, Pittsburgh 15 score says that six games into the season, Mike Tomlin is coming up short on one of his most important tasks of the season.

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4 Random Reflections on 2016 Steelers 4-1 Start + a Shout Out for a Steelers Nation Scribe

he boss is back with 4 random reflections on the 2016 Steelers 4-1 start, plus a shut out for a special Steelers Nation scribe.

Yes, after close to a month on the road my travels have finally brought me back to “home,” namely Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of the great ironies of the global economy is that a month long trip TO the United States kept me from writing about the Steelers, save for a rebuttal of Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin bashing and reflections on Le’Veon Bell’s longevity.

Still, this excurision didn’t result in a full Steelers sabbatical, as followed the news as best I could, while taking in a couple of games on the fly.

2016 steelers 4-1 start, Lawrence Timmons, Artie Burns, Jordan Dangerfield, steelers vs. jets

Jordan Dangerfield, Lawrence Timmons, and Artie Burns gang up on Quincy Enunwa to help 2016 Steelers to 4-1 start. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

1. Stats Mislead in Steelers Victory Over Bengals

The Steelers much anticipated re-match with the Bengals, sans Le’Veon Bell and Vontaze Burfict was easily on of the “Can’t Miss” games when the schedule was announced. Alas, booth set up responsibilities, paired with a corporate event at a baseball game meant there was NO WAY in HELL I was going to see the game.

  • When I finally got to grab lunch at 4:00 pm or so, the headline “Ben Roethlisberger throws 3 touchdowns as Steelers beat Bengals” pleased me.

And of course I thought that Roethlisberger had been on another rampage, similar to the one he led against the Redskins in week 1. Only later did I learn that Ben Roethlisberger had struggled for much of the day, and that the Cincinnati defense has managed to contain Antonio Brown fairly well. A win is a win, but this one reminds you of how misleading stats passed on the ESPN scroll can be.

2. Wife Wins + Steelers Loss = Husband’s Right Call on Philly Game

Week 2 brought my wife’s arrival in the US and by this time I was back in Maryland. And just as fate would have it, the Steelers-Eagles game was on national TV. No need to hike a Steelers bar, giving me my first chance to watch a Steelers game in my home state since 2008 and my first in my parents’ home since, what, 1991?

Ah, but it was a beautiful day, and my wife wanted to hit Georgetown. Good idea.

  • So I relented and slyly taped the Steelers game. Good decision.

Have the Pittsburgh Steelers ever performed so perfectly piss poorly as they did against Philadelphia during the Mike Tomlin era? Perhaps. The 2011 opening day Debacle at Baltimore would make as strong candidate. Outside of that you’d have to really search. The game started with a dropped touchdown pass followed by a blocked field goal. And things got worse from there.

In other words, it was the perfect time to take your wife down to Georgetown to do some shopping and site seeing.

3. Camerony Heyward, Steelers Clobber Kansas City

At some point we’ll have do a “Steelers history vs.” article on the Kansas City Chiefs, because those games often reveal a lot. But for now the Steelers Sunday Night Football victory over the Chiefs will remain something to relish.

Fortunately, I did get to see this one, and a shout out goes to Andrew Kipp who recommended the venue:

The Reservoir did turn out to be a good place to see the Steelers play. OK, it wasn’t the Purple Goose Saloon, but let’s not kid ourselves – they don’t make Steelers Bars like the Goose anymore. But the prices were great, there were plenty of TV’s to watch on, and the Steelers fans were friendly.

Most importantly, the Steelers bounced back from an ugly loss, and it was nice to see Jarvis Jones make a splash play and Markus Wheaton bounce back from a horrendous performance in Philly.

4. Still in NYC, but Can’t See the Steelers

My last weekend in the United States found me still in New York for the Steelers-Jets game, yet I was unable to watch the game! My wife might have been sold on this one (she was more than OK with me watching the KC game), but it was our last full day in Manhattan, and we had a number of things we wanted to do, and also some things we needed to do.

  • The Steelers won, despite an ever lengthening injury list, on a week that saw the Steelers stash not just Senquez Golson but also Ryan Harris on IR.

From what I read, it was a good game even if the Steelers didn’t start particularly strong, they closed out the game with a second half shut out. That got us to 4-1, and I will take a 4-1 start anytime I can get one.

5. Shout Out to a Special Steelers Nation Scribe

Running a truly independent Steelers blog can be a solitary experience. God knows you, my readers, give continue to come in increasing numbers and give me shout outs on Twitter and Facebook, but stark fact is that here in 2016 you can’t have a site go dark for 25% of a season and expect to be taken seriously.

  • Thanks to Tony Defeo, this was a non-issue during my month long trek.

As regular readers know, big Steelers news only breaks when yours truly is unable to write. The correlation has almost been scientifically verified. For the past several off seasons, Tony has been keeping an eye on the back door, and made sure that no important stories fall through the cracks while I’m away.

Earlier this year, Tony started contributing regular features, and I highly suggest you check out his pieces on Calvin Sweeny, Weegie Thompson, David Little, Harry Newsome, Mark Malone and/or Larry Brown. These profiles, in addition to his other features, have enriched this site in ways I could never do on my own.

  • Over the last month Tony has gone into “Above and beyond the call of duty” of a part-time contributor.

That’s to him, the updates kept coming, whether I was putting in 14 hour days at a tradeshow on the West Coast, scrambling to process leads by day and spending quality time with family at night in my stomping grounds in Maryland, or vacationing in the Big Apple.

  • I’ve thanked you in private, and now I’ll do it in public – Thanks Tony for your contributions to Steel Curtain Rising.

Tony will continue to contribute this season here, but he publishes several times a week on Behind the Steel Curtain and Cover 32. Regardless of the locale, Tony’s stuff is must read. Check him out and be sure to follow him on Twitter:

Thanks to you, readers, for continuing to read. The Steelers are off to a good start. Let’s see where they can take it.


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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Win Over the Jets


Ben Roethlisberger completed 34 of 47 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 8.08 yards per attempt and had a quarterback rating of 124.4, according to Roethlisberger’s numbers may have been even more impressive (or at least more efficient) had young receiver Sammie Coates held on to a few more of his passes. Grade: A

Running Back 

The Jets entered Sunday’s game second in the league against the run. Fact is, the sledding was pretty tough for Le’Veon Bell, who carried 20 times for just 66 yards and averaged 3.3 yards per attempt. But where New York’s defense didn’t have an answer for the star running back was when he was catching passes out of the backfield. Bell may have only gained 66 yards on the ground, but he complemented those by adding another 88 through the air on nine catches. As for veteran DeAngelo Williams, to say his day was uneventful would be an understatement; Williams carried just one time for zero yards. Grade: B

Wide Receivers

Sammie Coates had the game of his life (six catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns–the first two of his professional career). But he also dropped three passes and possibly two others, depending on who you talk to. As for superstar Antonio Brown, it wasn’t the kind of day that’s going to lead to him being named AFC Player of the Week, but he did reel in nine passes for 78 yards and one touchdown. Fourth-year man Markus Wheaton hasn’t found his stride since returning to the lineup after sitting out early in the season with a shoulder injury and had just two catches for 19 yards. Grade: B-

Tight Ends

Much like they had been doing all season, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble got the most out of the passes thrown their way on Sunday. In the case of James, he caught six passes for 43 yards and a touchdown late in the first half. Grimble only had two catches, but one of them went for 11 yards. Grade: B-

Offensive Line

For the second week in a row, the Steelers were down a starter on the offensive line (in-fact, they were down a starter and his backup–both right tackle Marcus Gilbert and swing tackle Ryan Harris missed the Jets game with injuries), but much like a week earlier when B.J. Finney excelled in place of Ramon Foster at left guard, Chris Hubbard stepped up in a big way at right tackle, and the line didn’t miss a beat. Sure, running the ball was tough, but the Jets were weakened in the secondary, and Roethlisberger was allowed to exploit that, as he enjoyed all the time in the world. He was only sacked one time in 47 drop-backs and was barely even harassed by the Jets’ potent defensive front. Grade: A-

Defensive Line

Defensive end Cameron Heyward left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury and never returned, but rookie Javon Hargrave filled in and performed admirably. While Bell and Co. had a hard time running against the Jets defense, Matt Forte and  Co. didn’t have it much better trying to do the same against Pittsburgh’s defense. New York rushed for just 71 yards on the day. Grade: B


For the second week in a row, Vince Williams filled in for Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker, and for the second week in a row, Williams led the team in tackles–this time with nine (eight solo). Williams also had two quarterback hits and a sack. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones played one of his better games as a Steeler, recording three tackles, one pass defensed and two hits on the quarterback. Anthony Chickillo registered the first sack of his career, while Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats had a half a sack each. Grade: B+


Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 25 of 38 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown. However, all but 92 of those yards came in the first half, as Pittsburgh’s pass-defense clamped down in a big way over the final two periods. Cornerback Ross Cockrell had a tough assignment trying to cover receiver Brandon Marshall all afternoon. Marshall had six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but was limited to 28 yards on two catches over the final two quarters, as Cockrell played much better down-the-stretch. Safety Mike Mitchell had another active game, totaling seven tackles (five solo), while Sean Davis had six tackles (four solo) and a pass defensed. Also, for the second week in a row, Jordan Dangerfield performed well enough at strong safety that nobody seemed to notice him. Grade: B-

Special Teams

There was the matter of that fake field goal Jordan Berry unsuccessfully executed in the first half (he was tackled well short of the sticks), but other than that, the special teams had another decent day. Speaking of Berry, he punted just three times but averaged 46.3 yards per boot and downed all three inside the 20, as New York recorded no return yards on punts.

The now frighteningly automatic Chris Boswell was dead-center on his lone field goal attempt from 47 yards away, as well as on his four extra points.

As for the return game, Antonio Brown returned two punts for 51 yards–including one for 33 yards early in the second half. Grade: B+


After a near-flawless performance against the Chiefs a week earlier, it may have been easy for the Steelers to have a letdown against a 1-3 Jets team. However, other than a stretch in the second quarter, when New York scored 10-straight points to take a short-lived six-point lead, one never got the sense the Steelers were ever in any danger of losing. Kudos to head coach Mike Tomlin for dealing with massive injuries for the second week in a row–Eli Rogers, Marcus Gilbert, Ryan Harris, Ryan Shazier and Robert Golden were all ruled out of the game–yet having his team (especially his backups) prepared to play.

For the second-straight week, Todd Haley had to game-plan against a defense with a weakened secondary, and for the second-straight week, he exploited that weakness in a big way.

It looked like it would be a long day for Keith Butler’s defense through two quarters, but after allowing 219 yards in the first half, Pittsburgh yielded just 97 in the second. Grade: A

Unsung Hero

They say the only way anyone usually notices an offensive lineman is when he screws up. If that’s the case, Chris Hubbard (normally third-string on the depth chart) did a great job on Sunday filling in at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert and backup Ryan Harris.


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Steelers Improve to 4-1 with 31-13 Victory Over the New York Jets

The Steelers defeated the Jets, 31-13, at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon to improve to 4-1 for the first time since 2010.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 34 of 47 passes for 380 and four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter that turned a rather tight affair into a no-doubter.

After New York opened the scoring with a Nick Folk field goal, the Steelers quickly responded when Roethlisberger found Sammie Coates for a 72-yard touchdown pass on third and seven.

The Jets then scored 10-unanswered points to take a 13-7 lead with just over two-minutes left in the first half. However, the Steelers quickly marched down the field on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to tight end Jesse James to give the home team a 14-13 lead at the break.

Pittsburgh’s defense looked pretty vulnerable in the first half, as New York amassed 219 total yards on offense. But in the second half, Keith Butler’s unit put the clamps down in a big way, limiting the Jets to 97 yards over the final two periods, forcing five-straight punts when the game was still in doubt and, of course, pitching a shutout on the scoreboard.

Also, the defense got after the quarterback for the second week in a row, as Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked three times–including the first career sack by outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo.

Finally, New York only had 16 first downs to the Steelers 30 and was held to two of 11 on third down.

The game wasn’t without its ups and downs, particularly for the youngster Coates, who had a career day (six catches for 139 yards and his first two touchdowns as a pro) but also dropped several passes and suffered a severe laceration on his left hand that, according to Mark Kaboly of, required 17 stitches at halftime. 

As for Pittsburgh’s star receiver–Antonio Brown–he caught nine passes for 78 yards and a five-yard  touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it 24-13. Brown also returned a punt 33 yards early in the third quarter and appeared to be one Calvin Pryor tackle away from taking it the distance.

In his second game since returning from a three-week suspension to start the season, running back Le’Veon Bell again was a weapon of mass destruction, as he carried 20 times for 66 yards and added another 88 yards on nine receptions.

Speaking of youngsters who experienced some ups and downs on Sunday, third-year corner Ross Cockrell had his hands full as he battled accomplished receiver Brandon Marshall all afternoon; Marshall probably got the best of  the match-up, as he caught eight passes for 114 yards and a touchdown that, by rights, Cockrell should have intercepted in the end zone late in the second quarter. But, just like the rest of the Steelers defense, Cockrell finished with a flurry, as he limited Marshall to two catches for 28 yards after the break.

Other than Coates’ hand laceration, the only other injury of note may turn out to be a big one, as star defensive end Cameron Heyward left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury and never returned.

Next Sunday, the Steelers travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins at 1 p.m.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Win over Chiefs


Coming off two less than stellar performances (to say the least in the case of the Eagles game), Ben Roethlisberger was simply magnificent, Sunday night. Not to act too over-the-top and hyperbolic in my praise, but if any quarterback has a more impeccable game this season than the 21 of 27 for 300 yards and five touchdowns performance Roethlisberger put on the Chiefs at Heinz Field, I’ll be surprised. For  whatever reason, Kansas City elected to play man-to-man coverage against the Steelers receivers, which played right into Roethlisberger’s hands. Needless to say, if the majority of defenses play that coverage the rest of the season, No. 7 will be a legit MVP candidate. Grade: A+

Running Backs

Many wondered how head coach Mike Tomlin would use Le’Veon Bell in his first game back after serving a three-week suspension. The answer: almost exclusively. Bell carried 18 times for 144 yards, while adding another 34 yards on five receptions. He showed the world why he is considered maybe the best running back in the entire league. Grade: A

Wide Receivers

Cris Collinsworth said it best when speaking of second-year receiver Sammie Coates: “He’s becoming a bit of a star for the Steelers.” On his very first pass of the evening, Roethlisberger connected with Coates for 48 yards (the youngster’s fifth reception of at least 40 yards so far this season). After that, Coates caught just another five passes for 31 yards, but it was clear that he’s becoming more comfortable working with his quarterback and learning how to adjust and ad-lib with one of the best improv passers in the business. As for Antonio Brown, he was Antonio Brown. I’m sure he probably wanted more production than the four passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns, but considering five of Roethlisberger’s 21 completions went for scores, there simply was no need for more production. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton only caught one pass each, but sticking with the theme of Roethlisberger’s crazy efficiency, they went for scores of 31 and 30 yards, respectively. Grade: A

Tight Ends 

Much like the Bengals match-up in Week 2, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble didn’t have many opportunities in the passing game, but they sure made the most of the ones they had. Grimble caught one pass, but it went for 19 yards, while one of James two receptions was an eight-yard touchdown late in the first half. Even David Johnson got in on the act, catching one pass for 26 yards. Throw in their contributions in the blocking department (Pittsburgh rushed for 149 yards), and it was a respectable night for the tight ends not named Ladarius Green. Grade: B

Offensive Line

Roethlisberger was taken to the turf twice, but considering B.J. Finney was filling in at left guard for the veteran Ramon Foster, and that Marcus Gilbert suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by Ryan Harris, the hogs up front had a truly exceptional night. Roethlisberger mostly had a clean pocket and, again, the running game was supreme. And to see Maurkice Pouncey leading Bell all the way down the field on that 44 -yard run late in the game was to see a true superstar center in action. Grade: A-

Defensive Line

The Steelers came into Week 4 with just one sack, but they left with five, thanks mostly to defensive end Cameron Heyward, who had three in one of the best performances of his career. In addition to his three sacks, Heyward also tipped a pass from Alex Smith that was intercepted by Jarvis Jones and set up Pittsburgh’s second touchdown. Speaking of forcing turnovers, Stephon Tuitt may have only recorded one tackle on the night, but it came against Chiefs running back Spencer Ware and also forced a fumble. Along with making Smith’s life miserable most of the night, the Steelers defensive line did a great job in stuffing the run, as Kansas City finished with just 87 yards on 18 carries. Grade: A


The Steelers were without their most dynamic defensive player, in one Ryan Shazier, who missed Sunday night’s game with a knee injury. Reserve Vince Williams filled in at inside linebacker and, well, was Pittsburgh’s most dynamic defensive player. Williams recorded 16 tackles (14 solo), two tackles for loss and one sack. As for fellow inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, he played his best game of the young season, totaling eight tackles–including one tackle for loss. Outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats were very active on the night, even if they didn’t get to Smith. And what can you say about the 38-year old James Harrison? He didn’t get a sack, but it was not for lack of effort. Grade: A


Missing starting strong safety Robert Golden and slot corner Sean Davis, Sunday night could have been a disaster for a Steelers defense that started the game ranked 31st against the pass. However, thanks in-part to a more aggressive and effective pass-rush, the defensive backs collectively enjoyed perhaps their finest 60 minutes of the season, thus far. Smith passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns, but a great deal of his “damage” came late in the game, when the outcome was long-since decided. Fact is, the biggest passing play allowed on the night was a 20-yarder to Jeremy Maclin, and the tackling on all fronts–especially the defensive backs–was superb. Furthermore, while he certainly has room to grow, first round pick Artie Burns continued to show flashes of why Pittsburgh drafted him so high, when he broke up a deep pass late in the game that looked like it was destined for a big gain. Grade: A

Special Teams

Following Pittsburgh’s first two touchdowns, the Chiefs’ Knile Davis attempted to return the ensuing kickoffs, only to be stopped at the 12 and four-yard line, respectively. In a driving rain, things could have gotten ugly trying to contain extraordinarily fast punt-returner Tyreek Hill. And while he did return one for a score, it was brought back by a penalty. Officially, Hill only totaled 20 yards on two returns.

As for Steelers punter Jordan Berry, it wasn’t his best of nights, as he averaged 42.4 yards per boot. But, again, he did have to work in a pretty steady rainstorm, and maybe a pre-ordained avoidance of Hill had something to do with his low average.

Kicker Chris Boswell didn’t attempt a field goal on the night, but he did make five extra points; considering that they’re 33-yards now and, again, the rain, that was pretty impressive. Grade: B+


According to the NBC announcers, Mike Tomlin challenged his team after its abysmal performance against the Eagles a week earlier, and his team met that challenge and then some. To say his players were prepared to play would be an understatement.

The Chiefs defense was said to have a secondary ripe for exploitation, and Todd Haley sure did devise a game plan to take advantage of it. When your quarterback averages 11.1 yards per pass attempt, and when five of his 21 completions go for scores, that’s the epitome of a perfect game plan.

Kudos to defensive coordinator Keith Butler for deciding to be more aggressive in the face of a weakened secondary. Also, credit to him for taking advantage of a Chiefs offensive line that wasn’t nearly as talented as the previous three his charges faced.

They say coaches get all the blame after a loss and none of the credit after a win, well, here’s some major credit for the entire coaching staff. Grade: A+

Unsung Hero 

Starting in place of Ramon Foster at left guard, B.J. Finney performed so well, he was pointed out by NBC’s Cris Collinsworth numerous times.


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