Steelers Report Card vs. Browns at Heinz Field

The Steelers Thrusday Night matchup was not shown here in Buenos Aires, so we’d like to thank Tony Defeo for doing this week’s report card. You can read Tony’s work regularly on Behind the Steel Curtain.

What more can be said about Ben Roethlisberger? Just when we all thought he couldn’t enhance his reputation as one of the toughest players in the league, he outdoes himself by returning to play in the second half after leaving late in the first half with a very serious ankle injury. I thought Roethlisberger played a great game, and if not for the injury and many miscues by his teammates, may have had an even more impressive night than his line of 16/21 for 280, two touchdown passes and an interception. Grade: A-

Antonio Brown and Company were making it look like it was going to be an easy game of Pitch and Catch between them and Roethlisberger over the better part of the first two drives to start the game. But then two reliable veterans–Hines Ward and Heath Miller–fumbled the football away on successive trips inside the red zone and it seemed to take the zip out of the passing game at that point, and it was a while before things got back on track. All-in-all, though, a solid performance by the receivers as a whole. Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace haven’t connected on a deep ball in a while, but I believe Wallace’s presence is the best thing to happen to the development of the other young receivers. Brown had 5 catches for 151 yards and salted things away with his 79 yard touchdown catch and run with under three minutes left. Grade: B.

Running Backs
On paper, the running backs did OK if not great last night against the league’s 31st ranked rush defense — Mendenhall, Redman and Moore rushed for a combined 126 yards on 26 carries–but there were those four stuffs of Mendenhall from inside the two yard line early in the 4th quarter. Mendenhall is normally a pretty decent goal line back, but he was running too straight up and down during that critical sequence of plays. It’s hard to say what may have happened if Mendenhall would have had some early cracks at the goal line, but thanks to those red zone turnovers, we never got to find out. Grade: C

Offensive line
The running game averaged 4.6 yards a carry, and Roethlisberger was only sacked one unfortunate costly time–and it was a coverage sack–but the group didn’t get a great push on the infamous goal line failure (not all the blame was on Mendenhall’s straight up style), and those penalties, man, they were drive killers. Marcus Gilbert had two false start penalties, and Chris Kemoeatu was a real buzz kill with two holding penalties and a hands to the face infraction. Just when it looked like the coaching staff had finally had enough of Kemoeatu, Maurkice Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain, and now, it looks like the staff may have to deal with Kemo’s undisciplined style for at least a couple of games. Grade: D+

Defensive Line
The Browns had some success rushing in the first half (mostly on a 28 yard draw play on 3rd and 20), but things settled down in the second half, and Cleveland really couldn’t get much going on offense. I thought Cam Heyward played a solid game while filling in for an injured Ziggy Hood. Bottom line, the Browns only rushed for 98 yards, and the defense had two pretty impressive stands at the beginning and the end of the game, so things couldn’t have been too bad up front. Grade: B.

There was the good: Larry Foote and James Farrior combined to stop Peyton Hills on 4th and goal on Cleveland’s first drive of the game, and Jason Worilds recorded two sacks while filling in for Lamarr Woodley. There was the bad: Lawrence Timmons looked very outclassed while covering Browns’ tight end Evan Moore on his 33 yard catch on the first drive of the game. And then there was the ugly: James Harrison and James Farrior were both flagged for personal fouls committed on Colt McCoy. There was enough good stuff to outweigh the bad, but I’d hate to think what the results may have been with a more experienced quarterback. Grade: C+

Troy Polamalu recorded his first interception of the year, and for the second time in the last four games, William Gay made a crucial interception when he picked off McCoy in the end zone. I can’t ignore the fact that the NFL Network pointed out Polamalu gambling and being out of position a couple of times, but you have to take the good with the bad with number 43, and I never got the sense that McCoy was ever fully capable of exploiting the unit. Grade: B

Special Teams
Nothing to write home about, and maybe that’s a good thing. The Steelers were unable to return a punt the entire game, mainly due to Cleveland’s punter doing a great job of angling his kicks deep and out of bounds, but Joshua Cribbs was barely heard from all night, and to me, that’s the most important part. Grade: C

Didn’t notice any real coaching errors, and when your franchise quarterback is hobbled, your Pro Bowl center is out with a high ankle sprain, and your young defensive end must leave the game with a groin injury, sometimes you just have to survive and get out of dodge with a win. I didn’t even have a problem with Tomlin going for it on 4th down early in the 4th quarter. I know the Steelers didn’t make it, but I wasn’t too worried about the Browns mounting any kind of serious offense from their own one yard line. Grade: C+

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