Steelers Report Card vs. Browns at Cleveland Stadium

From the grade book of a teacher who just watched his star pupil do exactly what he needed to close out the semester, heading into final exams, so comes the Steelers report card for their victory over the Browns.

Ben Roethlisberger looked shaky early, missing key targets on several occasions. Roethlisberger was under orders to avoid “John Wayne” like heroics, which he did. But on a day when wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour made throwing the ball a challenge, Ben Roethlisberger delivered enough to convert 50% of his team’s third downs, and lead his team to the games only touchdown. Ben will need to improve in the playoffs, but he did a very good job vs. the Browns. Grade: B

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall had 38 yards on 8 carries and looked to be in route to another great game when he was felled by a season-ending ACL tear. Isaac Redman stepped in and did a masterful job, barreling his way to just under 100 yards, although his two fumbles could have put the team in behind had the defense not been so stout. John Clay ran well on his 6 carries which is a welcome sign given the injury to Mendenhall. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
There looked to be some miscues between Ben and his receivers, but the bottom line is that his unit did enough to make plays. One week after questioning whether Antonio Brown deserved the MVP award, Brown showed his value by making highlight-reel worthy catches which have become a staple of his game. Hines Ward got five catches bringing him to 1000 yards receiving, a tremendous accomplishment that sets him in elite company. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Another week, another offensive line configuration for the Steelers. Maurkice Pouncey returned to action, helping anchor the line, and Trai Essex showed off why his versatility makes him such an asset to the team. Marcus Gilbert also returned to the starting line up, and the fact that he was in position to make a grab at the ball after Redman’s fumble is the mark of impressive hustle. Ben Roethlsiberger was only sacked 2 and the running backs averaged 4.5 yards a carry. The line was doing a lot right. Grade: B+

Defensive Line
The record will reflect that Peyton Hillis did get some long runs to make up his 30 yards. However, more often than not, there was no where to run. The Steelers defensive line did an outstanding job of collapsing the pocket and containing Hillis. Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel both had batted down passes and Keisel forced a fumble. Casey Hampton had one tackle for a loss. Grade: B+

James Harrison failed to register a sack, but there were plenty of times that Seneca Wallace had to have felt his footsteps. James Farrior provided solid coverage in the middle and Jason Worilds, well, he didn’t make any critical mistakes. But Lawrence Timmons was all over the field, making tackles, defensing passes, tackling men in the backfiled and sacking the quarterback. The linebackers put in a solid effort, but they did let Seneca Wallace get away from them one too many times, something which they cannot allow Tim Tebow to do. Grade: B-

This unit has turned itself around in a way that nobody had a right to predict. The Steelers defensive backs are playing crisp football with confidence. There was simply no way that Seneca Wallace was going to beat them. Every one of the starters made plays, whether it was Ryan Clark getting a sack, Ike Taylor and William Gay batting down balls, or Tory Polamalu knocking away balls, tackling guys in the backfield, or picking off Seneca Wallace. Grade: A

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham missed a long field goal that got caught in the wind, but he made good on his two other attempts. Antonio Brown provided solid, if not spectacular kick returns. Justin Kapinos boomed off four excellent punts. The real story of this game is the coverage units. Joshua Cribbs is a return man capable of hurting you badly, as Steelers fans know all too well. Yet Cribbs was a non-factor in a game where one big return could have been a huge difference maker. Grade: B+

Mike Tomlin
made the right move in starting Ben Roethlisberger. If Ben’s shakiness early in the game is any indicator, he needed to get his rhythm back and it was far better for him to do that vs. Cleveland than in the first quarter of a playoff game in Denver. Bruce Arians still needs to figure out a way to have his units do better in the Red Zone, but beyond that he devised a game plan to exploit Cleveland’s weaknesses. Dick LeBeau’s troops likewise made their coach look proud. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero
Two weeks ago he turned in a performance which led to legitimate questions about whether the Steelers had erred in resigning him before the season’s start. Vs. the Browns he was a force, getting an early sack, knocking away several balls, and making a key tackle on the final drive that kept his man in bounds with the clock ticking away. It was those kinds of little, but important plays that allowed the Steelers to leave Cleveland victoriously and for that reason Lawrence Timmons is the Unsung Hero for the game.

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