Taken from the grade book of a teach who thinks he just saw his student take a very important first step – winning back some self respect, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over Buffalo.
On a day when rumors flew about his plans to ask for a trade, Ben Roethlisberger had a so-so day. Given the play selection in the Red Zone, its hard to hang the Steelers 3 field goals on him. And the Steelers did go 8 for 17 on third downs. But Roethlisberger was careless with the ball at times, and Ben missed a good number of open receivers. Overall, a solid performance, but not one without its flaws. Grade: B-
Numbers don’t lie but statistics mislead. Learning that Le’Veon Bell only averaged 2.5 yards a carry was a minor shock, because he ran well – when not hit behind the line of scrimmage. Bell’s 4 yard rush was a thing of beauty, and one of the season’s rare examples of the Steelers “Imposing their Will.” Jonathan Dwyer’s back to back 3rd and one conversions cut from the same cloth. Felix Jones did a respectable job with his four carries. Dwyer was effective in the passing game, and Bell showed for the second week in a row that he can make something out of a throw away play. Grade: B+
Heath Miller’s return bought a much needed boost to the entire offense, and the defense clearly has to account for him. But with each week his role continues to diminish. Perhaps he came back too soon from injury. Either way he was not a factor in this game. Michael Palmer caught one pass for eight yards, his first as a Steeler. Grade: C
Word was early in the week that Mike Tomlin had benched Antonio Brown late in the week vs. the Patriots. If Tomin was trying to light a fire under Brown, he succeeded, as Brown had 6 catches for 104 yards with a Wallacesque 17 yard average. For the second straight week Jerricho Cotchery struck gold in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders was less effective in the passing game, but took what looked to be a broken reverse 25 yards. Markus Wheaton didn’t have a catch, but showed a lot of heart and hustle in making the tackle on the interception. Grade: A-
The good news is that when the lineup when Beachum, Foster, Velasco, DeCastro, and Gilbert things went, well, although Kelvin Beachum did not have a good day. The bad news is that when Guy Whimper was in, be it at guard or tackle, the Steelers struggled. Still, the offensive line played well enough to win, and their blocking on the third and short conversions as well as the rushing touchdown was something to behold – Mike Adam’s play was particularly encouraging, as he pancaked his man. David DeCastro’s flash of a nasty streak was also encouraging. Grade: C+
The Bills came into the game rushing the ball. The Steelers saw to it that they did not leave it that way. The Steelers shut down Buffalo’s rushing attack. Cameron Heyward was a man on fire, leading the group in tackles, sacking E.J. Manuel, recovering a fumble that erroneously got called back. Grade: B
Lawrence Timmons KOed Manuel when he tried to take off and run. LaMarr Woodley was excellent in run support. Jason Worilds had a strip sack that was taken away form him in error. Jarvis Jones had his first NFL sack, one that helped end a drive. Beyond simply stopping the run, the defense added emphasis to each tackle, throwing the runners backwards. It might have been symbolic, but it was emblematic of the unit’s play. Grade: A-
Ryan Clark had his second interception and returned it deep into Bills territory. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Cortez Allen all defended passes. Shamarko Thomas looked good until he got injured. The Bills were a woeful 3-14 on third down, and that only happens if the secondary is doing its job. Grade: A-
Mat McBriar might want to consider renting in Pittsburgh, as he will not be there long if the 25 and 36 yard punts continue. Shaun Suisham was 3-3, given the Steelers a comfortable margin of victory. What’s more his kickoffs were deep, even if he did land one out of bounds. However, the real star of the show was Antonio Brown, who electrified with punt returns of 24 and 50 yards, both of which set up scores. A mixed bag from special teams, but the positives outweighed the negatives. Grade: B+
Any discussion of coaching must begin with a nod to Mike Tomlin. The Steelers loss vs. the Patriots was embarrassing on multiple levels. Tomlin, to his credit, dove on a grenade for both his players and the front office during his weekly press conference. But a loss like that can send a already reeling team such as the Steelers into full fledged meltdown, making them easying pickings for fellow bottom feeders like the Bills. The Steelers instead were the ones doing the feeding, and that goes to Tomlin’s credit.
Dick LeBeau likewise gets credit for ensuring that his unit bounced back. YES, they were dominating a rookie quarterback on a team that is in perpetual rebuilding. But winning the ones you’re supposed to and doing it in dominating fashion represents and accomplishment when you’re 2-6. Todd Haley however must accept blame for the Steeler 3 field goals in 5 Red Zone attempts. Likewise, the decision to continue playing with 30 seconds remaining in the first half was a good one. The 5 and 6 yard play calls were not a good move. Overall, however, a solid effort from the coaches. Grade: B+
Unsung Hero Award
C.J. Spiller might have entered the game thinking he was going to have a good day. His first two runs went for 3 yards a piece, not bad but not too good either. His next two went for losses. The tackler on both was William Gay. Gay in fact led the Steelers in tackles, tackles for losses, and he also defended a pass. Others might have gotten the “Splash” plays, but it was Gay’s down in and down out consistency that characterized this defense’s dominate performance, and for this he wins the Unsung Hero Award.