Steelers Report Card vs. Detroit Lions @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who wants to extol his star pupil for “having found something deep inside himself” but who does so with the knowledge the he said the same thing a year ago after the road win at Baltimore, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over Detroit. As a caveat, no other Steelers report cards have been consulted prior to this posting.


Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t perfect. In fact, during the second and third quarter one could fairly say he struggled mightily. And if he did suffer some Red Zone drops, he also badly overthrew Paulson in the end zone. Does that matter? Yes, but only a little. Ben Roethlisberger was good when the Steelers needed him to be, driving the Steelers to two consecutive opening scores, keeping drives alive even if they resulted in field goals, and most especially on the 97 yard, 8 minute go ahead touchdown drive that was simply vintage Ben. Grade:  A-

Running Backs
The Steelers totaled 40 yards rushing. Le’Veon Bell averaged 2 yards a carry. Felix Jones had one carry for a loss. Therefore it was a bad day for the running backs, right? Not exactly. The Steelers really didn’t try to run much. But Le’Veon Bell made an impact in the passing game, especially with his 3 yard catch on fourth down. Jonathan Dwyer likewise got the Steelers into the Red Zone on the go ahead catch, and Will Johnson delivered when it mattered, when the ball came his way in the end zone. The failed rushing attempts at the goal line cannot be overlooked, but this group found ways to deliver when necessary. Grade:  C+

Tight Ends
As a downside, and a major one, the Steelers tight ends are not helping much in the running game, and the offensive line’s run blocking could use some help (see below.) But Heath Miller worked himself into the offense, catching a season high 8 balls, making everyone count, although the end zone drop must be accounted for.  Grade:  C

Wide Receivers
Who was it that the Steelers let go to Miami? At some point no one will remember, because Antonio Brown will make them forget. Brown was explosive, turning two short passes into touchdowns early in the game, and generally doing what he does – finding ways to get open and catch the ball when the team needs him. Jerricho Cotchery has another specialty, and that’s the Red Zone. Cotchery got the Steelers into position for the go-ahead touchdown, and then perfectly sold the flanker screen on the insurance TD. Markus Wheaton got his first real action of the season was a welcome sight as he caught 3 passes. Grade:  A

Offensive Line
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to borrow a quote from BTSC, such was the offensive line. The Steelers attempts to rush the ball were nothing more than an exercise in futility. This was made poignantly evident by the Steelers woeful inability to punch it in to the end zone in short yardage. Yet, for as bad as that was, the Steelers offensive line made up by provided Ben Roethlisberger the best run blocking he has had all season. Ben was sacked once and only hit twice, and its no coincidence that he also played his best game.  Grade:  C+

Defensive Line
The Detroit Lions came into the game with a strong rushing game which looked to dominate what has been a very well Steelers rush defense. On paper, it should have happened that way. But that’s why we play games. Cameron Heyward’s stats do not do justice to the disruptive force he is becoming up front, and he clearly hit Matthew Stafford on the interception. Ziggy Hood registered a sack, made two tackles for a loss and another QB hit. This unit played well. Grade:  B+

As usual the Steelers linebacking corps was led by none other than Lawrence Tim… Actually, Jason Worilds led the group and did so in fine fashion with a sack, tackle for a loss and a quarterback pressure. Lawrence Timmons was next, who was all over the field and had the presence of mind to recover the first fumble of the day. Jarvis Jones also got into the act, batting down two passes, including a key one on Detroit’s comeback attempt. All in all, a solid day from the linebackers.  Grade:  A-

If ever there was a case for invoking the parable of The Prodigal Son in football analysis this was it. The Steelers secondary started stopping Detroit’s platinum powered passing game cold. Then Matthew Stafford and Megatron aka Calvin Johnson thoroughly torched them for 27 points in a single quarter. But then the secondary followed the flight of the phoenix, rising from the ashes. Along the way Troy Polamalu negated Reggie Bush, Ryan Clark KOed Megatron in the end zone, Ike Taylor had a solid 3 quarters, and William Gay did not see a pass completed against him all day (even if he did benefit from drops.) Oh, and the secondary came up with a game-sealing interception. The report card grades on performance and results. The results speak for themselves. Grade:  A-

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham was 3-3 and if you think that’s small potatoes consider the fact that the Steelers margin of victory was 10 points. The Lions did have one above average kick return and another above average punt return, but no damage was done. Mat McBriar shanked one punt but boomed off a 70 yarder. The Steelers return game was average. What wasn’t average was the attention to detail by the field goal kicking unit. A year ago the Steelers got caught asleep at the switch twice on fake punts. This time the Lions thought they could sneak a fake field goal in. Steve McLendon didn’t bite, smothering their punter while Cam Heyward forced a fumble which Ryan Clark recovered. Grade:  A-

The quality of the game plans devised by Dick LeBeau and Todd Haley spoke for themselves. But Coaching isn’t just about roster choices, practice schedules, play calls and other game-day decisions.

  • Coaching is about establishing a culture.

Two weeks ago after the Steelers suffered a pulverizing vs. the Patriots the likes of which could have folded the will of any NFL team. That did not happen.

The same thing could have occurred during the Lions game itself. The Steelers, sitting at 3-6, could have easily decided to mail it in and accept 3-7 as inevitable. But this group has too much pride, too much confidence, and too much belief in one another. Not only did they not quit, they corrected their errors, remained focused and committed to themselves and one an other. That is to the credit of every man in the locker room, but it starts at the top, with their field general, Mike Tomlin.  Grade:  A

Unsung Hero Award
This gentleman joined the team in the 2010 free agent spending frenzy and sat on the bench for two years. Last year he started on the bench but came off it, and that’s when the line started moving up on the defense’s play. Yet, when he defected to Dallas, hardly a word was said. No one questioned the impact of his absence. But after the Cowboys picked him up, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin wasted no time in bringing him back. Vs. the Lions you could see why, as he led the team in tackles, defensed a pass, forced the first fumble, and essential ended the game with an interception. And for that safety Will Allen is the Unsung Hero Award winner for the victory vs. Detroit.

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