Steelers Report Card for Victory over Green Bay @ Lambeau

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is beginning to wonder if some all night cramming might just allow his student to thread a needle on a rollercoaster, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over Green Bay at Lambeau Field. As a caveat, no other Steelers grades or report cards have been consulted prior to this posting.

Steelers Grading Scale

Ben Roethlisberger only threw for 167 yards doing that in 28 attempts with 16 completions. However, Roethlisberger threw for two touchdowns and ran for another and was quite impressive in each instance. While each of those is a positive, Roethlisberger’s accuracy issues late in the game, both before and after the costly, and wholly inexcusable, interception that got Green Bay back into the game. While those errors do not negate a strong performance in a hostile environment in the face of the elements, those are the kind of mistakes that separate the “good” performances from the truly great. Mat McBriar went 1-1 and became the first Australian to complete an NFL pass. Grade: B

Running Backs
All season long Mike Tomlin has been promoting and defending his second round draft pick. While Tomlin’s praise has not been hollow, it has long hinged on the premises such as “staistics can lie,” “considering the line blocking in front of him,” and/or “also taking into consideration is pass catching.” NONE of those qualifications are necessary today. Le’Veon Bell ran for 124 yards, and did so in impressive fashion, including a 25 bust the immediately followed his first NFL fumble. While Bell rightly draw praise for his performance. Jonathan Dwyer continues to run like each touch is his last, helping set up a go ahead score with back-to-back 7 yard rushes and catches, respectively. Felix Jones had one carry for 7 yards. Grade: A

Tight Ends
Heath Miller led the group with three catches for 17 yards. Matt Spaeth came in second, pulling down 1 catch for 11 yards — for a touchdown. The rushing game has picked up for late and that has coincided with Spaeth’s return to the line up. Actually, the two events are far from coincidental. Playing on special teams, tight end David Paulson caught one pass for 30 yards, and drew a 15 yard unsportsman like conduct penalty to boot, setting up a Roethlisberger’s touchdown run. All in all, a very strong night for the tight ends. Grade: A

Wide Receivers 
During the Packer’s game, Ben Roethlisberger targeted Antonio Brown with short, medium and long passes. Brown caught them all and about the only thing he did not do was to score a touchdown, although he set up a couple. Other than that, it was a quiet night for the receivers, with Emmanuel Sanders catching two passes — although one was for a touchdown, while Jerricho Cotchery caught another pass. Cotchery did have an important drop late in the game. Markus Wheaton got into the game, but broke another finger. Grade: B

Offensive Line
My has this unit continued to evolve, in the face of roster shuffles and injuries. Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once which is notable because it stands in contrast to other recent games where he was not sacked at all. Outside of a momentary lapse by Kelvin Beachum, the line’s performance was strong all day long – and this includes plenty of plays when Green Bay’s secondary kept the Steelers receivers blanketed. More important, on a snowy day when it was essential to get the running game established, the Steelers offensive line did just that. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
Measured by pure numbers, Cameron Heyward lead the unit with 6 tackles and a pass defensed, but the real start was Brett Keisel, who sacked Matt Flynn and two plays later recovered his fumble. Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon each registered a tackle apiece. The truth is that the Packers enjoyed a lot of success running the ball, and their ability to do so was one of the facets which kept them in the game. This doesn’t solely rest on the shoulders of the defensive line, but responsibility beings there. Grade: C

LaMarr Woodley went on IR early in the week. Jarvis Jones got the flu in Green Bay. Terence Garvin was lost during the game. Jason Worilds also fell injured and had to come out for a time, but he returned and his pressure set up Keisel’s sack. Worilds himself had a sack, as did Lawrence Timmons. Stevenson Sylvester, who saw time at OLB, had a sack negated by a penalty. Vince Williams made another key, behind the line of scirmmage tackle. All and all, a respectable performance by a depleted linebacking corps.  Grade: B

Ryan Clark led the team in tackles. Troy Polamalu defended a pass and forced the fumble that set up the Steelers game-winning score. The real star of the show was Cortez Allen, who defended two passes, and notched the secondary’s second pick six of the season. William Gay, Will Allen, and Ike Taylor all posted strong games. Grade: B+

Special Teams
On the plus side, Danny Smith’s special teams units are starting to show themselves capable of making waves. A week after an electrifying punt return for a touchdown, the Steelers converted a fake punt, pulling it off masterfully. Smith’s unit also blocked a field goal, which should have been a critical play after an awesome defensive stop. Add to that Antonio Brown’s 41 yard punt return and Emmanuel Sanders 54 yard kickoff return, and the Steelers special teams was a potent strike force.

From these pluses the successes of Green Bay’s kick return team must be subtracted. Michael Hyde had a 70 yard kick return that would have gone for six had it not been for Shamarko Thomas impressive run down. Even if you subtract that long gain, Green Bay still averaged 25 yards a kick return, which is far too high of an average. Shaun Suisham‘s two tackles are two too many. Special teams splash plays are nice, but the goal is to be the splasher, not both the splasher and the splashee. Grade: C+

Dick LeBeau‘s defense continues to be vulnerable to the run, a weakness which at this point can only likely be contained instead of cured. Still, the Steelers played smart defense, as the unit both created turnovers and got Green Bay off the field on special teams. For the second straight week the Steelers offense had good overall production numbers, but poor third down conversions. Given that one game remains in the season, we’ll likely never know if this is a statistical anomaly or some under the radar trend. Regardless, Todd Haley’s offense put 31 points on the board, registering scores in each and every quarter. They also produced a 100 yard rusher and protected their quarterback.

To the credit of both coaching staffs, both squads had been written off for dead early in the season, and both were playing with fire and gusto. Yet with so much riding on the line, it was Mike Tomlin’s squad that showed the greater poise, as Green Bay hurt itself with several unsportsman like conduct penalties, its two pre-snap penalties on its last defensive and offense series were literally killers. Tomlin’s men kept their cool under fire and avoided those mistakes. The only real critique of the coaching can be moving away from the running game late in the game. Grade: A-

Unsung Hero Award
Over the better part of the last two seasons the phrases “The Standard is the Standard” and “Next Man Up” have been mocked by the more cynical factions within Steelers Nation. And with good reason. The 2012 Steelers defense was noticeably better with Troy Polamalu, Will Allen, and James Harrison than it was without them, just as the 2013 offense improved greatly with the additions of Miller, Bell, and Spaeth.

These contrasting examples notwithstanding, Mike Tomlin’s insistence that anyone who reaches the NFL should be capable of a “winning performance” is a valid philosophy, and the play of these two men shows why. Both of these players woke up on game day without even knowing if they’d be dressing, let alone playing, let alone starting. Yet that is what happened. Chris Carter ended up getting the start for Jarvis Jones and Stevenson Sylvester got a lot of playing time on the outside when Worilds went down. While neither man will be confused for the second coming of Chad Brown, both put in a winning performance and for that they’re the Unsung Hero Award winners for the victory over Green Bay.

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