Taken from the grade book of a teacher who watched with pleasure as his start student aced the first half of a multiple choice exam, and then blanched with horror as that same student almost floundered the everything away after discovering the surprise second part was essay based. Here is the Steelers Report Card for the Chuck Noll Day victory over the Browns @ Heinz Field. As a caveat, no other Steelers report cards were consulted prior to this posting.
Ben Roethlisberger was nearly flawless in the first half, save for an ill-advised sideline pass which Cleveland intercepted. Other than that, it was classic Roethlisberger, scrambling to make something out of nothing. He struggled in the second half, but that’s when protection faltered. Roethlisberger’s play, down to diagnosing the coverage and calling an audible, on the final drive was flawless. Grade: B+
Before his first preseason game, a game he didn’t play in, Ed Bouchette compared Le’Veon Bell’s debut to that of Franco Harris. While Steelers Nation saw flashes from Bell in 2013, it was nothing compared to the complete package present vs. the Browns. Bell ran for 109 yards and caught for 88, with long ones of 30 and 38. He was excellent. LeGarrette Blount had one touchdown, but did little else. Dri Archer added 1 carry for four years. Grade: A
Heath Miller caught three passes for 26 yards. During the first half the blocking was good all around, and Miller and Matt Spaeth must share credit for that. During the second half not so much, particularly on the Steelers penultimate drive. Tight ends were not a weak spot, but they weren’t a strength either. Grade: B-
Antonio Brown picked up where he left off in 2013, show everyone he is one of the NFL’s best recievers. The question was, would he have a supporting cast? Markus Wheaton answered that question loudly and clearly, both with his incredible 40 catch that set up a score, as well as his two catches on the final drive – he made it look like he’d been doing it for a decade. Justin Brown caught 3 passes and looked solid in his first NFL action. Grade: A-
The Steelers decision to extend Marcus Gilbert’s contract this summer surprised, and if Gilbert does not improve, Kevin Colbert will have a lot of explaining to do. Kelvin Beachum had a penalty that nullified a touchdown. Overall the line play was solid during the first half, and shaky in the second, as pass protection evaporated on third down, ending a couple of drives. The line was also manhandled on 3rd and 1 late in the game. How many times has this comment been made during the Tomlin-era, “Offensive line play must get better.” Grade: C-
Brett Keisel, Cam Thomas and Steve McLendon each got their names mentioned for the right reason and the line did play well in the first half, the rushing averages of the Browns read like this: West 6.3, Tate 6.8, Crowell 6.4, Benjamin. Even Jim Brown only had a 5.2 career average. Certainly, all of the blame for this does not rest on the line’s shoulders. But it does start there. A solution needs to start there soon, or it could be a lonGrade: D
g, long season.
Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds both had sacks, but Jones was much more of force around the field than Worilds. Lawrence Timmons missed a key tackle and put in a pedestrian performance overall. Rookie Ryan Shazier actually led the group in tackles, and almost had an interception. Not a bad debut. Still, this unit must share for the blame for Cleveland’s second half offensive explosion. Grade: C-
Troy Polamalu led the unit, and the defense in tackles which was a much a function of runners gaining such deep penetration on the defense as anything else. Michael Mitchell was next, which shows what kind of a day it was on defense. Cortez Allen had a nice pass defense which he almost picked off, but that came right after a tackle that he missed which went for a long gain. Ike Taylor had a 15 yard penalty and one dropped pick followed by him getting burned in the end zone. One player really shown for the unit, and that was William Gay, who almost single handedly shut down the Browns final comeback attempt. Grade: D
Coverage units were solid, and Brad Wing punted well in his first NFL game. The return game made some noise, but again seemed incapable of getting off the field without a penalty. For the second time in 3 games Danny Smith’s special team’s pulled off a fake punt, this time Robert Golden to Antawan Blake. The offense failed to capitalize, but it was a great play nonetheless. Shaun Suisham’s kickoffs were shallow, but he was perfect in place kicking, and the team needed just that. Grade: B+
Anytime a team hold s 24 point lead going into the half and then ends up having to kick a field goal to win the game as time expires you have to look at the coaching. Fortunately, all accounts indicate that the Steelers didn’t give into over confidence. On the defensive side, it was clear that the team had difficulty adjusting to the no huddle, and having 3 new starters in does not help that.
- The Steelers had better get this problem fixed, because they’ll see no huddles called against them, and they’ll see them soon.
The second half breakdowns on offense are perhaps more disturbing, particularly the way the pass protection completely folded in several key 3rd down situations, something which happened at critical juncture after critical juncture in 2013. This is not encouraging. (Nor is it encouraging that for yet another game the defense failed to take away the ball.)
If Mike Tomlin and his staff have earned this criticisms, and they have, they also deserve credit elsewhere.
Frist, at the end of the first half the Steelers had the ball on the 20 and were sitting on 21 point lead with 1:44 left to go. Sitting on the ball would have been easy, but instead Tomlin opted to work the field and the Steelers added 3. At the time it looked academic, but those three points made a huge difference. Even if the offense did nothing with the fake punt, it electrified Heinz Field and dramatically altered the field position equation. And the team responded when all was on the line. Grade: C+
Unsung Hero Award
Above we mention that William Gay almost single handedly stopped the Brown’s attempt at late game heroics. Almost. Cleveland had the ball with 1:53 and two time outs and all they needed was 3 on a day when they’d shown they could move the chains. However, before they could make get started, someone got in their way. That someone was none other than Cameron Heyward, who stepped up and sacked Brian Hoyer, in a play that set the tone for the rest of the drive, and for that Heyward wins the Unsung Hero Award for the victory over the Browns.