Steelers Report Card for Victory Over Panthers

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who prays that his student has learned that processes he followed to succeed is far more important that its most immediate result, here is the Steelers Report Card for the victory over Carolina. As a caveat, no other Steelers report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense had a huge night and Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t at the focal point of it. When was the last time you could say that? But don’t be fooled. Ben may have lacked glittery fantasy stats, but his no turnover, 2 scramble around and buy some time touchdowns were fantastic, although the Steelers 3-11 third down conversion percentage nudges his grade down. Grade: A-

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell rushed for 174 and LeGarrette Blount rushed for 118, giving their first century mark cracking rushing tandem since 1986. The performance of both backs is every bit as relevant as the numbers suggest. Bell ran well between the tackles and patiently waited for his holes and that paid off. Take away Blount 50 yard sprint and he still averages 7.5 yards per carry, and the man bludgeoned the defensive back on his way into the end zone.  Will Johnson did an excellent job blocking. Blount’s hurdling must stop, even that can’t lower the group’s mark. Grade:  A

Tight Ends
Heath Miller only made 4 catches for 51 yards, but two of those resulted in first downs. Matt Spaeth had no catches and had one pass interference penalty called against him. Michael Palmer was penalized for pushing off in the end zone. To see the real contribution of the Steelers tight ends on the stat sheet look above – they had a solid night. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown continues to make things happen when has the ball in his hands catching two touchdowns and 10 catches for 90 yards. He also drew a long pass interference penalty as did Darrius Heyward-Bey. Markus Wheaton only had 4 catches for 35 yards, but was robbed of a touchdown catch plain and simple. Justin Brown caught two pases for 10 yards and most importantly held on to the ball.  A solid night for the wide outs. Grade:  B+

Offensive Line
If this is the Munchak effect we’ve been waiting on, I want more. The offensive line picked up its game, and did so in a big way. With Cody Wallace getting an injury start, the offensive line put in a performance the likes of which have not been seen in Pittsburgh his the heyday of Cowher Power. Marcus Gilbert dominated. David DeCastro dominated. Kelvin Beachum dominated. While this improvement must be sustained, playing against one of the NFL’s best front sevens, the Steelers offensive line was scary good. Grade:  A+

Defensive Line
Another unit which entered the game under fire picked up its performance, and did so noticeably. Steve McLendon set the tone with an early tackle for a loss and an early sack of Cam Newton. Cameron Heyward harassed the other Cam all night. Cam Thomas and Brett Kesiel kept the Panthers running game in check. Grade:  B+

Linebackers
Another group whose performance had been iffy today also rebounded, in spite of injuries to two of its starters. Lawrence Timmons led the group and was all over the field. Ryan Shazier looked good until getting hurt. Jarvis Jones was having a good night and forced a stip-sack when he too fell. Arthur Moats added another. Jason Worilds got a QB hit and landed on the fumble Jones created. A good night.  Grade:  B

Secondary
On positive note, the unit’s tackling was far crisper than before, notably from Mike Mitchell. Cortez Allen had another pass defensed but got burned badly on a play that could have gotten Carolina back into the game.  Ike Taylor was playing exceptionally well until Timmons broke his forearm. Troy Polamalu didn’t make any “splash plays” but his name wasn’t called for the wrong reasons. William Gay looked good in relief of Taylor, but the Panthers immediately targeted Antwon Blake and to great effect. A solid night from the secondary, but with some issues. Grade:  B-

Special Teams
The Steelers returned no kicks vs. Carolina and did a fair job at returning punts. Carolina’s return game was a non-factor. But for the second time in 3 weeks, Danny Smith’s special teams delivered a big play when the Steelers needed it. Brad Wing, aside from showing himself to be a solid punter, has excellent hang time, and it looked as if Philly Brown had an extra second too long to think about the incoming punt, as Robert Golden jarred the ball lose, and then recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. Grade:  A-

Coaching
The Steelers entered the game 1-1, but it was a weak 1-1 as the Steelers had virtually disappeared for 6 quarters. The Steelers players said all the right things about fundamentals, staying in gaps, manning up, and finishing tackles. Teams always say that.

The performance vs. Carolina shows that they meant it. While a number of big plays gave the Steelers a lift, the Steelers won the game on the fundamentals – tackling after the catch, containing to prevent the long run, protecting the ball, and winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.

Carolina’s offense was banged up, but their defense is as stout as any in the NFL, and the Pittsburgh Steelers quite simply dominated them. Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley, Dick LeBeau, and Danny Smith earned their stripes this week.  Grade:  A

Unsung Hero
The Steelers lost not one, but two first round picks from their defense vs. Carolina. And when Shazier went down the Steelers had lost their starter at a position that plagued them when Larry Foote was lost last year and had to be replaced by a nobody. This time the Steelers replaced their starter with someone who’d been in street clothes not only last season, but the season before. And you’d have never have known it based on his play. For stepping in and not missing a beat, Sean Spence wins the Unsung Hero Award for the victory over the Panthers.

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