Steelers Report Card for Victory @ Jacksonville

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who notes his start students’ “Up again, down again” pattern and can’t help but say he expects that to continue next week, here is the Pittsburgh Steeelers Report Card for the win at Jacksonville.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger once again had a strong game, and adeptly spread the wealth hitting 11 different receivers — essentially everyone on the roster eligible to catch a pass save for Matt Spaeth. Roethlisberger’s numbers were solid and even better from a fantasy perspective. But there were negatives. For the second straight week he put the ball on the ground. And as the signal and sometimes no huddle play caller, Roethlisberger must accept responsibility for the Steelers offense’s partly 10 point production. Grade:  B-

Running Backs
Another week and another 100 yards from scrimmage for Le’Veon Bell. Bell ran the ball well all afternoon long, and again was effective catching. LeGarrette Blount also ran strong and contributed in the passing game for the first time. Will Johnson caught a pass and appeared to get short changed on his lone rushing attempt. Dri Archer had 1 carry and 2 catches. Grade:  A-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller didn’t catch any touchdowns this week, but he again was Mr. Reliable with three catches for 46 yards. Michael Palmer scored the only touchdown reception, redeeming drop from earlier in the year. Grade:  B

Wide Receivers
Ever wideout who is eligible to catch a pass caught one on Sunday, with Antonio Brown leading the way with yet another strong performance. Markus Wheaton caught 1 pass on two targets, while Justin Brown caught 3 passes, Lance Moore caught another, and Darrius Heyward-Bey caught his first pass of the year. Overall numbers were strong if not spectacular. Grade:  B

Offensive Line
Run blocking was solid. Kelvin Beachum caused a penalty that nullified a 17 yard gain and led to a punt. Ben Roethlsiberger did give up 4 sacks and the protection broke down at couple of key moments, but there were other moments when Ben had ample time to pass. Grade:  C+

Defensive Line
Jacksonville’s running game was completely neutralized, and credit for that starts up front, with Steve McLendon drawing a big part of it. Cam Thomas has managed not to make himself a liability. Cameron Heyward had a very, very quiet game, and with a few notable exceptions, he has not been the hell raiser he was last year. Overall, the defensive line’s play was solid.  Grade: B

Linebackers
Jason Worilds easily had his strongest game of the season, getting a sack, 3 quarterback hits, and a tackle for a loss. Sean Spence and 3 tackles and an uncredited pass defense. James Harrison showed he still has something left as he recorded a tackle for a loss. Arthur Moats had 2 tackles and a quarterback hit. A solid outing by the linebackers. Grade: B+

Secondary
Cortez Allen recorded his second interception in as many weeks. Moreover, Allen was targeted heavily, and did not flinch. He slammed receivers after the tackle and knocked away 3 other balls. William Gay didn’t get picked on as much but was credited with out defensed passes. Both Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell posted strong games. The real hero of the group, however, was nickel back Brice McCain, who delivered a pick six exactly when the Steelers needed it, reading the play excellently and executing to perfection. Grade:  A

Special Teams
There wasn’t much special about the Steelers special teams. Robert Golden got flagged twice on kick returns. The Steelers coverage teams did not allow much, but their return games gained them nothing. The performance of the special teams was average.  Grade:  C   

Coaching
Let’s start with the positives. This was the best outing of the season for Dick LeBeau’s defense. Even if one accounts for the weakness of the competition, the Steelers kept the Jaguars out of the end zone, and that’s not something their other opponents can say. Was it a perfect performance? No. More pressure on the quarterback would have been nicer. But the defense also produced two turnovers, and bailed the offense out after a costly red-zone turnover.

Mike Tomlin made a point of reducing penalties, and while 7 penalties for 50 yards represented an improvement, those penalties still cost the Steelers.

The real focal point for criticism here is Todd Haley. Putting up 10 points on offense vs. a team that has given up an average of 38 points is inexcusable, especially with the fire power at his disposal. The Steelers lineage at offensive coordinator is littered with men who sought to use the position to show the NFL how smart they were, often at the expense of playing smart football. Joe Walton and Kevin Gilbride come to mind, although Mike Mularkey might also qualify.

Whether that was Haley’s goal behind zero runs in the red zone, 3 empty sets in the red zone, or the horizontal passing game remains a mystery. But neither his game plan on its execution exploited Jacksonville’s weaknesses. And the grade represents that. Grade:  C-

Unsung Hero Award
Michael Palmer and Brice McCain certainly qualify as “Unlikely heroes” authoring Pittsburgh’s two touchdowns on the day. However, they’ve gotten their 15 minutes of fame. While a number of Steelers defenders have won accolades for their QB hits, interceptions, and sacks, one man was everywhere else doing everything else, and that man was Lawrence Timmons, who wins the Unsung Hero Award for the victory vs. Jacksonville.

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