Taken from the grade book of a teacher who watched his start student stave off disaster by going back to fundamentals (and then some), here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over the Titans.
Ben Roethilsberger has taken a lot of grief for his second sub-par performance in two weeks. And some of it is richly deserved. He held on to the ball too long to often. He wasn’t in sync with his receivers. His interception was inexcusable. But that’s only half the tail. Roethlisberger, like the rest of the team, stepped it up. His third down scramble kept a drive alive that resulted in a touchdown. And while the running game is what carried the Steelers the final two scoring drives, Roethlisberger made key completions on both. Grade: B-
Dri Archer continues to see his role diminish which could be an issue very soon. Will Johnson was excellent in blocking. But, of course, the real hero of the game is Le’Veon Bell, the man who imposed his will on the Titans defense, and he did it when they knew it was coming. Bell also caught two passes at key moments. Clearly, he showed he was something special. Grade: A+
Steelers tight ends caught 5 passes during the game, and their help in the run blocking was essential to paving the way for Bell’s record breaking night. Grade: B+
Antonio Brown lead the team with 9 catches and a touchdown and again was excellent. After Brown the wide outs had issues. Lance Moore caught a key 15 yard pass on a scoring drive. Martavis Bryant caught 2 passes, but dropped a touchdown and missed 2 others. Markus Wheaton caught 1 pass by had 5 others thrown his way. The Steelers wide outs need to make more of opportunities that come their way. Grade: C
Neal Coolong absolved the Steelers offensive line for Roethlisberger’s 5 sacks and Mark Kaboly went further to say that only two of those were the line’s fault, the rest were simply Ben holding the ball too long. That’s all well and good, but Roethlisberger was also hit 8 other times per ESPN’s count. That pass protection which simply isn’t good enough. On the flip side, superlatives remain insufficient to describe the Steelers run blocking. David DeCastro in particular is delivering on his draft day promise, but the rest of the line went into full-scale road-grading mode. Grade: B-
Tennessee got nothing on the ground, which is always good for the line. Brett Keisel defensed two passes and registered a QB hit, as did Cameron Heyward. Both Heyward and Keisel made key plays on the defenses’ last two stops. Daniel McCullers started the game but then was taken out. Overall, a solid but not spectacular game for the defensive line. Grade: B-
Don’t look now, but Vince Williams led the team in tackles. Sean Spence was second for the linebackers, while Lawrence Timmons was third. James Harrison didn’t register any “splash plays” but did make some key stops late in the game. No glaring errors by the linebackers, but the unit wasn’t anything special either. Grade: C+
The unit had some issues. Will Allen got completely burned on an 80 route by Nate Washington. Michael Mitchell and Antwon Blake appeared to “watch” while Titan’s scored their final touchdown. Yes, this unit is hurt by injuries, but the standard is the standard, and the Steelers secondary only barely came out above the line. Grade: C-
Markus Wheaton seems to be settling into his role as a kick returner. Antonio Brown had a 14 yard return which got called back on a penalty (surprise). Tennessee didn’t do much returning punts, but its kick returns were a little more than you’d like to see. Steelers special teams still are not special. Grade: C
Trap games have dogged Mike Tomlin at least during his 2007, 2009, 2012, and 2013 campaigns. And for 2 quarters it looked like it would be an issue again in Tennessee. But late in the third quarter, Tomlin and/or Todd Haley decided to make an adjustment.
Ben Roethlisberger began calling two plays in the huddle, and adjusted based on the situation. More often than not, the adjustment involved handing to Le’Veon Bell, going against conventional wisdom for a team down by 9 late in the third quarter. It worked.
The performance of Dick LeBeau’s defense was a little more shaky. Tennessee moved the ball a little two easily in the first, second and third quarters. Still, LeBeau’s defense made the adjustments and forced punts on Tennessee’s two final possessions – no small feat when playing behind on the road. Grade: B
Unsung Hero Award
Steelers-Titans 2014 will and should be remember for Le’Veon Bell’s break out night, and the excellent end zone hook up by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. But the Steelers offense did put up 6 points on other drives, and they were able to do so thanks to Ben Roethlisberger working the underneath routes to Heath Miller. 5 times Ben looked his way, and 5 times Miller delivered, to the tune of 71 yards, and he made each catch count. For that Heath Miller was the Steelers Unsung Hero for the win over the Titans.