Taken from the grade book of a teacher who has just seen his star pupil ace the first 3 sections of a 4 part pass-fail final exam, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Chiefs.
Ben Roethlisberger only threw 25 passes and only hit 5 different receivers the former a season low for him and the later a likely one too. But those looking to find flaws with Ben’s play will look long and hard. Roethlisberger faced one of the best pass rushers in the league, and only gave up one sack. He protected the ball and did not throw a pick. He led the Steelers first half touchdown drive, and then ensured that Pittsburgh capitalized on the fumble. His strike in the end zone to Antonio Brown as he took a kick from Vance Walker was nothing short of a gun shot. Big Ben didn’t do any favors for fantasy football owners. But he played pretty damn well. Grade: A-
The Chiefs sold out on shutting down Le’Veon Bell, and they held him to 69 yards and one catch. Bell ran well enough however to earn 6 rushing first downs for the Steelers and scored a touchdown. Clearly not Bell’s best day in a season when he’s had a lot of great ones. Grade: C+
Le’Veon Bell’s loss in the passing game was Heath Miller’s gain. It wasn’t Miller’s best day on the season in terms of receptions or yards, but every time the Steelers needed him to come up with a catch, he did, save for the end zone drop. With Matt Spaeth injured, Michael Palmer saw action at tight end as did Mike Adams. Palmer dropped a pass in the end zone. A strong day for Miller, but two passes dropped in the end zone brings the group’s grade down. Grade: B+
Antonio Brown had a season-low in receiving yards, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the catches he made. Like Miller, he came down with the ball when he had to. His fellow receiver stats don’t look that impressive, but Martavis Bryant’s 44 yard catch set up the Steelers first field goal, and Markus Wheaton helped keep two scoring drives alive. Not to beat a dead horse, but fantasy owners might not have been happy, but Steelers recievers coach Richard Mann certainly had to be. Grade: B
Justin Houston has 18 sacks this season, or two more than the Steelers franchise record. He sacked Roethlisberger once and hit him one other time. Per ESPN’s stat sheet, Roethlisberger was only hit two more times. Some of that was getting rid of the ball quickly, but the offensive line deserves credit where credit is due. It was a solid game on the pass blocking, although the Steelers run blocking could have been better. Grade: B-
Kansas City entered the game averaging 130 yards per game. The Steelers held them to 39. This was the strongest performance Pittsburgh has seen from its defensive line not only in 2014, but perhaps since Aaron Smith fell injured in 2010. Yes it was that good. Cameron Heyward played like a man on fire, with a sack and a half, a tackle for a loss, and a quarterback hit. Stephon Tuitt also got a sack, a quarterback hit a tackle for a loss, and walloped Jamaal Charles so hard from behind that he coughed up the ball. Oh, Steve McLendon didn’t record a single stat…. And if you think he didn’t have anything to do with the Steelers looping off 90 yards for KC’s rushing average you’re just plain ignorant. Grade: A
Linebackers have long been the strength of the Steelers defense and it’s a close contest to see whether they or the defensive line dominated for Pittsburgh Sunday vs. the Chiefs. Either way its a great debate to have in Pittsburgh. James Harrison was a man on a tear, looking every bit like the James Harrison of 2008. Jason Worilds made plenty of noise, with two sacks, two tackles for losses and two more QB hits. Vince Williams and Sean Spence continue to do an exceptional job of occupying the inside linebacker position and should keep Ryan Shazier off the field. Grade: A
Kansas City arrived in Pittsburgh with the NFL’s second best Red Zone offense. The Steelers held them to 4 field goals in what were effectively 6 trips to the Red Zone. The Steelers also sacked Alex Smith six times. The secondary is very, very far from being a strength, but neither of the previous two accomplishments happen if guys are not being covered at critical moments. Grade: B
Shaun Suisham was perfect on his field goal attempts. The Steelers punt return coverage was good, kick return coverage was a notch below. Markus Wheaton continues to improve returning kicks. On the negative side, Kansas City converted a field goal attempt, which is nothing to glaze over. However, the special teams executed perfectly in covering an on-sides kick. Grade: B-
Todd Haley coached a fabulous game, mixing and matching plays, protecting his quarterback, and ensuring the Steelers made yards when they had to. The Steelers did settle for field goals twice in the Red Zone, but they also scored two touchdowns. Kansas City wishes it could say the same thing, and it can’t…
….because of the job that Dick LeBeau’s defense has done. Football teams are organic units. They generally evolve over the course of a season either toward growth or regression. The arrow on LeBeau’s defense leans towards growth. Just a handful of weekends ago, Scott Brown of ESPN remarked that the Steelers defense was average on one of its good days. The remark stung because it hit so close to home.
- Could the Steelers have turned that around in just a few weeks?
It depends. No one will confuse this defense with the ’08 units and the playoffs will ultimately determine how much the defense has grown. But the fact that the Steelers are in the playoffs to begin with proves that the defense has in fact taken steps forward.
Finally, credit Mike Tomlin for keeping it together. This team was been wildly inconsistent during the season’s first 12 weeks, but Tomlin has them playing their best when it counts. Grade: A
Unsung Hero Award
By definition, the unsung hero award goes to the player whose accomplishments got overlooked either in the glory of victory or agony of defeat. When the Steelers defense wins a game like it won vs. the Chiefs, it is a little hard to say that any of the defenders was “unsung.” But here’s one. Tackle counts are often times a misleading stat for evaluating a defensive player’s performance. A safeties often make many tackles because of errors from people in front of them. Sometimes a high tackle count is just a function of where the player is on the field.
- Then there are times when tackle counts do tell us something.
And yesterday was one of those. Vs. the Chiefs, this player might not have had a “splash play” (unless you consider exploding into a running back behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and inches), but he was everywhere, every time the Steelers needed him to be there, and for that reason Lawrence Timmons win the Unsung Hero Award for the win over the Chiefs.