Taken from the gradebook of a teacher who wonders, hopes and PRAYS that his star student has finally found consistency as the final quarter of the season begins, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Now this was the Ben Roethlisberger Steelers Nation hoped to see after the mid-season 3 game winning streak. Roethlisberger threw for 350 yards, no interceptions, 3 touchdowns wasn’t sacked and only hit once if ESPN’s stats are reliable. He spread the ball around and kept the Steelers at 50% on third down. He did however misfire in the Red Zone at the first half’s end, which brings his grade down. Slightly. Grade: A-
A year ago the naysayers were lining up to knock Le’Veon Bell, ready to say the Steelers picked the wrong guy. Now he’s being compared to Walter Payton, and not based on potential but based on production. Bell ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He caught 6 passes for 50 yards and another TD. He owned the Bengals defense. Will Johnson didn’t get a carry, but his blocking was critical to Bell’s success. Josh Harris looked “OK” in his 4 carries. Grade: A+
Has Matt Spaeth ever caught more balls than Heath Miller in a single game? Well if it didn’t happen before, it happened vs. the Bengals. Spaeth only had 2 catches to Miller’s 1, but Miller caught a TD and a 2 point conversion. But the biggest contribution of both men was in the blocking game, where they opened critical holes time and time again for Bell. Grade: A
Antonio Brown led the team with 9 catches for 117 yards. He didn’t score, but he made each pass count. Martavis Bryant provided the fireworks, were he completely smoked Leon Hall on a 94 yard reception. Markus Wheaton only had 2 catches, but overall looked solid, as did Lance Moore. Another strong outing from the wide out corps. Grade: A
193 yards rushing. 39 pass attempts. ZERO sacks. One QB hit. Who says there are no statistics to measure offensive line production? The Steelers offensive line played its best and most complete game of the season, as the offensive line completely owned the Bengals front 7, with David DeCastro leading the way seemingly pulling at will with Cincinnati powerless to stop him. Grade: A
As noted elsewhere, Stephon Tuitt’s first start ended an era in Pittsburgh. The rookie from Notre Dame looked solid in his debut and laid in the a key hit on Andy Dalton that, in effect, sealed the game. Cameron Heyward again made noise behind the line of scrimmage. Steve McLendon returned and, minus Dalton’s 20 yard run, the Bengals only amassed 66 yards on the ground. Dan McCullers only got 6 snaps, but looked good while he was in there. Grade: B+
Jason Worilds led the team with nine tackles. Lawrence Timmons played a solid game Sean Spence and Vince Willliams, who played well enough to keep Ryan Shazier off the field. Jarvis Jones looked good in his return. The real star of the unit was Arthur Moats whose fumble recovery turned the game for Pittsburgh. The linebackers were solid, but must share some of the blame for the 20 yard touchdown run. Grade: B-
A.J. Green got over 200 yard receiving. Ike Taylor got burned badly on one touchdown play, and Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell couldn’t coordinate to prevent another. While no one is going to say this was a good day for the secondary, they did help set the tone by playing physically, Neal Coolong pointed out Troy Polamalu’s (illegal but unflagged) shove of A.J. Green after his first catch as putting Cincinnati on notice that the hitting would be hard. That, plus one other aspect mentioned below raises this grade, if only a bit. Grade: D+
Shaun Suisham was 2-2 and his kicks were generally deep. Markus Wheaton had 1 returnable catch and took it out 19 yards. Kick coverage was solid, but the Cincinnati did have a 17 yard punt return. Antonio Brown returned several punts, but none more than 7 yards. He shouldn’t be risked as a punt returner, but that’s not his choice. Grade: B-
Credit Mike Tomlin for keeping the team on an even keel after a very poor game and disappointing loss at home. The Steelers came to Cincinnati to play, and even when they saw their lead evaporate twice, the team kept its focus and rallied for an explosive 25 point 4th quarter.
Credit Todd Haley for finding something that worked, and having the confidence to keep going back to it again and again. Once again, Steelers Nation saw just how special this offense can be when Ben gets protection and is in synch with his receivers.
On its best day, this Dick LeBeau defense is not going to remember along side his units of the 1990’s, 2004 squad, or 2008 elite defense. This defense has its holes. But the defense started strong, took some knocks and hung in there for a 4th quarter shut out. Given what he’s got to work with, that’s not so bad. Grade: A
Unsung Hero Award
Going into the 2014 NFL Draft everyone knew the Pittsburgh Steelers were targeting wide receiver and cornerback. The only question was which position would get hit first, and which one would see multiple picks. Of course, the Steelers didn’t draft a corner until day three. When asked about it Carnell Lake mentioned a name that even the most ardent Steelers fans responded to by asking, “Who?”
The young man’s name was Antwon Blake, and he stepped in for the injured Ike Taylor. With the Steelers defending a 28 to 21 lead, Andy Dalton looked to A.J. Green on 3rd and nine, only to see the pass defensed by Blake. On the next drive he went deep to Mohamed Sanu and Blake again defended it. Either play could have gotten Cincinnati back into the game. But they didn’t because Blake came up when the Steelers needed him to, and for that he is the Unsung Hero from the Bengals win.