Taken from the grade book of a teacher whose now seen his pupil hit it on 3 out of 4 on a 6 party pass-fail final, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field.
Ben Roethlisberger completed a mind-boggling 40 passes on a day when he threw 55 and that included 3 touchdown strikes. Roethlisberger faced pressure from the Denver defense, perhaps more than he’s seen lately, but he protected the ball. Down 14 points at the half, Ben Roethlisberger could do better than a 3 & out on their first try in the second half, but with Ben leading them, the Steelers offense stayed on an even keel, and first grabbed, then added to the lead. His first interception, however set up a Broncos touchdown, and his second gave them a chance to get back in the game. Grade: B
DeAngelo Williams played sparingly against the Broncos, and his numbers do not look impressive. Still, his second effort got the Steelers on the board to start the game and caught 5 passes for 30 yards. Grade: B-
It was a quiet day for Heath Miller and the rest of the Steelers tight ends, as Miller only caught 3 passes in very short yardage situations and was only targeted on 5 more. However, Miller was used more to help fend off the Broncos pass rush, and he had a role in keeping Ben upright. Grade: B
— Neal Coolong (@NealCoolong) December 21, 2015
Is Antonio Brown human? Chris Thomas is one of the best corners in the NFL and had not allowed a touchdown in two years. Yet Antoino Brown smoked him. Twice. Brown’s two touchdown 18 catch 189 yard performance was simply the stuff of legends and in fact overshadowed strong performances by Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Grade: A+
Cody Wallace got flagged twice for holding and once more for unnecessary roughness. Marcus Gilbert had 1 false stat penalty. Alejandro Villanueva got flagged once for holding. That’s probably a tad bit more in pre-snap penalties than you’d like to see, but none were drive-killing offenses. The offensive line “impose its will” in the running game but, more importantly, it kept Ben Roethlisberger clean on all but 3 of his 50 pass attempts, and their pass protection improved markedly in the second half. Grade: B+
Although Denver had respectable rushing averages, they never attempted to use the rushing game to establish a rhythm. Stephon Tuitt led Steelers defensive lineman with 5 tackles and Cameron Heyward was simply a monster. He may have only had two tackles, but one of those was for a loss, and he had a key sack forcing the punt that led to the Steelers go ahead possession. Steve McLendon also had one tackle for a loss. Grade: B+
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 21, 2015
Lawrence Timmons sat out 17 of the Steelers 71 defensive snaps. What’s notable about this is that those are the only snaps he’s missed all season. Even taking those plays off, Timmons led the linebacking corps in tackles, and recorded the Steelers second sack. The real star of the show was Ryan Shazier, who pulled down an interception as the 2 minute warning approached and defended 3 more passes. Jarvis Jones had two tackles, Arthur Moats a passed defense and Bud Dupree 1 tackle. Grade: B+
In the first half the Steelers secondary played some of its worst football of the season. In the second half, the Steelers secondary played some of its best football of the season. And let’s not forget that early in 1st quarter, Will Allen’s strip of Ronnie Hillman and Michael Mitchell’s recovery set up the Steelers 1st touchdown.
While the Report Card purist in me is tempted to upbraid the Steelers defensive backs for seemingly “forgetting” to cover Emmanuel Sanders (and Tim Tebow’s friend Demaryius Thomas), such a heavy hand is not warranted here.
On four critical third down situations in the 2nd half Will Allen, Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden and William Gay all ended drives by defensing passes. Brandon Boykin also had a pass defensed. Yes, it is true that some of those could and probably should have been interceptions, but as the saying goes “If defensive backs had hands, they’d be wide receivers.” The bottom line is the Denver Broncos didn’t score a point in the second half. After converting his first third down of the second half with 3:04 left to play Brock Osweiler threw 8 straight incompletions. Grade: B+
Chris Boswell was 2-2 on field goals and 4-4 on extra points. Jordan Berry was 38.6 punting, and benefited from some long bounces. Markus Wheaton did a decent job with kick returns, as did Antonio Brown on punt returns. So far so good.
However, Danny Smith’s special teams almost got caught with their pants down when the Steelers special teams failed to properly down a punt. Worse yet, on Denver’s penultimate possession, Jordan Norwood and Cody Latimer tag teamed for a 41 yard kickoff return with 3:24 remaining.
The return ultimately did not cost the Steelers, but such lapses are unacceptable. Grade: C-
— Steel Curtain Rising (@SteelCurtainRis) December 21, 2015
Interestingly enough, the attention to the Steelers second half turnaround tended to focus on the Steelers defense, and while that’s understandable, the offense needed to make adjustments of its own. That primary adjustment was giving Ben Roethlisberger the time he needed to throw, something which had been a challenge in the first half, and Mike Munchuak and Todd Haley deserve credit.
When asked, Mike Tomlin denied that the Steelers had done much differently on defense between the first and second halves except for execute. Perhaps that’s true, or perhaps he doesn’t facilitate film study for his rivals. The truth is that whatever Tomlin, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake told their secondary at half time, the defensive backs took it to heart.
- Beyond that, Mike Tomlin praised his team for their mental toughness in the face of adversity.
The players certainly do deserve that praise, but it is Tomlin who establishes the culture that fosters that mental toughness. And that was a huge difference vs. the Broncos. Grade: A
Unsung Hero Award
There are a lot of candidates who could take this award, but we’re going to opt for two men’s whose contributions are perhaps most at risk for being overlooked. The Denver defense brought the best the NFL has to offer to Pittsburgh, and both Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant made tough physical catches early and often putting the Broncos on notice that the Steelers would contest their dominance, and for that they win the Unsung Hero Award for the win against the Denver.