Taken from the grade book of a teacher who has seen his student pass 2 of 3 parts of a six-part final exam and wonders and worries if the student might end up passing the final three parts yet still manage to miss the playoffs, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Ben Roethlisberger had his rockiest performance of the season against the Bengals at Heinz Field, and bounced back somewhat. While Roethlisberger didn’t put up the video game like numbers he has in other games this season, he was solid passing and avoided critical turnovers as his one pick had the impact of a punt. On a day when the Bengals secondary had his recievers covered tightly, Roethlisberger avoided costly sacks as well. Overall, a solid performance in a must-win game. Grade: B
DeAngelo Williams continued to build his case for being one of Kevin Colbert’s best free agent signings ever, as he ran for 76 yards and caught two passes for 15 yards. Williams also scored the offense’s only two touchdowns. He was the only running back to get a carry. Grade: B
Heath Miller caught 10 passes for 66 yards and looked unstoppable in the second half. Neither Jesse James nor Matt Spaeth had a target. Miller also took a lateral from Roethlisberger on a near certain sack, and managed to get positive yards and sustain a drive the ended in a field goal. Grade: B+
It is a testament to how well Antonio Brown has played this season that one is tempted to say he had a “bad game” but in truth he didn’t. It wasn’t his finest performance, but Brown’s 7 catches for 87 yards counted. Markus Wheaton had four catches for 65 yards on 7 targets and played a solid game. Martavis Bryant had seven catches in nine targets, but dropped an deep touchdown pass he should have had (he also should have gotten pass interference call on another drop.) While the receivers did not have a “weak” outing, their difficulty in getting open was apparent. Grade: B-
Cincinnati’s defense might not have shown the NFL it can stop Pittsburgh’s offensive juggernaut, but they do appear to be able to “contain” the men in Black and Gold. To that end, Ben Roethlisberger needed time find open receivers, and by and large the line gave him that. Likewise, the Steelers offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage in the Red Zone, resulting in two rushing touchdowns against a defense that had only allowed 4 going into the game. In a game that was described as “chippy” the Steelers offensive line in general, and David DeCastro specifically, made it clear to the Bengals that the Steelers will not be pushed around. Grade: B+
Stephon Tuitt interception of Andy Dalton was an act of sheer excellence. He read the play correctly, and came up with the ball preventing the Bengals for getting any points on their first trip inside the Red Zone. Cameron Heyward had a sack, a passed defense, and a tackle for a loss where he made a booming statement by throwing the Bengal defended back even further. Steve McLendon posted no stats, but the Bengals running game only rushed for 64 yards, and if you take away two long ones, their average drops to 2.4 yards per carry. That only happens if McLendon is playing well. Daniel McCullers got his first half sack in relief of McLendon. Grade: B+
As usual, Lawrence Timmons led the group in tackles, followed by Ryan Shazier who is budding into a fine inside linebacker, helping stuff Jeremy Hill for a loss on his first carry, thereby setting the tone for the day. James Harrison’s pressure helped force on of AJ McCarron’s sacks, and Vince Williams, while only playing part time, was 5th on the team in tackles. Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree each had a tackle. Grade: B+
Antwon Blake continues to struggle, having gotten burned by A.J. Green on the touchdown and having missed more tackles. Michael Mitchell also appeared to be out of position on that play, and he too let Green slip through his fingers. A.J. McCarron threw just shy of 300 yards in his first serious NFL action…
…On the flip side William Gay added his 6th career pick six, trying Rod Woodson’s record. And Robert Golden came up with an interception, getting the ball back after the Steelers had turned it over and opening the door to for the Steelers offense to put the game way. The Steelers accidental secondary is what it is. It bends, but it doesn’t often break. And for the first time since 2010, the Steelers secondary is securing turnovers regularly. Grade: B-
Antonio Brown returned two punts, but was a non-factor. Markus Wheaton took over the kick return duties but only returned one for 17 yards. Jordan Berry did not allow the Bengals any returnable punts, which is good. The Bengals returned 3 kicks and had respectable yardage and had one 27 yard return, which is more than you’d like to see. Overall a solid day for the Steelers special teams. Grade: B+
The Cincinnati Bengals did an impressive job of shackling the Steelers aerial assault, cutting Roethlisberger’s yards-per-attempt average almost in half. Todd Haley and his staff were able to correct that somewhat, and the Steelers offense stayed on track. The offense didn’t put up the kind of numbers that Steelers Nation has become accustomed to, but they did control the clock, and they did it on the road.
Keith Butler’s defense gave up a lot of yards, but it produced three turnovers, all of which resulted in points for Pittsburgh. Hard to argue with that.
The Bengals entered the game intent on proving that they were the top dogs in the AFC North. And the AFC North title might ultimately be there’s. The Steelers, while not letting themselves be pushed around, did a better job of staying focused and that result showed on the scoreboard. Credit Mike Tomlin for creating a culture that allowed the team to strike that delicate balance. Grade: A
Unsung Hero Award
The Steelers beat the Bengals 33-20 with the help of one pick six and another touchdown that came after an interception. Ben Roethlisberger did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season in a game in which he has finished.
The Steelers can thank their victory, in large part to Chris Boswell’s 4 for 4 field goal effort in other words, Boswell provided 12 of Pittsburgh’s 13 point margin and for that he is the Unsung Hero of the Steelers win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.