Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Playoff Clinching Win over Browns

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his star pupil squeak by on the pass/fail portion of his qualifying exam, and now waits with baited breath as his student prepares to enter the “real world” here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the playoff clinching win over the Cleveland Browns.steelers, report card, grades, Cleveland Browns, playoff clinching win

While no one can claim that Ben Roethlisberger played poorly vs. the Cleveland Browns, the truth is elements of his performance are downright worrisome. Ben Roethlisberger’s two interceptions were very poorly thrown balls, heads up plays be his receivers prevented at least three more balls from being picked off.

If Ben Roethlisberger gives away interceptions like he did vs. the Browns, the Steelers season will quickly end in Cincinnati. This is a classic “Good but” performance if there ever was one. Grade: B-

Running Backs
The Browns were cued up on stopping DeAngelo Williams, and Williams found it difficult to find running room. He caught two out of two passes thrown to him, but was forced from the game by the beginning of the second half. Fitzgerald Toussaint quadrupled his carry total for the season, and while his 2.0 yards per average isn’t impressive, the determination he showed in playing to the whisle did. Toussaint also caught his first two point conversion pass. Grade: C+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller’s stat line reads like this: 3 catches, 18 yards, on 4 targets 1 touchdown and his longest pass was for 11 yards.

  • Fantasy football owners who started Heath Miller probably regret the move.

Mike Tomlin, however, does not. The ball could have been easily intercepted on both Miller’s touchdown and his 11 yard reception, but in both cases Miller outmuscled the defender to the catch. Those are the types of plays simply win games while failing to show up on fantasy football stats. Matt Spaeth and Jesse James both played, but neither had a target. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown showed that he is mortal, barely, but fumbling away the ball. The Browns failed to convert it into points, but that turnover coupled with Roethlisberger’s interceptions gave the Browns the courage they needed to give the Steelers a run for their money. Outside of that, Brown’s game was flawless. The same cannot be said for Martavis Bryant, who was only targeted twice, and saw one of those picked off (not his fault) and the other he dropped. Markus Wheaton had a solid game with a 40 yard catch that helped set up the Steelers second touchdown followed by an excellent touchdown catch. Darrius Heyward-Bey made his return to the passing offense with a bang on a 66 yard reception. However, he did drop two catchable balls, including a touchdown. Brown and Wheaton pull this group’s overall grade up. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Whatever is troubling Ben Roethlisberger, lack of pass protection cannot be called an issue, certainly not against the Browns. There were many plays when Ben could have written pages of his diary, the offensive line gave him so much time. And on those occasions, Roethlisberger made Cleveland pay. The Steelers run blocking, however, was not nearly what it needed to be, although DeAngelo Williams injury essentially meant the Steelers weren’t going to run much anyway. Grade: B

Defensive Line
Stephon Tuitt led the unit with a 2 sack day, he also dropped two Browns defenders behind the line of scrimmage and got to Austin Davis two more times. Cameron Heyward had a quiet day with one tackle, but that’s another example of how stats can mislead. Steve McLendon had one tackle, but it was for a loss. Grade: B+

The lack of pressure from the Steelers outside linebackers has been an issue of late, but Arthur Moats sacked Austin Davis once and recovered the fumble that Lawrence Timmons helped cause. James Harrison’s interception was exactly the type of play the Steelers defense needed after Roethlisberger had given them an opening to get back into the game. Harrison also batted away two passes, and he stuffed another runner to prevent a third down conversion. Ryan Shazier split a sack with Timmons. Vince Williams had 3 tackles and Bud Dupree. Grade: B+

Let it be said that any of the teams making the NFL playoffs and their will provide the Steelers with a far stiffer test than the Cleveland Browns did, but the Steelers secondary seemed to step it up a bit after having been roasted by Ryan Mallett. Antwon Blake played a complete game, recording a sack and batting balls away while making no egregious tackling errors. Michael Mitchell was his usual self, as was William Gay. One take away and two other splash plays by the Steelers secondary were what was needed, especially on a day when the Steelers offense was turning over the ball. Grade: B+

Special Teams
On the negative side, the Steelers coverage team benefitted from another long return that got nullified by a penalty. And Chris Boswell missed another field goal. Granted, that was a 48 yarder, but the Steelers Super Bowl hopes could rest on Boswell’s ability to make another 48 yarder in another AFC North city just down I-75.

On the positive side, the Anthony Chickillo forced a fumble just after the Steelers offense had made the score 25 to 12 which allowed the Steelers offense to put the game away for good. Grade: B-

Grading the Steelers Coaches
Todd Haley’s game plan was sound, although the Steelers inability to run the ball against a weak Browns run defense is a little puzzling, although not worrisome. More worrisome for Todd Haley has to be Ben Roethlisberger’s suddenly erratic performance.

  • Is Ben Roethlisberger simply trying to force the ball to Antonio Brown or is something else at work?

It says here that “Ben to Brown” is a winning combination, but quarterbacks should never get on one wide receiver. Regardless of its root cause, Todd Haley and Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner must correct this situation immediately.

People can critique the Steelers defensive effort from a number of angles:

  • The Browns won the time of possession battle…
  • Cleveland scored at the tail end of the first half…
  • They opened the 4th quarter by cutting the Steelers lead to 5….

All of these type of stats can be made to hold an ominous tone. But the bottom line is that Keith Butler’s defense kept sacked Austin Davis 7 times, secured 3 turnovers, and kept the Cleveland Browns out of the end zone despite 3 turnovers by the Steelers offense.

  • That’s the type of play that is going to help the Steelers win playoff games.

As noted above, the turnovers by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown could have been devastating, but fortunately the Steelers defense minimized the impact of the first two turnovers, and neutralized the next. Equally importantly, the Steelers offense had the mental toughness to avoid allowing the turnovers to take on a snowball effect.

It is true that the Steelers hardly dominated the Browns, especially early on. But one week after the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers most disappointing performances, Mike Tomlin had his team in bounce-back form that, while not perfect, won the game. Grade: B

Unsung Hero
Early in the game vs. the Browns there was one player who seemed to take last week’s loss to the Ravens personally, and made it his business to avoid a repeat. This member of the secondary had 7 tackles, 1 pass defensed, one QB hit, another tackle for a loss and a sack and he made his moves early and often, helping set the tone for the game. And for that Will Allen is the wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers playoff clinching win over the Cleveland Browns.

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