From the gradebook of a teacher who wonders if he’s seen a pivot at Paycor, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2023 road win over the Bengals.
This is the Kenny Pickett we’ve been waiting for. Pickett went 24-33-278 and was aggressive throwing the ball in the middle and downfield. Digging deeper he was 9-14 on third down and converted on 7 of those throws a stark difference from a week ago. Pickett certainly wasn’t perfect, but he showed real progress. Grade: B
Anyone wondering why Mike Tomlin continues to commit to keeping Najee Harris in the offense, even though Jaylen Warren has been the more dynamic player this season need only look his 20 yard gain in a rugby like maul. He also ripped of 22 and 13 yard runs late in the 4th quarter. Warren had a solid day as well, rushing for 49 yards on 13 carries while adding 13 more through the air on 3 catches. Grade: A
A week ago Pat Freiermuth returned and one had to wonder if he was anywhere near 100%. A week later and one has to wonder how the Steelers managed to win a game without him. Pat Freiermuth had 9 catches for 120 yards and was clearly a difference maker. Connor Heyward had 2 catches for 11 yards. Grade: A
George Pickens had 3 catches for 58 yards and Diontae Johnson had 4 grabs for 50 yards and should have had a touchdown. Allen Robinson and Calvin Austin each added a catch. Myles Boykin negated another reception with an offensive pass interference call. A solid day for the wide outs, but Pickens’ non-block on the bubble screen and Diontae’s complete ghost after Jaylen Warren’s fumble were negatives. We’ll take Johnson at his word that he wasn’t aware Warren had fumbled – but he should have been. Grade: B-
The Bengals sacked Pickett twice and hit him four other times, but pass protection improved during the game. The Bengals lined up planning to stop the run. The Steelers offensive line didn’t road grade, but the Steelers were able to run when they needed to. Grade: B
Cam Heyward led the unit in tackles and made a sack. Keeanu Benton continues to give every Steelers fan reasons to be happy he’s in Pittsburgh. Larry Ogunjobi batted away a pass on the third play of the third quarter, setting the tone for the second half. Joe Mixo’s career average against the Steelers is 4.81 yards; on Sunday he averaged 2 yards per pop. Grade: B+
T.J. Watt wrecked two drives with third down sacks and arguably should have had another half sack. Elandon Roberts led the team in tackles and continued to be a thumper against the run. Nick Herbig broke off coverage to get a sack on third down. Alex Highsmith didn’t have flashy numbers, but help collapse the pocket. Grade: B+
Joey Porter Jr. shadowed Ja’Marr Chase for much of the game, and while Chase had respectable numbers, he didn’t light up the Steelers the way other number 1s have. Damontae Kazee tipped a ball while Trenton Thompson stepped in front of a pass for an interception. Patrick Peterson was quiet which was a good thing. Grade: B+
The long kick return the Steelers gave up, which set up the Bengals only touchdown, started with a bad kick. The Steelers also had chances to down two punts which weren’t downed setting up shorter fields. However, Chris Boswell was 3-3 on his field goal attempts and the Steelers special teams defended the on sides kick perfect. Grade: C-
In their first week together it was immediately apparent that Eddie Faulkner managed to field a well-coordinated offense and Mike Sullivan called plays with a purpose. The Steelers aggressively attacked the center of the field with the Bengals went to split safeties, and then when they went single high they took advantage of 1-1s on the outside.
- They also committed to running the ball with purpose.
The Steelers defense did what it was supposed to do – neutralize Joe Mixon to make the Bengals offense 1 dimensional and force a rookie quarterback to beat them. They did that, and the only touchdown the Steelers gave up all game was one on a long field.
- Matt Canada has been a scapegoat for all that has ailed the Steelers offense.
And if some of the criticism lobbed his way has stretched from the unfair to the ridiculous (see the Ravens game) it was also clear he wasn’t the solution. But firing coordinators mid-season carries its own set of risk. Mike Tomlin took that gamble and for a week at least it paid off. Grade: B+
Unsung Hero Award
Muscle. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of this player’s performance. He made one catch. He took it for 10 yards. It required about 3 or 4 defenders to bring him down. On numerous other plays his muscle was clearly apparent in plays where the Steelers running backs moved the ball, including their only touchdown and for that Darnell Washington wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers 2023 win at Paycor Stadium.