Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Overtime Win over the Browns

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is proud to see average, everyday students rise to the occasion with the star pupils out, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the overtime win over Cleveland.

DeAngelo Williams, DeAngelo Williams touchdown Browns, Marcus Gilbert, Jesse James

DeAngelo Williams celebrates his touchdown against the Browns with Jesse James and Marcus Gilbert. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Quarterback
The game’s very first series made it clear that Landry Jones wasn’t going to get the same protection that Ben Roethlisberger got, and Landry Jones struggled for much of the first half. And Landry Jones’ interception at the end of the 3rd quarter was as ugly as it gets. But Jones pushed on, and led the Steelers to two touchdowns in the 4th quarter and another in overtime. Jones also deserves credit for his heads up play in recovering a fumble in the end zone. And Jones did all of this with the Steelers top weapons on offense sitting on the bench. If we apply the same standard we applied last week to Ben Roethlisberger, there’s only 1 grade for Landry. Grade: Asteelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers vs. Browns

Running Backs
One of the big questions heading into the game was how well DeAngelo Williams would respond after 9 games on ice. Fantasy Football owners who started Williams are probably suffering from buyer’s remorse. Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley, however, are not. On the surface, Williams 1 yard rushing in the first half and his overall 67 yards on 22 carries remain unimpressive. But Williams ripped off runs of 12, 10 and 8 in the second half, scored the Steelers first two touchdowns. He also did an incredible job in avoiding safety when the Steelers were backed into their own end zone.

Fitzgerald Toussaint had 3 carries for 14 yards including a 12 yarder, and Roosevelt Nix had 2 catches for five yards. Grade: B+

Tight Ends
Jesse James had two catches for 16 yards on 3 targets. Neither Xavier Grimble nor David Johnson had a carry. The Steelers tight ends had a solid, if not spectacular performance against the Browns. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Eli Rogers led the team with 6 catches for 61 yards taking another important developmental step forward. As did, Cobi Hamilton who caught the game winner as well as a critical completion during the 3rd quarter. Demarcus Ayers looked good in his second NFL game, finding his way to the end zone for a go ahead score in the 4th quarter. Darrius Heyward-Bey saw his first action in 9 weeks, and came away with on reception for 46 yards. Overall a very good day for the Steelers wide receivers. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
B.J. Finney made several starts at right guard for Ramon Foster this season and played well enough that some bloggers suggested his comparative salary cap value might make Foster expendable during the 2017 off season.

  • No one is going to say that about his performance in place of Maurkice Pouncey.

It is probably unfair to scapegoat Finney, but the truth is that the Browns got pressure on Landry Jones on several third downs, and each time it looked like they came right up the middle. Indeed, the line struggled to protect their quarterback for the first time in recent memory, and the rushing lanes weren’t quite as solid. Grade: C-

Defensive Line
Injuries left the Pittsburgh Steelers playing their 3rd string defensive line for most of the day. The truth is that the Browns ran the ball a little too easily. OK, a big part of this has to do with James Harrison being out (who essentially plays a defensive end in the Steelers nickel alignment), but if the Standard is the Standard, then the Steelers defensive line fell a little short, although Daniel McCullers did get a sack on Robert Griffin III. Grade: C-

Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, George Atkinson

Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree sandwich George Atkinson in the Steelers overtime win vs. the Browns. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Linebackers
Does anyone still debate why the Steelers rushed to pick Ryan Shazier instead of a defensive back in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft? Ryan Shazier led the Steelers linebackers securing an interception at the 5 yard line, and helping ensure that the Browns would lose 14 yards when on 3rd and Goal at the Steelers 2 in overtime. Jarvis Jones had his best game as a Pittsburgh Steelers, sacking RGIII once, forcing another fumble as the Browns threatened to score, and batting away a pass in overtime. Bud Dupree had another sack, and another tackle for the loss. Lawrence Timmons had 6 tackles.

While the Steelers linebackers had a strong day, they too bear some of the responsibility for the breakdowns in the run defense so their grade must reflect that. Grade: B+

Secondary
Sean Davis led the unit and the Steelers defense overall with 9 tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss and another QB hit. Mind you, the man is playing safety. Artie Burns had 8 tackles, and batted away a pass that he almost intercepted. Ross Cockrell’s name wasn’t heard much, and that’s good for a cornerback. William Gay had a key pass defense, while Mike Mitchell had 8 tackles and a fumble recovery. A solid day for the Steelers secondary, particularly in the Red Zone. Grade: B+

Ross Cockrell, Seth Delvalve touchdown steelers, steelers vs. browns overtime

Seth Delvalve scores for the Browns as Ross Cockrell attempts to stop him. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner

Special Teams
Chris Boswell was 3-3 on his extra points and Jordan Berry had an excellent day punting on an afternoon where the Steelers found themselves backed up in their own end zone too often.

Eli Rogers returned 3 punts for a total of 15 yards with a long return of 10 yards. While that’s nice, he did bobble one return – which cannot happen during the playoffs. Cobi Hamilton returned 3 kick offs for 44 yards which is as unimpressive as it looks.

  • The real concern here is the Steelers kick coverage.

The Browns averaged 30 yards on their kickoff returns, or five more than they’d get in touchbacks, and Mario Alford returned 3 punts for 26 yards including one return of 17 yards. Those are the types of return yardage numbers that can tip a close playoff game in the wrong direction…. Grade: C-

Coaching
Mike Tomlin’s Christmas present to Todd Haley was to ask him to devise a winning game plan after taking away his top 4 offensive players. The truth is that Haley’s offense sputtered for much of the day, but once they got in a groove, they scored 21 points in less than two quarters.

  • Keith Butler didn’t have the same “excuse” as only James Harrison was held out of the game.

That alone made it clear just how much James Harrison means to the Steelers running game. Had the stakes in the game been higher, Butler likely would have played the Steelers nickel less. While the Steelers defense likely made some Fantasy Football owners happy, the fact is that they secured two Red Zone turnovers in addition to stuffing a 3rd down attempt for a 14 yard loss defending their own two.

  • I’ll take that.

Finally, Mike Tomlin sent an important signal when he benched the Steelers top players. But he also insisted it would be “Business as normal” for everyone who did suit up. Tomlin lived true to his word. It would have been easy for Tomlin to either intentionally coach towards a tie or to make other decisions that would have left Cleveland with a win, particularly in overtime.

Instead, Mike Tomlin played to win, and his players responded by delivering a win. This is exactly what the mentality and level of execution Pittsburgh needs heading into the playoffs. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award
When Landry Jones threw his interception at the end of the 3rd quarter and Briean Boddy-Calhoun streaked to the end zone for an apparent pick-six that looked to doom the Steelers for the afternoon. But one player continued to hustle, never gave up, and ended up catching Boddy-Calhoun and knocking out the ball before he scored a touchdown.

  • The play saved a touchdown, and sparked the Steelers rally.

This is exactly the type of hustle at all times mentality a team needs in the playoffs, and for that Darrius Heyward-Bey wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers overtime win over the Browns.

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Steelers Report Card for Bengals Win: Chris Boswell Kicks Cincinnati Bengals Buckett

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who seen his students ace 5 straight test-sections in a row but know that it’s the six one that will determine the grade of the entire exam, here is the Steelers Report Card for the win over the Bengals.

2016 Steelers win at Cincinnati, Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson, David DeCastro, Ben Roethlisberger

David Johnson and David DeCastro open holes for Le’Veon Bell in the Steelers win at Cincinnati. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger probably didn’t make a lot of fantasy owners happy on Sunday, completing 21 passes on 36 tries for 286 yards. The truth is that Ben Roethlisberger was off a number of times, and had a few questionable balls. But Ben Roethlisberger protected the ball, the Steelers moved the chains, and his laser strike touchdown to Eli Rogers came at exactly the right time. Grade: Bsteelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers vs. Bengals

Running Backs
Mike Tomlin had indicated the DeAngelo Williams might suit up for this game, but Williams did not dress, leaving it to Le’Veon Bell to carry the load for the offense again. Le’Veon Bell didn’t have the dominating type game that has been a stable of the Steelers previous four wins, but he found the tough yards on the ground to put the Steelers into manageable down and distance situation gaining 93 yards on 21 carries. As he as he always does, Bell also did his damage catching balls out of the air, catching 5 passes for 28 yards. Roosevelt Nix once again acquitted himself at fullback. Grade: B

Tight Ends
Against the Colts and the Giants, Ladarius Green showed he could be a “field flipping” tight end, which is a welcome sign. However, against the Bills he struggled a little, but bounced back against the Bengals making several tough catches in the middle, making 5 receptions for 72 yards. David Johnson had one catch for 12 yards. Chris Hubbard continued to work as an extra tight end, and Xavier Grimble and Jesse James both got extensive work as blockers. Overall, a strong performance from the tight ends. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
Eli Rogers led the Steelers wide outs, making a number of key catches downfield including the team’s only touchdown. Cobi Hamilton made one 21 yard catch that help setup the Steelers last 1st half field goal, while Sammie Coates caught one pass for 10 yards on a scoring drive, but was targeted 3 other times, although he probably should have drawn pass interference penalties on at least two of those catches. A solid day by the receivers. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
In the first outing against the Bengals, Cincinnati sacked Ben Roethlisberger once, just as they did on Sunday, although Ben’s sack really came as the result of a bobbled snap. Other than that, the Steelers offensive line kept their quarterback clean. In the first outgoing against the Bengals, as a team the Steelers averaged 3.4 yards per carry, on Sunday that percentage dropped a hair to 3.3 yards, but the Steelers rushing average increases to 3.9 yards a carry if you discount Ben Roethlisberger’s kneel downs at the end.

It wasn’t a perfect day for the offensive line, as David DeCastro got flagged for a couple of penalties, but the Steelers offensive line improved in their second outing against the Bengals, and they needed it to. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
The Steelers defensive line lost Stephon Tuitt early in the game and then lost Ricardo Mathews later in the game, forcing L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave to go it alone. If this unit struggled a bit against the run in the first half, they more than made up for it in the second half as Bengals running backs ran for 8 yards in the second half. The trio might not have put up any dazzling stats, but if these men don’t do their job, the linebackers don’t look nearly as good. Grade: A-

Linebackers
Games like this show just how badly stats can mislead. One might look at James Harrison’s totals, and think that without any sacks or hits to the quarterback or tackles for losess, Harrison simply ran up a nice tackle count. Nothing could be further from the case. James Harrison was intremental in neutralizing the Bengals rushing attack. Lawrence Timmons continued to show that he remains a vialbe, play making linebackiner in this defense, pulling down another interception and helping sustain the momentum in the second half, momentum which Ryan Shazier started by ending the Bengals first half possession with a sack. Bud Dupree had a difficult time against the Bengals offensive line, showing the limits of his athleticism. Still, he made it into the backfield on more than one occasion. Grade: A

Secondary
Mike Mitchell led the Steelers defensive backs in tackles and got his hands on a ball that could have been an interception. Sean Davis was next including a tackle for a loss that he split with Timmons. The biggest plays however came on successive third downs as first Ross Cockrell and then Artie Burns batted way sideline passes that, had they been completed, would have kept the drives alive. As Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labirola argued, a year ago the Steelers cornerbacks fail to make those plays (think about it, does Antwon Blake defense either of those passes…?) Those were difference makers in this game. Grade: A

Special Teams
First, there simply aren’t sufficient accolades to praise Chris Boswell’s performance. How many NFL kickers have made three 49 yard field goals in one game? He also hit 45 and 40 yarders. All outdoors, in December in the AFC North. Boswell of course make a critical tackle that saved a touchdown (and Keith Butler’s defense worked the short field to force a field goal.)

  • Sammie Coates added some much needed sparkle by giving the Steelers a 44 yard kick off return that set up the Steelers first score.

While these positives carry the most weight in the final game for the special teams, Fitzgerald Toussaint’s poor decision making and poor returns must be taken into account. Moreover, Alex Erickson 72 yard return could have been a game changer for Cincinnati. Grade: B

Coaching

For all of its flaws, Cincinnati remains a talented team with a defense that has shown an ability to give the Steelers offense fits. While Todd Haley has a long way to go before anyone can say he’s mastered the Bengals defense, but on this Sunday, he found the right mix of ball control and vertical passing that allowed the Steelers to get enough points on the board to get out of Paul Brown Stadium with a win.

  • Keith Butler had a more complicated task, stop a talented Bengals offense short-handed on the defensive line.

As mentioned above, the Steelers completely shut out the Bengals in the second half, eliminating the run while the Steelers linebackers and secondary made Andy Dalton look like David Klingler on third downs.

Finally, Mike Tomlin and his staff took a lot of criticism here for abandoning the run against Miami; others critiqued them for sticking to the run too closely vs. Baltimore. The truth is that a good coach knows when to change things up in midstream (see last week vs. the Bills) and when to stick to his guns.

As the first half ended with Cincinnati scoring on each possession and the Steelers looking at an 11 point deficit Mike Tomlin told CBS Sports that there was nothing the Steelers needed to so much as to stop beating themselves with penalties.

  • And the Steelers did just that in the second half.

While it is impossible to credit Tomlin completely with that turnaround, the fact is that the Steelers never gave in to despair, and continued to chip away at Cincinnati’s lead until going ahead late in the 4th. That’s a sign of a well-coached team if there ever was one. Grade: A-

Unsung Hero Award
When was the last time that Antonio Brown didn’t lead Steelers wide receivers? I’m not about to do the research, but “a long time ago” will suffice. Antonio Brown didn’t dominate as he usually does, but he made critical catches that set up scores. He also had a touchdown negated by a penalty, and drew a holding call late in the game that iced the game for the Steelers and for that Antonio Brown wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers 2016 win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

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Setting Up for a Late Semester Surge: Steelers Report Card for Giants Win

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who wonders if the growing pains his student suffered early in the year won’t fuel a late semester surge, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the New York Giants.

Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Steelers report card giants, steelers vs. giants, eli manning

Eli Manning has no where to run as Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison close in. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger found himself playing against a much tougher defense, and the numbers bear that out, although a number of recievers did drop catchable balls. Against the Giants Ben Roethlisberger went 24 for 26 for 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. It should be noted that while Eli Rogers receiver got both hands on the ball, it was slightly under thrown. The Steelers were 7-15 on third downs and 1-1 on fourth downs and the latter stat really counted. A solid day for the Steelers signal caller. Grade: B+

Running Back
The New York Giants have a stout run defense, and Le’Veon Bell had to work for his yards on a number of occasions. But Le’Veon Bell earned the tough yards against the Giants, saw his patience pay off when the hole was not immediately clear, and hit the holes hard when they were there. And he also 6 passes for 64 yards to add to his 118 rushing yards. Roosevelt Nix was used extensively at fullback, and he played well. Le’Veon Bell did cough up the ball which led to New York’s non-garbage time fumble, which drops his grade a notch. Grade: A-

Tight Ends
This was the Ladarius Green the Steelers thought they were getting when they signed him to a 20 million dollar contract. Ladarius Green proved to be again be a field flipper and a difference maker in catching six passes for 110 yards, including a touchdown. Jesse James also saw extensive action, and if he did have an early drop, he made up for it on later plays including a critical 4th down conversion in the 4th quarter. Both tight ends acquitted themselves well. Grade: A

Wide Receiverssteelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. giants, coaching, special teams, unsung heros, steelers colts thanksgiving
The Giants managed to “contain” Antonio Brown fairly well, as Brown only had 6 catches for 54 yards. But he made those catches count, with a jaw dropping touchdown catch and another excellent toe tapper to keep the ball in bounds on the Steelers final touchdown drive. Brown didn’t get a lot of help for the rest of the receivers.

Eli Rogers did have a nice 18 yard catch, but that was his only one. Cobi Hamilton caught two balls, but they only amounted for 11 yards. Sammie Coates saw limited action at wide out and did not see a pass come his way. Ladarius Green’s emergence should help Antonio Brown, but Brown will need help during December. Grade: B-

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger saw more pressure than he has in recent weeks, but per the numbers on ESPN, he was only sacked twice and only hit three more times. More importantly, the Steelers offensive line’s pass protection held when it needed to.

Any breakdown of the game tape is going to reveal battles at the line of scrimmage that the Steelers offensive line lost. But as the game wore on, the Mike Munchak’s crew wore down the men in front of them and ultimately, imposed their will in the fourth quarter. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
The New York Giants didn’t come into the game with much of a rushing offense and didn’t establish one during the game. Stephon Tuitt didn’t put up a lot of statics, but he was moving around and forced New York to account for him. Ricardo Mathews earned his first sack as a Steeler, and ended an attempted Giant’s 4th down conversion. Overall the line played so well, that yours truly didn’t notice that Javon Hargrave missed the second half with a concussion. Grade: B+

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons has taken a lot of heat for supposedly slowing a step this season, but he has put together several strong games and stepped it up a notch vs. the Giants, making a field flipping interception when New York threatened in the Red Zone. Ryan Shazier’s stat sheet might seem slim, but he made a key pass defense in the Red Zone. Bud Dupree hasn’t made any splash plays, but getting around the field (and he was held a lot.)

And what else can you say about James Harrison? He’s 38 years old and has had 5 sacks in five weeks. Grade: A

Secondary
The Steelers secondary took another stride forward this week. Odell Beckham may have pleased fantasy owners, but the Steelers kept him out of the end zone.

Artie Burns continues to improve, particularly in his tackling. Mike Mitchell also played another strong game defending two key passes. But the real star of the show was Sean Davis, who made several plays early on, and then came down with an interception when the Giants were trying to rally. Grade: A

Special Teams
It was a quiet week for the Steelers special teams, with the Giants making little noise in the kick return game, and the Steelers got two decent returns. Randy Bullock came in at the last minute and knocked in 3 field goals and one extra point. You can’t ask for much more than that. Penalties continue to be an issue, and that drops the grade of this unit. Grade: B

Coaching
It was easy to write off the Steelers wins against the Browns and the Luckless Colts. Sure, the Steelers haven’t always done well in those “should win” situations, but its also true that neither team offered the Steelers a real test.

  • Todd Haley designed a game plan that called for ball control, and his unit executed it to near perfection.

And if the Steelers still need help at receiver, Haley was able to incorporate Ladarius Green as a vertical threat, something which clearly made a difference in this game.

Keith Butler’s defense delivered what is perhaps their strongest performance of the season, with the Steelers forcing the Giants to go 0-3 on 4th down conversions.

More importantly, several members of Butler’s defense stepped up at critical moments to deliver splash plays. We saw a lot of that in 2015, but not much so far this season. Hopefully this is a sign of more to come.

Mike Tomlin appears to have succeeded in getting his team to avoid riding the roller coaster. They didn’t let a four game losing streak take the wind out of their sails, and they didn’t allow winning 2 games in 5 days to go to their heads.

The one real quibble we have with the coaching are the penalties. The Steelers win could have been much more decisive were it not for inopportune flags and this is becoming a reccuring issue, and hence drops the coaching grade. Grade: B

Unsung Hero Award
He won’t get the ink that his counterpart is deservedly getting. He didn’t score a touchdown and probably won’t make any ESPN highlight reels. But this young player atoned for a drop with a nice 16 yard catch, helped set up the Steelers first touchdown with an 11 yard catch, and caught a 5 yard 4th down conversion that iced the game, and for that Jesse James wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over the Giants.

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Not the Turkey this Thanksgiving: Steelers Report Card for Win Over Colts

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who has seen his pupils accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Thanksgiving Day win over the Colts.

ryan shazier, joe reitz, example of holding in the nfl, steelers vs. Colts, Steelers colts thanksgiving

Joe Reitz is forced to hold Ryan Shazier during the Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger went 14 of 20 for 221 with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The truth is that when Ben Roethlisberger can connect with Antonio Brown, there is little that can stop the Steelers offense. Roethlisberger’s 6 misses did contain a few ugly passes, which nudges is grade down, if however slightly. Landry Jones threw one incompletion during mop up time. Grade: A-

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell and another 100 yard plus game and added 22 more from the air with four catches. The truth is that the way things were going, Bell probably could have rushed for 100 more if it would have been necessary. Fitzgerald Toussaint saw his first action in a while, gaining a respectable 28 yards on 6 carries. Todd Haley also had Roosevelt Nix in there blocking, and he made a difference. Grade: Asteelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. colts, coaching, special teams, unsung heros, steelers colts thanksgiving

Tight Ends
This is the Ladarius Green that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin thought they were getting when they signed him last march. Ladarius Green still may not have recovered his break away speed, but he did show his ability to stretch the defense, making two “field flipping” plays both of which set up Steelers scores. Jesse James had one pass thrown his way which may or may not have been catchable, but no other tight ends were targeted in the running game, but they did contribute to the blocking. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown scored 3 touchdowns and made it look easy on both. He also helped break up a would-be interception in the end zone, and likely did the same on another play down field that cost him a pass interference penalty. Eli Rogers was quiet for much of the game, but did set up Le’Veon Bell’s first touchdown with his 30 yard grab. Cobi Hamilton had 1 catch on 1 target. The Steelers tried to get the ball to Sammie Coates deep 3 times, each time in vain. Grade: A-

Offensive Line
The Colts not only couldn’t sack Ben Roethlisberger, they only managed to hit him once and the Steelers averaged 5.1 yards per carry rushing on a night where the longest individual run from scrimmage was 16 yards. You can’t ask for much more than that from your offensive line. Grade: A

Defensive Line
Steelers defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell rarely gushes about rookies, but he did so when the Steelers drafted Javon Hargrave. For a while it seemed hard to fathom why, but Javon Hargave took up permanent residency in the Colts backfield, taking down 3 people behind the line of scrimmage and registering a sack. Stephon Tuitt had 3 quarterback hits and Ricardo Mathews had one tackle. The fact is that Steelers totally shut down the Colt’s running game and that starts with the defensive line. Grade: A

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons again led the Steelers in tackles, and was generally flying around the field. Ryan Shazier was next for the linebackers, helping Stephon Tuitt drop someone behind the line of scrimmage and getting some pressure on the quarterback. Mike Tomlin rhetorically asked, “What are we saving James for?” Plays like James Harrison’s sack of Scott Tolzien show why he is starting ahead of Jarvis Jones. Bud Dupree saw his first expensive action, and while he lacked any “Splash plays” he looked good. Anthony Chickillo quietly logged 4 tackles. Grade: A

Secondary
Splash plays from William Gay bookended the evening for the Steelers secondary, as Gay strip sacked Tolzien early in the game, and then intercepted his pass late in the 4th quarter. Gay was good, but he also got beaten on a long play that could have done more damage. Ross Cockrell also got beaten on a deep pattern. The biggest plays came from the safeties. Both Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell stoned Scott Tolzien on separate occasions when he tried to run the ball into the end zone. Mitchell also broke up a would-be touchdown pass, and picked off a pass in the 4th quarter that effectively ended the game. Grade: A-

mike mitchell, T.Y. Hilton, Steelers colts thanksgiving

Mike Mitchell makes a grab for the ball in the Steelers Thanksgiving victory over the Colts. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Special Teams
Let’s acknowledge that often times assistant coaches get unfairly scapegoated by, well everyone, the fans, the press, head coaches and the front offices when in truth they just don’t have the players to work with. As Dick Hoak famously concluded on the day he retired, “You’re hired to be fired.”

  • Danny Smith has taken a lot of heat from the fans, and it is hard to defend him.

The Colts averaged 35.5 yards on kickoff returns. Those kinds of averages will lose you games against quality offenses. Danny Smith’s special teams also got caught with their pants down on a fake punt. Fake punts are hard to predict precisely because they are so rare. But Smith’s special teams were completely flat-footed after it was clear the play was a fake.

Chris Boswell’s 4 for 4 on PAT’s and Jordan Berry’s solid punting pull the grade for the unit up, but special teams must improve. Grade: D

Coaching
Todd Haley designed a solid game plan that saw the Steelers score 3 touchdowns on their opening 3 possessions. And if the offense did leave some plays on the field in the second half, part of that is probably due to attempts to get Sammie Coates worked back into the offense. Honestly, the Steelers were wise to attempt this with a 21 point lead.

  • Finally, the Steelers offense also converted turnovers into touchdowns.

Feel free to add whatever qualifications regarding the quality of opposition when evaluating Keith Butler’s defense, but Butler’s boys have now turned in two dominating performances in a row.

  • Some of the overall statistics might be inflated, but the Steelers defense defended their goal line twice against an offense committed playing on all four downs.

That’s impressive regardless of the opposition.

Playing well on the road and playing well on Thursdays has been an issue for the Steelers recently, regardless of opposition. None of those troubles were apparent vs. the Colts. The Steelers are playing more focused football, and executing the fundamentals on both offense and defense better, and the score board reflects that and Mike Tomlin deserves credit. Special teams is more worrisome which brings the overall grade down. Grade: B

Unsung Hero
His stat line might only read 5 tackles, but that hardly communicates the value of Sean Davis contributions to the Steelers win. Sean Davis had a hand on the Steelers goal line stops of Frank Gore, and the rookie made a veteran play in correctly reading Scott Tolzien attempt to rush it in at the goal line, and for that Sean Davis wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win vs. the Colts.

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Steelers Report Card for the Beating of the Browns

Taken from the grade book of a teacher you is proud of both his veteran class leaders and his freshman and sophomore students who stepped up, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card from the victory over the Cleveland Browns.

ryan shazier, Steelers report card vs. browns 2016 at Cleveland, Josh McCown, Javon Hargrave

Ryan Shazier closes in for the kill on Josh McCown setting up the Steelers game-clinching touchdown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
It was an economical passing day for Ben Roethlisberger by both necessity and design. On a windy day with the game plan calling for ball control, Ben Roethlisberger passed for just 167 yards on 23 completions and 36 attempts. The Steelers offense stalled multiple times in the Red Zone which is worrying, and some of that responsibility but not all of it falls on Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulders. But Ben Roethlisberger protected the ball, and the Steelers moved the chains. Grade: B

Running Backsteelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. browns, coaching, special teams, unsung heros
Le’Veon Bell cemented his status as the NFL’s best all around running back by massing well over 100 yards in less than a half. For the record, Bell rushed for 146 yards on 28 carries for a 5.2 yard average, and caught 8 passes for 55 yards. Fitzgerald Toussaint entered the game but did not get a carry. This was Le’Veon Bell’s show, and he carried the Steelers offense. Grade: A+

Tight Ends
Ladarius Green had two balls thrown his way but failed to come down with either of them. Jesse James had four balls thrown his way and only came up with one, including a drop in the Red Zone that the Steelers could have used. The tight ends need to do a better job of making themselves targets for Ben Roethlisberger. They didn’t do that vs. the Browns. David Johnson did throw some key blocks for Bell and caught the two point conversion, which helps this group grade. Grade: C-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown had a good day despite going up against Joe Hadyen (who was helped by the officals.) Nonetheless, Brown found a way to do his damage. The same cannot be said about the rest of his compatriots. Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton only managed to come down with six catches for 33 yards. The Steelers needed more production out of their 2 and 3 receivers, and they can’t wait for Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey to get healthy. Antonio Brown’s performance brings the group grade up, considerably. Grade: C

Offensive Line
It has been long overdue, but the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line finally managed to put together a complete game – the Cleveland Browns barely touched, let alone sacked Ben Roethlisberger while and Le’Veon Bell had gapping holes to run from. To that end, we’ll offer a special shout out for Alejandro Villanueva and David DeCastro who cleared the way for Bell on the Steelers do-or-die touchdown at the end of the second half. While it is true that the Browns defensive line doesn’t classify as world-class opposition, the Steelers offensive line did its job, and did it masterfully. Grade: A

Defensive Line
Stephon Tuitt talked about stepping out in Cam Heyward’s absence, and he backed up his words with a breakout performance that saw him register 2.5 sacks, make 3 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and hit the Browns QB’s 4 more times. Javon Hargrave also turned in a strong game, getting a sack, a tackle for a loss, a QB hit and recovering a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Daniel McCullers also defensed a pass and helped bring down a Browns rusher at behind the goal line in the Red Zone. And outstanding day for the defensive line that has been struggling. Grade: A

Linebackers

Ryan Shazier was simply all over the f ield, making 7 tackles, three of which went for losses, defending a pass, and making the strip sack that set up the game sealing touchdown. Lawrence Timmons was all over the field as well, rattling the quarterback, getting a sack and making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. We haven’t seen this form the Law Dog in a while. Arthur Moats had a sack and a half, while James Harrison simply broke the Steelers All Time sack record in a play that helped force a field goal.

Again, all evaluations must be tempered by the quality of opposition, but the Steelers were “supposed” to dominate the Browns, and they did. Grade: A

Secondary
Artie Burns got things started right by ending the Brown’s first drive with an interception. That was good, but he also blew the coverage on the play that set up the Browns only touchdown. Sean Davis barely missed on a sack, but is starting to make himself noticed on the field. Mike Mitchell and two defensed passes that should have been picks. Ross Cockrell did not get himself noticed for the wrong reasons. A solid game by the Steelers secondary. Grade: B

Special Teams
Chris Boswell went out and went 3-3 on three short-medium ranged field goals. If that fact seems insignificant, it has been a rough few weeks for the sophomore kicker. And given Browns own kicker missed an extra point in on his home field should tell you all you need to know about the kicking conditions.

Jordan Berry had some nice long punts, but his hang time was a less than you might like it. The Steelers punt return coverage units allowed a little more yardage than you’d like, but there were no breakdowns. Grade: B

Coaching
On the offensive front, Todd Haley clearly wanted to dominate time of possession, and he did. With just a little more Red Zone efficiency this game would have been a total route.

  • Keith Butler likewise bounced back from one of the worst Steelers defensive showings in decades.

Yes, the Cleveland Browns are little better than an expansion team who is playing its 3rd quarterback, but the truth is that the Steelers should have dominated this game from end to end, and they did. The fact that they turned in such a strong performance after losing their best player for the rest of the season speaks volumes of the focus and preparation of the men on the field.

Yes, the Steelers let the Browns stay in the game until far too late into the 3rd quarter. Yes, it was because of several Red Zone offensive failures and mustn’t be overlooked. Yes, the performance came against a 0-10 Browns team that could be en route to an 0-16 year.

  • None of that naysaying matters.

The type of loss the Steelers suffered at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys is the kind of loss that crushes teams. The Steelers however, did not play like a team whose spirits were defeated, and Mike Tomlin deserves credit for that.

And credit Mike Tomlin for putting his money where his mouth is, in not “Living in his fears.” The Steelers had 6 shots from the goal line with time expiring, and Mike Tomlin didn’t bat an eye, not only insisting on going for the touchdown but also in going for two. This is called coaching to win. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award
Following in the footsteps of a larger than life figure is never easy, and particularly not when you’ve done it before and been singled out as the weak link in a very bad Steelers defensive performance vs. the Miami Dolphins. His stat line says he only has 2 tackles, but he made the first one in the game, and he made it for a loss and that set the tone for things to come, and for that Ricardo Mathews is the Unsung Hero of the Steelers victory over the Browns.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Loss to the Dallas Cowboys

Taken from the gradebook of teacher who wonders just how far his once star student will slip, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

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Mike Mitchell is helpless to stop Ezekiel Elliot on his 85 yard touchdown catch as Cowboys beat the Steelers. Photo Credit: Pete Madia, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Substandard quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger was clearly at issue in 3 of the 4 losses the Steelers had coming into this game. That’s not so this week. Ben Roethlisberger hit 8 receivers, threw 3 touchdown passes and managed a patented 4th quarter comeback. Roethlisberger’s play wasn’t flawless, however, he was 0-4 on two point conversions, and went 0-3 from the 7 to start the third quarter. Pittsburgh needed a flawless performance from Roethlisberger. Instead it got “Very good.” Grade: B

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell got the ball 17 times on the ground, but only managed 54 yards, although he did punch it in in the end zone. While that stat might look like a liability, the truth is on many of those runs Bell transformed an almost certain loss into some positive yardage. He also caught nine passes, including a touchdown. Bell was the only back to get a carry, although David Johnson and Roosevelt Nix did some time at fullback. Grade: Bsteelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. cowboys, coaching, special teams, unsung heros

Tight Ends
Ladarius Green made his long awaited debut and caught 3 passes although his stretch the field speed was nowhere apparent. Xavier Grimble had on catch and another drop. David Johnson had one catch for two yards. Overall, a solid performance by the tight ends. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger had to work at it, but they managed to get the ball to Antonio Brown to the tune of 14 catches for 154 yards. Part of the reason why they were successful is that Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton stepped up, both of whom made big catches, including Rogers with a difficult touchdown catch. No one, however stepped up on the 2 point conversions attempts. In past losses, the lack of a number two WR. That wasn’t the case vs. the Cowboys. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once and only hit twice, so it must have been a pretty good day for the Steelers offensive line, right? No, this unit doesn’t get let off the hook so easily. First, the only Dallas sack came on 3rd and 3. A conversion there would have allow the Steelers a chance to establish a rhythm and get back in the tempo of the game.

  • But that was only one play.

The truth is that the run blocking of the offensive line was below the line. On too many occasions, Le’Veon Bell got hit as soon as he touched the ball. In fact, ESPN is crediting the Cowboys with 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Given that, it’s a miracle that Bell managed 3.4 yards a carry. Part of the Steelers game plan was to control the clock, which is hard to do when you running back is getting hit in the backfield. The Steelers need their offensive line to run block and pass block effectively – in the same game. This hasn’t happened in far too long. Grade: F

Defensive Line
On the positive side the Stephon Tuitt got to Dak Prescott in impressive fashion and he also logged a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and, with the two glaring exceptions, the Steelers defensive line did its part to contain Ezekiel Elliot. But any time a running back waltzs into the end zone not once, but twice untouched, the defensive line isn’t doing its job. Much less with the game on the line. Grade: F

Linebackers
Again, Anthony Chickillo started things off with a strip-sack and Ryan Shazier finished them. James Harrison should have been credited with a half sack, and looked good in run support. By all accounts Jarvis Jones whiffed his assignment on the Elliot’s final run. And aside from the two examples above, the Steelers pass rush was sparse. Grade: F

Secondary
Artie Burns continues to look like a rookie, failing to cover Dez Bryant on a critical Dallas touchdown pass. Once again, the secondary more or less watched as Ezekiel Elliot ran through them on his way to the end zone. 3 times. Sean Davis played a strong game overall, but his face mask penalty provided yet another example of the Steelers uncanny ability to self-destruct. Grade: F

Special Teams
Chris Boswell missed another 55 yarder. On the positive side, the Steelers saw signs of life from both their punt and kick return teams, as Antonio Brown and Fitzgerald Toussiant had some respectable returns. But on a critical series in the third quarter, after a Steelers drive had been stalled with a sack, Jordan Berry boomed one off, only to have it Lucky Whitehead return the it 39 yards.

  • Within 3 plays Dallas taking the lead.

These types of self destructive sequences are killing the Steelers. Grade: F

Coaching
Again, starting with the positive, Todd Haley came out with a petty strong game plan that the Steeler executed. It wasn’t quite enough to win and one cannot gloss over the fact that Mike Munchack’s offensive line cannot seem to play a complete game – a little road grading along side strong protection of the passer could have gone a long way in this game.

  • Keith Butler’s defense is a disaster.

Sure, the unit can string together a strong series or two, but it can’t be counted on to pressure the passer, and at this point it is failing to execute basic fundamentals, having gotten smoked by a running back who ran untouched for 3 touchdowns.

Clearly, some of the talent assessments that Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Butler made going into the season were wrong, but thus far Butler has failed to scheme or game plan enough to compensate for those deficiencies.

  • And then there comes Mike Tomlin.

Mike Tomlin found himself as the favorite whipping boy in Steelers Nation this morning, and not without reason. There are reports that Ben Roethlisberger met with Tomlin and expressed concern about how the team was practicing. Other players have chimed in. Then after the game, Ben Roethlisberger repeatedly insisted the Steelers needed more “Discipline and accountability.”

  • Is this the equivalent of Tom Donahoe saying “The Steelers are better than Cincinnati” and Bill Cowher saying “I can only win with the player they give me?” late in the 1999 season?

Time will tell. But the Steelers are in a slide not seen since the 5 game losing streak of 2009 and there’s no real sign that it will stop. Mike Tomlin needs to find a way to do that, quickly.

Unsung Hero
One of the biggest non-stories this season has been Ladarius Green’s absence. Ladarius Green made his debut on Sunday and looked OK, but he wasn’t the biggest most impactful tight end on the field. Ben Roethlisberger looked Jesse James way 4 times, and each time James came up with the ball, including once on an impressive 24 yard catch on what should have been the game winning drive, and for that Jesse James wins the Unsung Hero Award for the loss to the Cowboys.

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Steelers Report Card for (Latest) Road Loss to the Ravens

Taken from the Grade Book of a teacher who now assumes he grossly overestimated the talents of his students, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 21-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

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Ladarius Webb denies Antonio Brown in the end zone during Steelers 21-14 loss to Ravens. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Just looking at the numbers, Ben Roethlisberger’s 23-45-264-1-1 plus a rushing touchdown don’t look so bad. In fact, some Fantasy Football owners are probably happy. But we’re talking reality football here, and the reality is that Ben Roethlisberger looked a lot more like Mark Malone for 3 quarters than himself. He managed to make it interesting at the end, but that was little more than garbage time glory. Failing to convert third downs until the 4th quarter doesn’t cut it. Grade: F

Running Backs
So Le’Veon Bell is human after all. The Ravens stacked the line of scrimmage and gave Bell zero room to run. There were cases of Bell getting something where little was there, but he did not make enough of those plays. Bell caught 6 passes, but wasn’t as effective in the passing game (well, no one was.) DeAngelo Williams had one yard on one carry. Grade: Dsteelers, report card, grades, steelers vs. ravens, coaching, special teams, unsung heros

Tight Ends
Jesse James dropped the first pass thrown his way, and while that didn’t start any sort of chain reaction, it did set the wrong tone. James however caught to other passes, and appears to be blocking al ittle better. David Johnson had one catch for 15 yards. Xavier Grimble hand one catch for 10 yards. The Steelers tight end by committee system has been adequate, but hasn’t replaced Heath Miller’s dependability, nor added the spark that Ladarius Green was supposed to add. Grade: C

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown too, it seems is human. The Ravens kept him bottled up for most of the game. He missed a catch that was well defended, but did make another catch. Overall Brown’s play was solid, but he can’t carry the wide receiving corps on his own. Eli Rogers helped fuel the late rally and looked strong. Sammie Coates dropped a touchdown pass that could have given teeth to the Steelers comeback effort. There were times when the Roethlisberger’s passes were WAY off, yet there were other times when the Steelers receivers didn’t step up as needed. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
Any assessment of the Steelers offensive line’s effort against the Ravens must concede that, overall, Ben Roethlisberger had solid protection. And that is not a “nice to have” when you’ve got a quarterback returning from injury. Even if that does provide a “glass half full” the Steeler needed their class filled to the brim, and that means they needed to dominate the line of scrimmage, and get the running game going. They failed to do this as Le’Veon Bell has 5th lowest yardage totals of the year. 50% success from the offensive line will not cut it. Grade: F

Defensive Line
In the early going it looks like the Ravens were going to gouge the Steelers on the ground repeatedly for large chunks of yardage. But both Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward stepped it up, with the former getting one drop behind the line of scrimmage and the latter getting two with both men getting licks on the Joe Flacco. Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave split time at nose tackle helping shut down the Ravens running game. Grade: B

Linebackers
The Ravens game approaches what the Steelers brass were thinking when they invested all of those number one picks on linebackers. Lawrence Timmons led the team with 9 tackles including a pass defense on a would-be touchdown throw. James Harrison had his best game of the season, sacking Joe Flacco twice, including hitting him with one of his patented strip-sacks. He also made three more run stuffing tackles for a loss. Jarvis Jones didn’t make any “splash” plays, but he also helped contain the run. Anthony Chickillo split a sack with Shazier and was a force behind the line of scrimmage. Grade: B

Secondary
Obviously Artie Burns got burned by Mike Wallace (pun intended) and Mick Mitchell missed a tackle that he should have made. But you know what? Overall the play of the Steelers secondary was “Above the line.” Burns spent much of the day matched up against Steve Smith and the Ravens tested him, but Burns showed some scrappiness, he also netted the secondary’s first interception of the season. Ross Cockrell’s name wasn’t mentioned much, which is good – although his effort in trying to catch Mike Wallace most certainly won notice here. Ditto Robert Golden. You can never gloss over Wallace’s 95 yard touchdown, but the Ravens were 4-17 on third downs. Grade: C+

Special Teams
Shamarko Thomas looked sharp in downing an early punt at the one. And that ends the Steelers special teams highlight reel.

  • The Steelers special teams performance vs. the Ravens was an unmitigated disaster.

The Ravens had a 28 yard kickoff return and a 14 yard punt return. Hardly lethal numbers, but combined this with penalties and you have the Steelers yielding field position unnecessarily on a day when the offense was struggling.

  • Then you have the critical breakdown.

According to Dale Lolley, Ravens running back told him that Steelers gunner Sean Davis “Wasn’t paying attention to him.” He took advantage, blocked Jordan Berry’s punt, and the Ravens took it to the house effectively sealing the game. That’s disgraceful because judging solely by the numbers, the Steelers would have won without that error.

The ideal behind Chris Boswell’s on-sides kick wasn’t nearly as bad as its botched execution made it look. Still, that ugly play provides the perfect image to sum up an atrocious day of Steelers special teams play. Grade: F

Coaching
Let’s start with the positive, and there is one positive to come out of this game. Keith Butler has taken a lot of heat this season so far for the apparent regression of the Steelers defense. And so he should. The Steelers defense was hapless in Philly and got manhandled in Miami. And, while Mike Wallace’s 95 yard romp is a major flaw, the Steelers defense held the Ravens to 13 points.

  • Normally if you go on the road and hold the home team to 13 points, you’re playing winning defense.

By and large, Keith Butler’s boys were “Above the line.” Unfortunately, the rest of the team wasn’t.

Unlike the Miami game, no one can accuse Todd Haley of abandoning the run too early. Fair enough. Whether Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers finally found its rhythm or they simply enjoyed some garbage time glory, remains an academic question: The Steelers offense was absent for 3 and a half quarters.

  • This is unacceptable.

And that brings us to Mike Tomlin. On the internet there are no shortages of fans calling for his summary firing. You will see no such talk here. The Steelers don’t operate that way, and fans should be thankful for that.

But that doesn’t excuse Mike Tomlin from yet another sub-par performance against a sub-par team on the road. A pattern has formed here and it is not pretty for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have replicated this experiment too many times. As has Ben Roethlisberger.

Which shifts focus to the question as to whether he should have played or not:

Based on how he looked for 3 and a half quarters, the answer to that question is no. Mike Tomlin is not second guessing his decision to trust in his franchise quarterback over Landry Jones. Fair enough. But Tomlin is made to make the right call here.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are dangerously close to where they were in 2009, when a few bad games, injuries and “a couple of those kinds of things” snowballed into a 5 game losing streak. The current losing streak stands at 3 with the 7 and 1 Dallas Cowboys arriving at Heinz Field next week. Mike Tomlin must right the ship, and he must do it fast. Grade: F

Unsung Hero
His plays didn’t draw quite the level of attention that James Harrison’s did, but they were every bit as important and effective. Fans get down on him for being “Injury prone” but against the Ravens, he seemed to be back to full health and in fine form, making his presence known all over the field. For that, and for his half sack, 2 and half tackles behind the line of scrimmage, his quarterback hit, Ryan Shazier wins the Unsung Hero Award for the 2016 road loss to the Ravens.

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Steelers Report Card for Loss to Patriots

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who shies away from grading on effort but sometimes just can’t help himself, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Pittsburgh’s loss to the Patriots.

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Jarvis Jones’ play stood out vs. the Patriots, particularly early on. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

 

Quarterback
So, we ask to all of those Landry Jones skeptics out there, do you know understand why Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert kept him on the roster after rough preseasons in 2013 and 2014? No, Landry Jones did not make any forget he wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, Landry Jones interception cost the Steelers dearly, and no he wasn’t able to rally the Steelers late. But Jones played as a competent and generally confident quarterback, and if he couldn’t carry his team, he certainly was not a liability. Grade: B-

Running Backs
Can you imagine Le’Veon Bell playing in a fully healthy Steelers offense? Less than a year removed from a serious injury, Le’Veon Bell is once again playing the type of football that could revive the concept of a “franchise running back.” Bell carried the ball 21 times for 81 yards, often times making something out of nothing. He also caught the ball 10 times and was a threat every time he touched the pigskin. Grade: A-steelers, report card, grades, steelers vs. patriots, coaching, special teams, unsung heros

Tight Ends
Jesse James caught two passes on two targets and is not shying away from his blocking assignments, even if no one confuses him for Heath Miller. David Johnson had a catch. Xavier Grimble had 5 targets but only managed two catches on five targets. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown caught 7 passes for 106 yards despite suffering a quad injury late in the third quarter. He also ran for 13 yards on a reverse. Brown has been criticized for not making more effort on the interception in the end zone, although replays show that Malcolm Butler had pretty good positioning. Darrius Heyward-Bey had one excellent touchdown catch and another excellent touchdown catch and run that was negated by a questionable penalty. He was also penalized twice for offensive pass interference – both were questionable calls. Cobi Hamilton had 3 catches on 6 targets and if he continues to play at this level the Steelers may have difficulty putting him on the practice squad. Sammie Coates had one catch for four yards.

The Steelers wide outs made some good plays, but they didn’t make quite enough of them, evidenced in part by the fact that Landry Jones held the ball for an extremely long time at times, only to use his check off receivers. Grade: C+

Offensive Line
The Steelers offensive line’s performance against the Patriots offers a mixed bag. On the one hand, the New England Patriots hardly touched Landry Jones providing him with end-to-end excellent pass protection throughout the game. Unfortunately, their run blocking was not as consistent. At times, particularly early in the game, Le’Veon Bell had plenty of room to run. At others, Bell’s tenacity and ingenuity transformed losses into 2 or 3 yard gains. While it is probably safe to say the Steelers offensive line won the battle of scrimmage, their victory fell fall short of imposing their will, which is what was needed in this game. Grade: C

Defensive Line
Stephon Tuitt made his presence known by stopping LeGarrette Blount cold not once, but twice for no gain, but failed to make any impact plays beyond that and Blount gained most of his yards rushing in his direction. Ricardo Mathews staged somewhat of a comeback, if you can call it that, in that gave up far fewer yards than he did last week. The Steelers defense have now given up back to back 100 yard rushing performances, which unfortunately does not seem as out of character as it once did. And the Steelers defensive line failed to pressure the passer. Cameron Heyward might be out, but the Standard is not being upheld. Grade: D

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 12 tackles including one for a loss. However, he also made several tackles after seeing his man give up long gains. Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier split time although neither man set themselves apart. The same can be said for Anthony Chickillo, Arthur Moats and James Harrison, although Moats did get a hit in on Tom Brady. There were many plays when LeGarrette Blount reached the second level and hammered his way through to achieve long gains. The linebackers must bear responsibility for that. Grade: D

Secondary

Artie Burns had better develop Deion Sanders like coverage abilities, because right now he has a Deion Sanders like aversion and ability to tackle. This was not a good day for the Steelers secondary. Tom Brady was 7-12 on third down and New England had 21 first downs. The Steelers might have won the battle for time of possession, but it did not feel like it. Sean Davis was supposed to help Robert Golden on run coverage but failed to do so. It was a rookie mistake, and one that cost the Steelers. Likewise, William Gay had a shot at stopping Blount on his touchdown, but missed. The Steelers secondary must improve. Grade: D

Special Teams
The Steelers gave up one long punt return, but Steven Johnson negated that, and Greg Warren made a heads up play in recovering it that could have changed the course of the game. New England got no where on its single kick return. In contrast, Fitzgerald Toussanit and Justin Gilbert both made solid kick returns.

While those positives are real, the special teams grade must reflect Chris Boswell’s 3/5 on field goals. In all fairness to Chris Boswell, the wind was clearly a factor at Heinz Field and had he made his last kick, it would have set the record. But his first missed kick of 42 yards should have been made. Two successful kicks would have dramatically altered the game’s dynamic.

The Steelers needed a spark from their special teams, they got one with the forced fumble, but the missed kicks balance that out. Grade: C

Coaching
You do not contest a game against New England Patriots deep into the third quarter and come within 11 points of winning as short handed as the Pittsburgh Steelers were without good preparation.

Todd Haley’s game plan figured to lean heavily on Le’Veon Bell, and he did not disappoint. However, the Patriots, as expected, loaded the box, and Haley was ready to take advantage. Credit both Haley and Jones for finding a way to get Antonio Brown the ball. Mike Munchak also deserves credit for preparing his offensive line, and giving Landry Jones the time he needed to throw.

Keith Butler also deserves credit for his part in ensuring the Steelers were competitive. Yes, the Steelers defense failed to contain Rob Gronkowski when it counted. Yes, they gave up far too many rushing yards. But they also forced the Patriots to punt five times, and forced a number of three and outs.

  • At the end of the day, it wasn’t enough.

The Steelers still missed too many tackles and failed to get pressure on Brady save for the first series of the second half.

Mike Tomlin’s pregame planning and assessment was right. The Steelers couldn’t rely on Landry Jones to win the game for them, and they’re game plan reflected that. When the Steelers performed well, their focus was evident. Still, too many penalties and too many missed opportunities took their toll. To win this game, the Steelers needed to stay on edge from start to finish, and too many times they fell off that edge.

Nonetheless, the Steelers comportment on the field and their comments off of the field show a team that expected to win and believed they were capable of doing so. How many teams in a similar situation would have embraced that attitude? The Steelers did, and that is to Mike Tomlin’s credit. Grade: C

Unsung Hero Award
Early on, VERY early on, their was one player who clearly showed up with an intention of winning this game. This player showed that by forcing a fumble on the Patriots first play from scrimmage, making a beautiful tackle from behind the line of scrimmage, and by flying around all over the field. While his game wasn’t flawless, Jarvis Jones set the tone early for the Steelers and for that he wins the Unsung Hero Award.

 

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Steelers Report Card for Dolphins Debacle

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is once again concerned at the complacency with which his students address low-level tasks, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the drowning suffered at the hands of the Dolphins.

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Jarvis Landry beats the Steelers’ Artie Burns to set up the Dolphins 1st touchdown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Yes, Ben Roethlisberger played hurt, but Ben Roethlisberger was out of sync with his receivers long before he tore his meniscus. It is true he faced more pressure than he has in recent weeks, and it is also true that the receiving corps was ailing. But the Steelers couldn’t get it done when they needed to get it done, namely on third downs. Landry Jones came in for a series and threw one pass which should have been intercepted. Grade: F

Running Backs
Finger pointers will find plenty of places to point in the wake of the Dolphins loss, but the running backs won’t provide one of those targets. Le’Veon Bell started the game strong and on the carries he got immediately after Roethlisberger’s injury, looked hot enough that he might simply be able to take over the game. And that’s only counting Bell’s work on the ground, as he also was the Steelers leading receiver with six catches. DeAngelo Williams only ran 3 times but looked good. Grade: A

Tight Endssteelers, report card, grades, steelers vs. dolphins, coaching, special teams, unsung heros
That stat sheet shows that Jesse James caught 2 passes on two targets and that Xavier Grimble caught 1 pass on two targets. That’s fine, but the truth is that Jesse James continues to struggle as a blocker, as his inability to block led to a Roethlisberger sack on third down, followed by a Dolphins score. Grade: C-

Wide Receivers
Darrius Heyward-Bey authored the best play of the wide receiving corps with his 60 yard reverse. That’s nice, but receivers are supposed to catch the ball first and foremost. Antonio Brown made a couple of nice catches, but openly complained about his lack of targets. Sammie Coates played in spite of 7 stitches in his left hand, but was in effective. Eli Rogers returned, and had two catches, but also dropped a catchable ball. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t make it easy for this group, but they didn’t make it easy on him either. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice and knocked down 6 more times. Those are not pleasant numbers to see. The Steelers offensive line did a fairly strong job of run blocking during the game, but they failed to protect Ben Roethlisberger when it counted. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Just how much do the Steelers miss Cameron Heyward…. A lot. I would be unfair to scapegoat Ricardo Mathews but the Dolphins did have tremendous success running to their right. Stephon Tuitt had three tackles and a quarterback hit, but clearly failed to function as disruptive force. Daniel McCullers saw extensive playing time, but was unable to corral Ryan Tannehill when he got into the backfield, and Tannehill turned the opportunity into money. 200 yards rushing and zero pressure tells an ugly tale. Grade: F

Linebackers
Jarvis Jones almost got to the quarterback a few times early in the game, and that reminded me of Gil Brandt’s assertion that Jones 40 time represented the difference between almost getting to the quarterback and getting to him. James Harrison had a nice tackle for a loss, but was a non-factor after that. Lawrence Timmons had 5 tackles but was ineffective. Vince Williams had 6 tackles including a nice one for a loss, but had to leave the game. Tyler Matakevich actually led the team in tackles, but missed (along with others) on Jay Ajayi’s final embarrassment touchdown. Anthony Chickillo got his first start, but the Dolphins had success running his way. This unit got ZERO pressure on the quarterback. Grade: F

Secondary
The knock on Artie Burns was that he couldn’t tackle. Well, he has yet to disprove the doubters. The secondary gave up passes to 9 Dolphin receivers including long gains of 53 and 39 yards, both of which set up scores. Miami was also 50% on third down conversions, and dominated time of possession. Injuries forced Steelers coaches to mix and match members of the secondary, but none of the combinations worked. Grade: F

Special Teams
On the positive side, the Steelers managed a blocked punt. But Miami had punt returns of 15 and 13 yards. Jordan Berry saw two of his punts take a Miami bounce. The Steelers tried to return 3 kicks, but only averaged 19 yards. Like the rest of the team, the Steelers special teams couldn’t get it done. Grade: C-

Coaching
Just what the hell exactly was that supposed to be? From top to bottom, the Steelers performance against the Dolphins screams that question.

On offense, the Dolphins came into the game with the NFL’s worst rushing defense, yet Todd Haley only found a way to get the ball to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams 13 times? On a day when the Steelers were effectively limited to pairing Antinio Brown with their 4th, 5th, and 6th wide receivers? And did we mention that Ben Roethlisberger was misfiring long before he got injured?

Per Dale Lolley’s observation, the Dolphins and employed Wide-9 techniques to effectively pressure Ben Roethlisberger. But as Lolley observed, so did the Eagles. Why wasn’t the Steelers offensive line ready?

  • It is easy to second guess play calls that don’t work, but Todd Haley didn’t even appear to employ a strategy that explited the Dolphin’s weaknesses.

The defensive debacle was just as bad. It’s been 16 years since someone put up 200 yards on the Steelers defense, but people still remember Fred Taylor’s name. The lack of pressure and the inability to produce turn overs – these two factors are not unlinked – has continued to a point in the season where one wonders if the 2015 explosions in those areas were not a mirage. If the Steelers couldn’t get pressure on Ryan Tannehill, how can they hope to get on Tom Brady’s face?

Keith Butler wasn’t the one out there missing tackles left, right and everywhere in between, but Butler certainly must find a solution.

  • And that brings us to Mike Tomlin.

Following the Dolphins debacle, Mike Tomlin dutifully accepted responsibility, as he should have. The problem is this mea culpa speeches following flat performances against inferior opponents have become all too common.

Following the Steelers late December melt down against the Ravens, Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola assured readers that he’d observed the Steelers doing nothing different prior to the Ravens game. After this loss, Jim Wexell issued similar reports on his site, even assuring readers that the Steelers had had productive week of practice. So we’ll take them at their word, the Steelers aren’t doing anything before going out and laying big fat eggs against inferior opponents.

Clearly Tomlin must try something different. The experiment has been replicated too many times. Grade: F

Unsung Hero Award
Choosing an unsung hero is challenging at best after a game like this. But unlike the Eagles game, there was one player who not only did everything that was asked of him, he showed flashes that he could have put on just the dominant performance that his team needed on a day when nothing else went right. And for that, Le’Veon Bell wins the Unsung Hero Award from the Steelers drowning against the Dolphins.

 

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Win Over the Jets

Quarterback 

Ben Roethlisberger completed 34 of 47 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 8.08 yards per attempt and had a quarterback rating of 124.4, according to ESPN.com. Roethlisberger’s numbers may have been even more impressive (or at least more efficient) had young receiver Sammie Coates held on to a few more of his passes. Grade: A

Running Back 

The Jets entered Sunday’s game second in the league against the run. Fact is, the sledding was pretty tough for Le’Veon Bell, who carried 20 times for just 66 yards and averaged 3.3 yards per attempt. But where New York’s defense didn’t have an answer for the star running back was when he was catching passes out of the backfield. Bell may have only gained 66 yards on the ground, but he complemented those by adding another 88 through the air on nine catches. As for veteran DeAngelo Williams, to say his day was uneventful would be an understatement; Williams carried just one time for zero yards. Grade: B

Wide Receivers

Sammie Coates had the game of his life (six catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns–the first two of his professional career). But he also dropped three passes and possibly two others, depending on who you talk to. As for superstar Antonio Brown, it wasn’t the kind of day that’s going to lead to him being named AFC Player of the Week, but he did reel in nine passes for 78 yards and one touchdown. Fourth-year man Markus Wheaton hasn’t found his stride since returning to the lineup after sitting out early in the season with a shoulder injury and had just two catches for 19 yards. Grade: B-

Tight Ends

Much like they had been doing all season, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble got the most out of the passes thrown their way on Sunday. In the case of James, he caught six passes for 43 yards and a touchdown late in the first half. Grimble only had two catches, but one of them went for 11 yards. Grade: B-

Offensive Line

For the second week in a row, the Steelers were down a starter on the offensive line (in-fact, they were down a starter and his backup–both right tackle Marcus Gilbert and swing tackle Ryan Harris missed the Jets game with injuries), but much like a week earlier when B.J. Finney excelled in place of Ramon Foster at left guard, Chris Hubbard stepped up in a big way at right tackle, and the line didn’t miss a beat. Sure, running the ball was tough, but the Jets were weakened in the secondary, and Roethlisberger was allowed to exploit that, as he enjoyed all the time in the world. He was only sacked one time in 47 drop-backs and was barely even harassed by the Jets’ potent defensive front. Grade: A-

Defensive Line

Defensive end Cameron Heyward left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury and never returned, but rookie Javon Hargrave filled in and performed admirably. While Bell and Co. had a hard time running against the Jets defense, Matt Forte and  Co. didn’t have it much better trying to do the same against Pittsburgh’s defense. New York rushed for just 71 yards on the day. Grade: B

Linebackers

For the second week in a row, Vince Williams filled in for Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker, and for the second week in a row, Williams led the team in tackles–this time with nine (eight solo). Williams also had two quarterback hits and a sack. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones played one of his better games as a Steeler, recording three tackles, one pass defensed and two hits on the quarterback. Anthony Chickillo registered the first sack of his career, while Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats had a half a sack each. Grade: B+

Secondary

Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 25 of 38 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown. However, all but 92 of those yards came in the first half, as Pittsburgh’s pass-defense clamped down in a big way over the final two periods. Cornerback Ross Cockrell had a tough assignment trying to cover receiver Brandon Marshall all afternoon. Marshall had six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but was limited to 28 yards on two catches over the final two quarters, as Cockrell played much better down-the-stretch. Safety Mike Mitchell had another active game, totaling seven tackles (five solo), while Sean Davis had six tackles (four solo) and a pass defensed. Also, for the second week in a row, Jordan Dangerfield performed well enough at strong safety that nobody seemed to notice him. Grade: B-

Special Teams

There was the matter of that fake field goal Jordan Berry unsuccessfully executed in the first half (he was tackled well short of the sticks), but other than that, the special teams had another decent day. Speaking of Berry, he punted just three times but averaged 46.3 yards per boot and downed all three inside the 20, as New York recorded no return yards on punts.

The now frighteningly automatic Chris Boswell was dead-center on his lone field goal attempt from 47 yards away, as well as on his four extra points.

As for the return game, Antonio Brown returned two punts for 51 yards–including one for 33 yards early in the second half. Grade: B+

Coaching

After a near-flawless performance against the Chiefs a week earlier, it may have been easy for the Steelers to have a letdown against a 1-3 Jets team. However, other than a stretch in the second quarter, when New York scored 10-straight points to take a short-lived six-point lead, one never got the sense the Steelers were ever in any danger of losing. Kudos to head coach Mike Tomlin for dealing with massive injuries for the second week in a row–Eli Rogers, Marcus Gilbert, Ryan Harris, Ryan Shazier and Robert Golden were all ruled out of the game–yet having his team (especially his backups) prepared to play.

For the second-straight week, Todd Haley had to game-plan against a defense with a weakened secondary, and for the second-straight week, he exploited that weakness in a big way.

It looked like it would be a long day for Keith Butler’s defense through two quarters, but after allowing 219 yards in the first half, Pittsburgh yielded just 97 in the second. Grade: A

Unsung Hero

They say the only way anyone usually notices an offensive lineman is when he screws up. If that’s the case, Chris Hubbard (normally third-string on the depth chart) did a great job on Sunday filling in at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert and backup Ryan Harris.

 

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