Report Card For Steelers 28-24 Week 17 Victory Over Browns

Quarterback

Starting just the fifth game of his career–and doing so in 10-degree weather–backup Landry Jones had a rather nice game filling in for the inactive Ben Roethlisberger. On the day, Jones completed 23 of 27 passes for 239 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a fumble. It may have actually been a better day for Jones, had backup center B.J. Finney, starting in place of the inactive Maurkice Pouncey, not suffered a thigh injury in the first half. In his place, emergency center Chris Hubbard had a devil of a time getting accurate snaps back to Jones, which contributed heavily to limiting the offense’s–and Jones’–effectiveness in the second half. Grade: B-

Running backs

Despite being without the resting Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers running game was pretty effective, particularly recently-signed veteran Stevan Ridley, who got the start and tallied 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Fullback Roosevelt Nix was stuffed on a fourth and goal early in the game, but he more than made up for it with some effective blocks, which freed Ridley on several of his early runs. Grade: B

Wide Receivers

What more can you say about rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster? The kid is simply magical and has emerged as a key cog in the Steelers passing-game. Without the injured Antonio Brown for the second-straight week, Smith-Schuster had a Brown-esque day, catching nine passes for 143 yards and a score. As for Martavis Bryant, while not as strong a day as Smith-Schuster, he still managed to be productive, catching six passes for 65 yards. Veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey opened the scoring by racing 29 yards for a touchdown on a reverse on the game’s first offensive series. Grade: A

Tight Ends

Jesse James and Vance McDonald were mostly quiet, tallying just three passes for 14 yards between them. But that may have been a product of compensating for an offensive line that was missing two starters in David DeCastro and Pouncey, along with the backup center in Finney, who missed the entire second half with a thigh injury. James and McDonald were effective in both protecting Jones on passing downs and in opening holes for a rushing attack that posted 124 yards on the day. Grade: C

Offensive Line

Missing its top two talents in Pouncey and DeCastro, the Steelers offensive line still managed to do a decent job in both protecting Jones and in opening holes for the running backs. Matt Feiler started the first game of his career at right guard and was highlighted on one or two occasions effectively pulling in a manner that probably made the Pro Bowler DeCastro proud. Unfortunately, starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva was beaten badly for a sack that led to a Jones’ fumble, and then there were those snapping snafus by Hubbard, the emergency center. Hubbard rolled three snaps back to Jones and was errant on another that the backup quarterback had to chase down to prevent a turnover. Grade: C

Defensive Line

Starting in-place of Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu recorded two sacks, while Stephon Tuitt was his usual disruptive self, contributing 1.5 tackles for loss. The Browns running backs were only credited with 41 yards, but quarterback DeShone Kizer rushed for 61 yards, picking up several first downs on third and long. Grade: C+

Linebackers 

Rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt recorded eight tackles (including two for losses), a sack, a pass defensed and two quarterback hits. Sean Spence tallied six tackles at inside linebacker, while Vince Williams and L.J. Fort combined for two of the team’s six sacks on the day. Bud Dupree had a quiet day at the left outside linebacker spot, while Anthony Chickillo was credited with just one tackle in spot duty. Grade: B

Secondary

The Steelers were gashed for two big plays in the second quarter, one from 54 yards out, and one from 56 yards away, that contributed to the Browns first two touchdowns. Playing with Joe Haden, the secondary used the same personnel it will in the postseason, yet Kizer managed to pass for 314 yards and may have led Cleveland to its first victory of the year, had receiver Corey Coleman been able to hold on to a fourth down pass that would have set the Browns up inside Pittsburgh’s 10-yard line with less than two minutes remaining. But the secondary was opportunistic late in the game, as veteran William Gay punched the ball from the grasps of running back Duke Johnson Jr. on a screen pass early in the fourth quarter that had gone for 30 yards on third and long. And later in the final period, safety Sean Davis came up with an interception of Kizer that snuffed out another drive in a close game that would come down to the final minutes. Grade: C

Special Teams 

With the Browns punting from their own end zone in the second quarter, reserve inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich came up with another timely special teams play, as he deflected a punt, causing it to settle at the Cleveland 28. Three plays later, the Steelers scored their second touchdown of the day to go up 14-0. Matavevich wasn’t the only special teams hero on the day. Right after the Browns tied the score at 21 early in the second half, Smith-Schuster returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning score. Jordan Berry managed to down two his four punts inside the 20, while Chris Boswell converted on all four of his extra points. Grade: A

Coaching

On a day where head coach Mike Tomlin and his coordinators had to be conflicted on how to approach things, what with the Patriots needing only to defeat the Jets in-order to sew up the AFC’s top seed, it’s hard to complain about the overall performance. Yes, the defense looked exposed at  times, but  then again, it looked exposed at  times one year earlier, when Pittsburgh had to come from behind to defeat the Browns in the 2016 regular season-finale at Heinz Field. However, this didn’t continue on into the playoffs, as Pittsburgh’s defense was quite stout in recording two victories. Who knows how much of the normal game-plan was in play

Photo credit: Bostonherald.com

Sunday on both sides of the ball. And as Dupree said after the game, the defense was sort of freelancing in-order to break the team’s single-season record for sacks (it did with 56). Grade: B

Unsung hero

How about the thousands of fans who braved the 10-degree temperatures to come out and see a game that was essentially meaningless? Happy New Year!

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Steelers Backups Survive The Browns, 28-24, In Regular Season Finale

The Steelers were missing several key starters on Sunday, as they took on the hapless and winless Browns Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field in the 2017 regular season finale.

However, despite quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, receiver Antonio Brown, center Maurkice Pouncey, guard David DeCastro and defensive end Cameron Heyward sitting out Sunday’s finale, Pittsburgh prevailed, 28-24, to finish the regular season 13-3, the team’s best record since 2004.

Starting in place of Roethlisberger, fifth-year backup quarterback Landry Jones marched the Steelers offense 72 yards on a scoring drive that culminated in a touchdown run by veteran receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who scampered 29 yards on a reverse to put Pittsburgh ahead, 7-0.

While the Browns were forced to punt on their first two possessions, Pittsburgh had its next two series end on an interception by Jabrill Peppers, followed by a stop on fourth and goal, when fullback Roosevelt Nix was stymied at the goal line.

But early in the second quarter, the Steelers went ahead 14-0 on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jones to rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster

The Browns answered right back, driving 74 yards on five plays and drew within a touchdown, on a two-yard plunge by running back Duke Johnson to make it 14-7. The big play on the drive was a 54-yard pass from rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer to receiver Josh Gordon down to the Pittsburgh two-yard line.

Pittsburgh answered immediately, driving 75 yards on eight plays and re-taking a two-touchdown lead on reserve running back Stevan Ridley‘s four-yard score to make it 21-7.

It is worth noting that the drive was kept alive after Browns rookie defensive end Miles Garrett was called for roughing the passer on third and three from the nine.

Cleveland answered right back two plays later, exploiting Pittsburgh’s defense to the tune of a 56-yard touchdown pass from Kizer to receiver Rashard Higgins to make it 21-14 midway through the second quarter.

The score would remain the same at halftime, but Cleveland tied things up on its first series of the third quarter, making it 21-21, after Kizer found Higgins on a five-yard touchdown pass.

But the Steelers re-claimed the lead, when the rookie sensation Smith-Schuster took the next kickoff 96 yards to make it 28-21.

After a Zane Gonzalez 51-yard field goal drew Cleveland to within 28-24, the Browns had several chances to take the lead.

But Pittsburgh’s defense held firm down the stretch, forcing a fumble and interception on the Browns’ next two possessions.

On Cleveland’s final possession of the game, a fourth down pass intended for Corey Coleman was dropped by the wide-open receiver, deep in Pittsburgh territory, and the Steelers escaped with a 28-24 victory to improve to 13-3 on the season, while the Browns ended 2017 as the first winless team since the 2008 Lions finished 0-16.

For the day, Jones completed 23-27 passes for 239 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and Smith-Schuster pulled in nine passes for 143 yards and a score, while also contributing to the victory with the aforementioned 96-yard kickoff return.

Reserve running back Ridley carried 17 times for 80 yards and a score.

As for the Steelers defense, it set a regular season record with 56 sacks, as reserve defensive end Tyson Alualu pitched in with two of the unit’s six on the day.

Photo credit: Pro Football Focus

The Steelers enter the postseason as the AFC’s number two seed and will enjoy their first playoff bye since the 2010/11 season.

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2 Simple Words to Describe Steelers 27-24 Loss to Patriots: This Sucks

Intense. Thrilling. Captivating. Hard fought. Heartbreaking. The NFL’s most anticipated match of the year, the New England Patriots vs the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field lived up to its billing.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots played a titanic match that went down to the wire.

Unfortunately, the Steelers came up on the short end, and they did so at the cost of losing the man who should be the league MVP, possibly for the rest of the season. Two words describe the situation: This Sucks.

Jesse James, Steelers vs Patriots, Jesse James Touchdown Patriots

Jesse James touchdown that wasn’t vs Patriots. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.com

But We Never Expected “The Standard Is the Standard” to Include Brown…

Going into the game, this site noted that although the Steelers locker room has bought into Mike Tomlin’s “The Standard is the Standard,” there was no denying that injuries played a major role in recent Steelers defeats at the hands of the Patriots. And it was time to flip the script.

There are times when bloggers beg to be wrong, and this is one of them.

Four plays into the 2nd quarter Ben Roethlisberger targeted Antonio Brown in the end zone.

  • The pass fell away incomplete.
  • Brown didn’t get up after the play.
  • He couldn’t walk off the field under his own power.

This was new territory for the Steelers.

Since the Killer Bees converged in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have had to win without Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell, but never have they had to go without Antonio Brown. The Steelers entered the game without Joe Haden and obviously Ryan Shazier, but their offense was (almost) at full strength.

Not anymore. But Steelers Nation knows the drill, “The Standard is the Standard: Injuries will not be an excuse.” The rest of the 47 men on the active game day roster would not need to find something a little extra special if Pittsburgh was to have any hope of winning. And, for the much of the game they did just that.

Steelers Digging Deep and Delivering

Tom Brady knows how to score points. Tom Brady has written a manual on how to score points against the Steelers! And the game started out as so many other recent Steelers vs Patriots contests have started – with New England scoring a touchdown, and making it look easy.

  • Credit Keith Butler’s defense with not caving, not falling into the rut of past failures.

Cam Heyward started off New England’s next possession by sacking Tom Brady. On their next try, New England made it into the Red Zone, but Mike Hilton defended a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone. Sean Davis broke up another one near the goal line intended for Rob Gronkowski (with a lot of help from Stephon Tuitt who was closing in on Brady.)

On the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers showed they could slug it out. With Le’Veon Bell’s running, and short passes to Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Jesse James, the Steelers burned 8 minutes off the clock which set up this play:

If anyone had any doubt that the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to find a way to give an extra 110%, this play definitively erased that. The question was, would it be enough?

3rd Quarter Stalemate

The Steelers entered the second half with a 7-point cushion, but the Patriots answered with a methodical, 6 minute touchdown drive. They followed by forcing a punt after just five plays.

But the Steelers turned the tables on the next drive, as Javon Hargrave pressured Tom Brady into throwing just a moment too soon, which allowed Vince Williams to intercept the ball, and the Steelers only needed 5 plays to score another touchdown. Now they held a 24-16 lead.

Vince Williams, Vince Williams interception Tom Brady

Vince Williams is 1st Steeler to intercept Tom Brady since 2005. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.com

The Steelers forced another punt. Then they opened the 4th quarter with a drive that amazingly burned 7 minutes off the clock yet saw the Steelers do no more than advance 31 yards. A score here would have been a game changer, but at least the Steelers were keeping the ball out of Brady’s hands.

The Patriots got the ball back, and marched all the way down to the Steelers 21-yard line, where Bud Dupree sacked Tom Brady on third down forcing a field goal. The score was now 24-19, if only the Steelers could hold on….

Steelers Commit Cardinal Sin Against Patriots

The lion’s share of the sound and fury generated by this game will revolve around the Steelers final drive. And rightly so. But if you really want to understand where the Steeler lost this game, you need to look at the two drives that preceded this.

The Steelers got the ball back with 3:56 minutes left. New England had all of their time outs left, so at least 2 first downs were in order. There the Steelers committed their cardinal sins.

  • The Steelers played it cautious, running the ball twice and punting after 3.
  • Sean Davis got both hands on Tom Brady’s first pass, but couldn’t hold on. You NEVER give Brady a 2nd chance.
  • Brady then proceeded to connect with Ron Gronkowski on four straight plays, including a TD and 2 point conversion

If you’re going to beat the Patriots, you really have to find a way to stop Tom Brady to Ron Gronkowski. OK, that’s easy to say but hard to do, and the Steelers knew that as the drive began, but they failed.

The Greatest Comeback that Never Was

The Steelers had 52 seconds and 1 time out left to come back to either tie or win. Such last minute heroics have been a staple for the Steelers during 2017, but nothing prepared them for what came next.

JuJu Smith-Schuster took a simple slant route and while looking for the sidelines, broke free through the Patriots secondary for a 69 yard reception. Ben Roethlisberger hit Jesse James on the next play for an apparent touchdown….

…Except it wasn’t a touchdown.

The replay officials ruled that Jesse James didn’t have complete control of the ball. Was that the correct call? Honestly, it does look like their ruling was within the letter of the law, although enough neutral observers, including Tony Dungy, argue that the reversal is a gross miscarriage of justice.

  • It matters little now.

Ben Roethlisberger hit Darrius Heyward-Bey on his next throw, who failed to get out of bounds. Instead of clocking the ball and giving Chris Boswell a chance to tie the game, Ben Roethlisberger went for all the marbles. Ben tried to thread the ball in triple coverage to Eli Rogers only to have the pass deflected and intercepted by Duron Harmon.

  • Just like that, it was all over for the Steelers.

Since their 2016 Christmas win over the Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers have developed a flair for the dramatic. They’ve authored any number of 4th quarter comebacks worth of narration by John Facenda. The Patriots game was no different. The Steelers simply came out on the wrong side.

And man, it really sucks.

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Can the Steelers Win without Antonio Brown? We May Soon Find Out. Brown “Questionable” vs Bengals

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense of 2017 has seen its share of ups and downs.

We need not rehash what Steelers Nation suffered through since September in too great of detail. Everyone, including the team itself, expected the Steelers 2017 offense to dominate and it hasn’t and it didn’t, at least not until the Titans and Packers games.

Yet through it all there’s been one constant the Steelers offense has been able to count on: Antonio Brown.

Antonio Brown, Mike Tomlin, Steelers vs Bengals, Antonio Bryant questionable

Antonio Brown talks with Mike Tomlin at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: CBS Sports

Antonio Brown has been playing lights out all season for the Steelers. Yes, for a couple of three games his targets and his catches dropped, but even if JuJu Smith-Schuster did grab headlines against the Lions and Colts, Brown still made critical catches.

  • Antonio Brown has played so well this year that he’s being talked about as a serious candidate for league MVP.

That’s all good news, but as the Steelers prepare to travel to face the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday Night Football they may need to find away to remove a thorn from the tiger’s paw.

  • That’s right. Antonio Brown has missed two days of practice and is listed as questionable on the Steelers injury report heading into the Bengals game.

The Standard is the Standard. Injuries will not be an excuse. We’ve heard that before, and to Mike Tomlin’s credit, his players embrace that mentality. Fine. But the reality is that Road Roethlisberger isn’t the same quarterback as Heinz Field Big Ben, and Antonio Brown is a Hall of Fame talent that has helped make Ben Roethlisberger a better quarterback in those situations.

  • If the Steelers defense were playing at the level it had been broaching prior to Joe Haden’s injury, the Steelers offense would have a larger margin for error.

But Coty Sensabaugh and Artie Burns are both struggling, and the smart money on the Steelers has said that their playoff hopes have rested more on the offense’s ability to outscore the opponents if/until Joe Haden can reclaim his starting spot.

An Antonio Brownless Steelers team on the Bengals will certainly put that idea to the test.

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Steelers Report Card for Win over Packers: Pittsburgh’s Upper Classman Carry the Team

Taken from the grade book whose pleased to see his upper classman hit their stride but dismayed by the drop off from his under classman, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Packers.

Cameron Heyward, Cam Heyward, Jamaal Williams, Steelers vs Packers

Cameron Heyward smothers Jamaal Williams in Steelers 31-28 win over Packers @ Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.com

Quarterback
Where does Ben Roethlisberger play best? At home under the lights. It was Ben Roethlisberger’s second consecutive Prime Time game at Heinz Field and his second 4 touchdown performance. Roethlisberger’s number would have been even better had he not suffered multiple drops. While he did throw two interceptions, Ben Roethlisberger was on against the Packers. Grade: A-

Running Backs
The Packers run defense didn’t leave a lot of rushing room early on, but Le’Veon Bell was patient, and ended up just below the century mark on the ground. Moreover, Bell seems to be recovering his rappot with Roethlisberger in the short passing game, and that was a true difference maker for the 2nd straight week. Bell did fumble, which brings his grade down. Slightly. Grade: A-steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Tight Ends
Xavier Grimble caught a shovel pass to get the Steelers on the board and convert their first Red Zone opportunity. Jesse James had 3 catches but one notable drop. The blocking from this group was solid, but not spectacular. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Is there a better wide reciever in football than Antonio Brown? Good luck trying to make that case. Antonio Brown was simply spectacular the entire evening, coming up with the ball whenever the Steelers needed it. Martavis Bryant had a touchdown on a text book fade pattern and made some other drive sustaining catches. But he also had a drop and Eli Rogers had several, although he rebounded with catches later. Justin Hunter had a drop on his only target and one has to wonder if Darrius Heyward-Bey should get the nod instead of him. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
The Packers sacked Ben Roethlisberger deep in Pittsburgh territory, but the Steelers offense recovered to score a touchdown. Rushing room was sparse at times, but the Steelers offensive line eventually opened holes when they needed to be opened. Grade: B

Defensive Line
The Steelers defensive line kept the Packers running game more or less in check throughout the night, although Green Bay did get some traction early on and then again in the Red Zone. The defensive line accounted for all three sacks. Stephon Tuitt had a tackle for a loss, as did L.T. Walton who also had a critical sack. A very good night for the defensive line. Grade: B+

Linebackers
T.J. Watt had a sack on the Packer’s final possession which should have been flagged, nonetheless it was a heads up play as Brett Hundley could have done some damage with a scramble. T.J. Watt also defensed a critical pass as did Ryan Shazier who led the Steelers in tackles. Vince Williams and Bud Dupree had 4 tackles with Vince dropping one of his men behind scrimmage. Grade: B

Steelers vs Packers, Vince Williams, Jamaal Williams

Vince Williams after stuffing Green Bay running back Jamaal Williams. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.com

Secondary
The Packers threw touchdown passes for 49, 54 and 55 yards. And while the screen pass wasn’t entirely on the shoulders of the Steelers secondary, they bear responsibility for the break down. Artie Burns bit badly on a double pump, tackled poorly in many cases, and Coty Sensabaugh got burned one of the 50 plus yarders. Stats like third down conversions suddenly become irrelevant when opposing teams can count on covering half the field on any given play. Grade: F

Special Teams
The opened the game with their longest kick return of the season and Jordan Berry’s punts were sufficiently well placed and/or had enough hang time that the Packers declined to return them. Kickoff coverage was solid. Steelers missed on a an extra point, but Chris Boswell came through by kicking a Heinz Field record tying 53 yard field goal as time expired. Can’t ask for (much) more than that. Grade: A-

Coaching
It would be easy to say that the Steelers almost fell into another Tomlin trap game or that Tomlin’s comments about the Patriots and the subsequent closeness of the context indicated a lack of focus on the part of the coaching staff.

  • Both of those assumptions are almost certainly wrong.

While the Steelers offense did suffer from some execution errors, they got production out of their key starters all night, and Todd Haley’s overall game planning was solid, and his unit did score four touchdowns including 3 from inside the Red Zone as well as making a 2 point conversion.

  • The bigger and more concerning issues are on defense.

Since Joe Haden left the field injured, the Steelers have given up a 57 yard touchdown pass in every 27 and a half minutes of play.

  • Even at 9-2, this type of failure could cost  easily the Steelers the AFC North title, let alone home field advantage.

Whether the root cause of these breakdowns is the cause of scheme, execution, personnel or some combination thereof, the Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin must fix it, quickly.

Count the Steelers win against the Packers as another “closer than expected win.” But the Steelers are nonetheless finding ways to win those. And Mike Tomlin gets credit for that. Grade: C-

Cam Heyward, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Brett Hundley, Steelers vs Packers

Cam Heyward celebrates with Stephon Tuitt after sacking Brett Hundley in the Steelers win over the Packers. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.come

Unsung Hero Award
In the past we’ve metaphorically referred to him as “One Man Wrecking Crew.” But against the Packers he literally was the only member of his unit to take the field on a number of downs as the Steelers went into a 1-4-6 alignment.

  • And wouldn’t you know, on one of these occasions the player in question came up with a sack on a critical third down.

He also had another sack, and dropped 3 Packers ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage, and for that Cam Heyward is the Unsung Hero of the Steelers win over the Packers.

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Steelers Report Card for Win Over Lions – Triumph of Physicality over Fantasy Mentality

Taken from the gradebook of a teacher whose again late with his gradesheet and hopes that his students can incorporate the lessons they learned in the first semester to the second semester, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Lions in Detroit.

Le'Veon Bell, Ziggy Ansah, Steelers vs Lions, Steelers report card lions

Le’Veon Bell dives forward as Ziggy Ansah makes the tackle. Photo Credit: Krithmon Dozier, Detroit Free Press

Quarterback
After a very strong game against Cincinnati, Ben Roethlisberger took a bit of a step back as evidenced by his over thrown attempt to force the ball to Number 84 that got intercepted. But Roethlisberger didn’t always have a lot of help, as one easy touchdown pass was dropped, as was another overthrown, but still catchable ball later. But Roethlisberger kept the chains moving as the Steelers improved on third down, which was a plus. Grade: B

Running Backs
So Le’Veon Bell doesn’t automatically get 100 yards when he touches the field. One could be forgiven for concluding that after dominant performances in 3 out of the last four games. Bell didn’t quite have the offensive line push that he normally gets, and his fumble resulted in at least a six point swing. James Conner had 1 yard rushing. Still, Bell scored the only touchdown and helped move the chains when it counted. Grade: B-steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Tight Ends
Jesse James caught two passes, including a 30 plus yarder and could have caught another long one had Roethlisberger’s throw been on target. The Steelers run blocking wasn’t on par with what it has been and the fact that Vance McDonald was out probably has something to do with that. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown had 5 catches for 70 yards and while he wasn’t dominant, he did help convert key third downs. Eli Rogers dropped a gimmie in the end zone, and Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped an overthrown ball that still could have been caught. Justin Hunter has yet to do anything to distinguish himself. The real star of the game was JuJu Smith-Schuster. On a night when the Lions seemed intent on shutting down Antonio Brown, JuJu made them pay. That was true before his 97 yard touchdown, and truer after. Nonetheless, he dropped a third down conversion pass after that. Grade: B-

Offensive Line
If ESPN’s statistics are to be trusted, the Lions tackled Le’Veon Bell 5 times below the line of scrimmage. Generally, when you allow an opponent to dictate to you at the line of scrimmage like that, you lose football games. On the positive side, the line kept Ben Roethlisberger clean for much of the night. Grade: C+

Defensive Line
This is why you invest 3 premium picks and a major free agent signing in your defensive line. Both Tyson Alualu and Cam Heyward had sacks, but the star of the night was perhaps Javon Hargrave, who completely stoned Dwayne Washington on 3rd and 1 and then shoved the center into Matt Stafford on 4th and goal to set up the final pass defense. Detroit spent much of the night knocking of heaven’s door, and the defensive line made sure they did nothing more than knock. Grade: A+

Linebackers
Ryan Shazier defensed the Lions pass. Had Shazier not looked up before securing the ball, he might still be running. Beyond that, it was a quiet night for the Steelers linebackers as neither Bud Dupree nor T.J. Watt were much of a force in the pass rush in a night when Matthew Stafford had too much time to throw. Grade: B-

Sean Davis, Darren Fells, Steelers vs Lions

Sean Davis takes on Darren Fells. Photo Credit: Kirthmon Dozier, Detroit Free Press

Secondary
Normally a quarterback passing for 420 is a sign of a secondary in disarray. And to be sure, this is not something the Steelers can allow to happen with any frequency. But like the rest of the defense, the Steelers secondary excelled inside the 20, with Joe Haden, Artie Burns and Sean Davis breaking up would-be touchdown passes, while Sean Davis and Mike Hilton came up big at the goal line. Grade: B

Special Teams
Chris Boswell was a perfect 2 for 2 on field goal attempts and hit both of his extra points. Jordan Berry had a 47 yard punting average and placed two with in the 20. The Steelers didn’t return a kick or a punt, while their coverage units two punt returns for 21 yards. Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith must find a way to improve punt coverage. Grade: B-

Artie Burns, Marvin Jones Jr., Steelers vs Lions

Artie Burns breaks up a touchdown pass aimed at Marvin Jones Jr.. Photo Credit: Kirthmon Dozier, Detroit Free Press

Coaching
Some of Todd Haley’s play calling left room for head scratching – will splitting Roosevelt Nix wide keep any opposing defensive coordinators up at night? Yet that was balance by Haley getting creative at the end when one final third down was needed. Likewise, twin drops by wide open receivers in the end zone show that Haley was trying to do the right thing in the Red Zone.

Keith Butler also opened himself to criticism. Matthew Stafford entered the game as one of the most sacked if not the most sacked quarterbacks in the league, yet he probably had more time to throw than any quarterback opposing the Steelers has had all season long.

  • The decision not to use James Harrison in an obvious mismatch with Brian Mihalik also puzzles, although that might not have been Butler’s call.

With all that said, the truth is that Matthew Stafford and his recievers might have made a lot of fantasy owners happy, but telling statistic of this game is that the Lions had 17 shots at a touchdown form inside the Steelers 20 and came up with ZERO touchdowns.

  • I’d gladly yield the Lions another 100 yards of offense to get that type of Red Zone dominance from the Steelers defense.

Mike Tomlin came into the week, having to deal with yet another distraction created by Martavis Bryant, and took his team on the road into a game that they’ve typically struggled with. The Steelers weren’t perfect, but they executed each and every time the game was on the line, and that was the difference in the game.

The stories of the Steelers finding ways to lose games like this are too common, too painful and too recent. In Detroit, Mike Tomlin’s Steelers found a way to win. Grade: B

Unsung Hero Award
Purists love to argue that football is a game won in the trenches. Often times that true, but in today’s pass-happy, Fantasy/Madden ’18 infused mentality that aspect of the game sometimes gets lost.

  • Yet, physicality was the defining difference for the Steelers against Detroit.

As he has done all year long, Vince Williams helped establish the physical tone for the Steelers defense. His name show up in some of the goal line stops, but Vince Williams was there, making his presence felt and for that he wins the Unsung Hero Award for win over the Lions.

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Goal Line Stand: Steelers Red Zone Defense Delivers Pittsburgh to Victory in Detroit

Head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t invoke is “We don’t add style” points dictum in his press conference following the Steelers 20-15 win over the Detroit Lions.

Tomlin’s “We don’t add style points” is simply another variation of Bill Cowher’s “It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win.” It’s a reminder to his team, to the press and to the fans that all wins in the NFL are created equally.

The reminder is often necessary, given the number of fans who’re really to summarily fire Tomlin and/or Kevin Colbert after anything less than a double digit win.

But perhaps its fitting that Mike Tomlin didn’t use his “Style” points reminder, because given the pat the Steelers used to secure victory, perhaps a few style points are in order.

Ryan Shazier, Tyson Alualu, Matthew Stafford, Alualu Stafford Sack, Steelers vs Lions

Ryan Shazier gloats over Matthew Stafford after Tyson Alualu’s 4th down sack. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Typical Trap Game for Tomlin’s Steelers

The Steelers went to Detroit as favorites which should have served as a warning sign. Mike Tomlin teams get too often tripped up by trap games. Following to uninspiring wins and 2 ugly losses, plus a strong win against the Ravens, Tomin’s Steelers had won hard fought contests over the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

They took a 5-2 record to Detroit against a 3-3 Lions team coming off a bye week with a penchant for coming back and winning games late. So just how dangerous was this game for the Steelers? Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell put it into perspective:

Classic flat(ulence) spot for the Steelers, who are 0-5 under Mike Tomlin when traveling to an NFC team after two AFC wins that include a divisional win.

In other words, Pittsburgh has historically found ways to lose games like this.And at any number of moments during the evening, the Steelers seemed set on following the script:

  • Eli Rogers dropped a gimmie touchdown in the end zone
  • Le’Veon Bell fumbled the ball away inside the Red Zone, taking at least 3 points off the off the board
  • Bell’s fumble also allowed the Lions to kick a field goal
  • Ben Roethlisberger overthrew Darrius Heyward-Bey in the end zone who nonetheless probably could have
  • The Steelers offensive line failed to dominate the line of scrimmage, allowing to Detroit to tackle Bell for a loss 5 times

The bullet points above add up to a net 14 point swing in Detroit’s favor and a lot of 3rd and long situations. Normally, those types of numbers come back to you on the score board when the clock reaches zero.

  • But, if 8 games into the season the Steelers offense still lacks the potency everyone expected it to demonstrate, it nonetheless showed resiliency.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Glover Quin, Steelers vs. Lions

JuJu Smith-Schuster burns Glover Quin. Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski, AP via Penn-Live

Antonio Brown didn’t make many fantasy owners happy, but he did convert third downs when it counted. Jesse James came up with a couple of key receptions, albeit on drives that ended in turnovers. Le’Veon Bell moved the chains late in the game, and with Martavis Bryant on the bench, JuJu Smith-Schuster served notice to defensive coordinators that the Steelers can make them pay by doubling and tripling Brown.

The efforts of the Steelers offense and particularly the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster as a real threat were necessary for victory. But they weren’t the story of the game, and that isn’t the reason why style points should be awarded.

Steelers Goal Line Stands Against Lions Define Game

In days of old when knights were bold and you wanted to protect your gold you surrounded it with a stone wall. If someone wanted to take that gold, they had to either scale the wall with hooks or ladders while dodging slings and arrow. When that failed, your only other choice was to force your way in.

  • The days of battering rams, draw bridges and flaming pitch are no more. But perhaps football gives us their modern day equivalent – the goal line stand.

It says here that Keith Butler didn’t enter the game intending to spot Matthew Stafford over 400 yards of passing.

Joe Haden, Marvin Jones, Steelers vs Lions

Joe Haden breaks up a pass for Marvin Jones in the end zone. Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports via Steel City Insider

But an on looker from Mars might be forgiving for assuming that Butler’s plan was to yield the first 80 yards of the field, only to break the Lion’s will inside the 20. Because that’s just what the Steelers defense did.

  • Excluding field goal attempts, the Detroit Lions ran 17 plays from inside the Steelers 20 including 9 from inside the 10.

Each time Keith Butler’s defenders responded with a definitive “You Shall Not Pass!”

  • Joe Haden and Artie Burns both broke up would-be touchdown passes in the end zone
  • Sean Davis went toe-to-toe with 6’7” 270 lbs tight end Darren Fells and ripped a touchdown from his hands
  • Sean Davis returned on another drive to make two touchdown-saving tackles at the goal line
  • Mike Hilton and Ryan Shazier both defended away passes and both stuffed runners at the line of scrimmage
  • Tyson Alualu stepped up and sacked Stafford who tried to run for it on 4th down
  • On the prior play, Javon Hargrave simply ate Dwayne Washington alive

Looking at the play, it’s difficult to determine which is more impressive, Hargave’s play or the look of utter disbelief on Jim Cadwell’s face.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, that’s why they call Javon Hargrave “The Grave Digger.”

Style Points for Steelers Defense in Order

If you give even an average NFL team 17 shots at the end zone from inside their own 20 – at home – and they’re going to come away with a couple of three touchdowns.

  • The Steelers defense didn’t yield a single touchdown.

The NFL won’t award any extra style points for Pittsburgh’s defensive performance in Detroit, but perhaps it should. Against the Chiefs and then the Bengals, the Steelers defense put in stealer 1st and 2nd half efforts.

  • Against the Detroit Lions the Steelers defense went into bend but don’t yield a single blade of grass mode in the Red Zone.

While you never want to see an opponent march down the field with video-game like efficiency, getting tough inside the 20 is perhaps the greatest defensive asset a football team can possess. Against the Detroit Lions the Steelers defense proved it can deliver in the Red Zone.

At the end of the day, the NFL won’t award any style points for that, but shut down ability in the end zone is a priceless commodity that could prove to be priceless to Pittsburgh down the stretch.

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Steelers Report Card for the Win over the Bengals – A’s for Defensive Excellence

Taken from the gradebook of a teacher who has a note from his mother excusing his middle of the week absences from sickness here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Bengals at Heinz Field.

T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Cam Heyward, Andy Dalton, Steelers vs Bengals

T.J. Watt jumps for joy after sacking Andy Dalton as Cam Hewyard looks on. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn-Live

Quarterback
This was Ben Roethlisberger’s best game of the season thus far, as Roethlisberger led the Steelers to two touchdown drives, managed to work an number of receivers into the passing game and did not turn over the ball. Big Ben’s day could have been even better had two potential touchdown not been dropped. Still, the Steelers struggled on third downs, and Roethlisberger must bear partial responsibility. Grade: B

Running Backs
Is there any doubt that Le’Veon Bell is back into form? Le’Veon Bell attacked the NFL’s number 2 rushing defense head on, and fought his way to 134 yards on 34 carries. He also made noise in the running game with a brilliant stiff arm of Dre Kirkpatrick. James Conner carried 3 times for 19 yards, while Terrell Watson carried once for no gain. Roosevelt Nix paved the way. Grade: Asteelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Tight Ends
Vance McDonald made two catches, including an impressive 28 yard catch. He also dropped a gimmie on the end zone. Overall however, his blocking was a key element to Bell’s success. Xavier Grimble also had one catch for 1 yards and blocked well when McDonald left via injury. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
The Bengals have had a lot of success in containing Antonio Brown, but Brown did his damage in the first half with 4 catches for 65 yards including a touchdown. Still, the William Jackson put Steelers Nation on notice that AFC North as a corner that can go toe-to-toe with Brown.

JuJu Smith-Schuster had two catches for 39 yards including a touchdown. Eli Rogers reminded everyone why he’s still on the roster, while Martavis Bryant got everyone to ask “Just WHAT is he complaining about again?” Finally, Darrius Heyward-Bey caught what might have been the most important catch of the game on a fake field goal. Grade: B

Offensive Line
IF ESPN’s statistics are to be trusted, the Bengals only touched Ben Roethlisberger once. And while the offensive line wasn’t busying keeping Roethlisberger clean it was opening holes for Le’Veon Bell thanks to David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey’s pulling. This until established control at the line of scrimmage early on and never looked back. Grade: A

Defensive Line
Its some how fitting that Cam Heyward opened the Bengals final series with a sack, as the defensive line dominated the Bengals front seven from Cincinnati’s final possession of the first half onward. In addition to his sack, Heyward had two tackles for losses, and stopped several other Bengals for no gain. Perhaps most satisfying, late in the second quarter Heyward began punctuating his tackles with an extra backwards slam, and it was all down hill for Cincinnati after that.

Take out Joe Mixon’s 25 yard scamper, and the Steelers held the Bengals running backs to 2.8 yards rushing. That all starts up front. Grade: A-

Linebackers
Vince Williams had two tackles. Anthony Chickillo had a key pass defense. Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt both had sacks, while Ryan Shazier lead the team in tackles including one for a loss and was last seen chasing Andy Dalton in the backfield as the beleaguered Bengals signal caller opted to simply throw it away on 4th and two. A fine day by the linebackers. Grade: A-

Joe Haden, Joe Haden 1st Steelers interception, Joe Haden intercepts Andy Dalton

Joe Haden after intercepting an Andy Dalton pass intended for A.J. Green. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn-Live

Secondary
Andy Dalton passed for 140 yards and the Bengals only managed 19 yards of total offense in the second half despite playing from behind the entire time. Oh, and Cincinnati finished 3-11 on third down conversions. Oh, and A.J. Green was held to 3 catches for 31 yards or 1 grab less than the Steelers secondary as Joe Haden and William Gay nabbed their first interceptions of the season. Grade: A

Special Teams
Chris Boswell boots it well against the Bengals, as he knocked in 5 field goals, including one from 41 yards away and another from 49 away. The Bengals did have one long punt return, which is the second week in a row the Steelers have allowed one.

The biggest play of course came on the hands of Robert Golden who connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey for the fake. That was a gutsy and risky call, but the Steelers executed it and it ended the game. Grade: B+

Coaching
Todd Haley did his homework on this one, expertly mixing the pass and the run to get the Steelers on the board early with touchdowns, and then controlling the clock after that – all against the NFL’s number 2 rush defense.

  • Still, the Steelers Red Zone and third down performance need to improve.

Objectivity commands us to remind ourselves and everyone else that the ease with which the Bengals scored their first two touchdowns was al little disquieting. You can be forgiven if you forgot because from the Bengals final drive of the first half onward, the Steelers defense dominated as thoroughly as any unit fielded by Bud Carson, George Perles, Dom Capers or Dick LeBeau ever fielded.

  • Keith Butler’s defense was that good against the Bengals in the games final 32 minutes.

Cincinnati didn’t have a chance, and Andy Dalton’s final throw away on 4th and 2 in the 4th quarter perfectly symbolized the Bengals haplessness.

Mike Tomlin’s teams are sometimes prone to let down, and this was a possibility after a big win over the Kansas City Chiefs coupled with a Bengals team bringing a 2 game winning streak into Heinz Field on the heels of a bye week. But Mike Tomlin kept his team focused. And if his offense needs to improve in situational football and he does need to take care not to overwork his feature back, his Steelers put in a pretty good afternoon against the Bengals. Grade: B

Mike Tomlin, Steelers vs Bengals

Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin during the 2017 win over the Bengals at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn-Live

Unsung Hero Award
A year ago after the Steelers loss at Miami commentators trotted out various statistics of the Steelers records with Cam Heyward and without Stephon Tuitt in the lineup together.

  • Now to be fair to the rest of Johnny Mitchell’s pupils, the Steelers defensive line righted that ship after Cam Heyward’s season ending injury.

But for as well as L.T. Walton, Ricardo Mathews and John Maxey might have played in Heyward’s absence, the Steelers brass went out and signed someone who could be a true 3rd defensive end in the rotation, and his name is Tyson Alualu and it was his playmaking as much as anyone else’s that lead to the defensive turn around and for that Tyson Alualu wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over the Bengals.

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Steelers Bludgeon Bengals 29-15, as Defense Delivers 2nd Half Knockout

The Cincinnati Bengals arrived at Heinz Field fresh off a bye week and on a 2 game winning streak intent serving notice to the Steel City that Queen City would not allow the AFC Crown to fall into Steelers hands uncontested.

  • The record shows that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh opened the game by exchanging a pair of hard body blows.

But when the dust settled, the Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed, to the tune of a 29-14 victory. And what made the win impressive was the 2nd half defensive knockout delivered by the Steelers defense.

Roosevelt Nix, Roosevelt Nix blocks, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Bengals, Rosie Nix

Rosie Nix renders Bengals defenders in Le’Veon Bell’s way as road kill. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla

Steelers-Bengals Toe-to-Toe For Just Shy of Two Quarters

In is no secret that the Steelers offense has failed to live up to expectations this season. What fans envisioned as the NFL offensive equivalent of the Death Star has resembled the type of offense that we could have expected Ron Erhardt, Bill Cowher’s first offensive coordinator, to field.

And perhaps the Ron Erhardt metaphor is an apt one for the Steelers offensive effort vs. the Bengals. When asked to explain his philosophy to Bill Cowher, Ernhardt’s words were simple:

  • Throw to score, run to win.

That’s exactly what the Steelers did at Heinz Field on this October day against the Bengals. The Steelers opened the game with a steady diet of Ben Roethlisberger handing off to Le’Veon Bell and throwing to Antonio Brown, and scored a touchdown on their opening drive, as Roethlisberger connected with Brown for a seven yard score.

After the Steelers and Bengals traded punts, Cincinnati got on the board with a efficient, if a little too easy looking, drive to tie the score.

  • The Steelers offense offered a new answer that we haven’t seen yet this season.

While Le’Veon Bell carried the ball for one yard, the rest of the yardage on the drive came in the form of passes to Eli Rogers, Vance McDonald and JuJu Smith-Schulster, who scored from 31 yards out. Unfortunately, that was the last time the Steelers offense would see the end zone during the afternoon. To be sure, Todd Haley’s crew provided some fireworks, perhaps most noticeably in the form of Le’Veon Bell’s 42 yard catch and run:

But the Bengals answered the Steelers touchdown with one of their own, and the Steelers could only managed a field goal in response, although the Todd Haley’s crew does deserve credit for moving 71 yards in 1:28 even if they did stall in the Red Zone to give Pittsburgh a 6 point advantage going into the half.

Special Teams Interlude

The Steelers special teams have run hot and cold this season, making a few big plays which contributed to Pittsburgh’s wins over Cleveland and Minnesota, while committing costly errors against Chicago and Kansas City.

  • Against the Bengals, Chris Boswell was a perfect 5-5 including a pair of 41 and 49 yarders – which are not gimmies at Heinz Field.

But the biggest play of the game came from the punt unit, and it didn’t involve Jordan Berry, but rather upback Robert Golden and Darrius Heyward-Bey who hooked up for a 44 yard catch on 4th and 7. Fake punts are, by definition, do or die plays, and a failure there would have opened the door wide open to a Bengals last ditch comeback.

But the pair succeeded, and gave the offense a chance to burn more time off the clock and ended with Chris Boswell knocking in his 5th.

Steelers Defense Bludgeons Bengals

As noted previously on this site, commentators both inside and outside Pittsburgh have twice sought to elevate Keith Butler’s defense to elite status, only to see the Steelers defense give up yards in gobs on the ground against Chicago and then against Jacksonville.

  • Last week, against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers defense turned out almost excellent performance against what had been the NFL’s top offense.

So, when Cincinnati marched down the field and appeared ready to match the Steelers touchdown for touchdown, Steelers Nation’s collective sign of “Oh, boy here we go again. Everyone spoke too soon” was understandable.

But the Steelers closed the 1st half by limiting the Bengals to a one yard Andy Dalton scramble, things seemed to be heading in the right direction.

  • Oh, if ever there was a first half close that signaled a second half turn around, this was it.

The Steelers forced a three and out to begin the second half, and ended the Bengals second possession with a Joe Hayden interception. The Bengals next possession ended like this:

  • Sean Davis deflects a pass that William Gay intercepts
  • T.J. Watt sacks Andy Dalton on third down
  • Dalton opens his next possession with a sack by Tyson Alualu, closes with a sack by Bud Dupree
  • Dalton fails to convert a 4th and 2 by under throwing A.J. Green

When it was all tallied up, the Steelers held the Bengals to a total if 19 yards of offense in the 2nd half.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, as a franchise, has undoubtedly had stronger halves in its history. It’s possible that one of those even came in the Tomlin era, during the 2010 win at Tennessee. But the work of Keith Butler’s defense against the Bengals at Heinz Field must rank up there with the great single half performances of Steelers defenses.

2017 Steelers a Work in Progress, but Making Progress

Mike Tomlin began the year by cautioning everyone that the 2017 Steelers were a work in progress. And thus far his team has vindicated him. The Steelers sputtered, surged and stuttered their way through the season’s first five games.

  • Last week, the Steelers appeared to a step forward against the Kansas City Chiefs.

This week against the Bengals, the Steelers sustained that first step and then took another one forward. To transform itself into a true contender, the Steelers offense will need to do more than rely on Chris Boswell’s leg for entire halves of games.

But against the Bengals that was enough, as the Steelers offense delivered the body blows, while the defense landed a series of 2nd half knockout punches.

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Speak Out Steelers Nation – Vote Steelers Bengals Game Ball Winners

Its time once again to speak out Steelers Nation. The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted AFC North Rival the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Ben in Black and Gold walked away with a 29-14 victory, which brings them to 5-2 on the season and perhaps more importantly, 3-0 in the AFC North.

Antonio Brown, Darqueze Dennard, Steelers vs Bengals

Antonio Brown smokes Darqueze Dennard for a touchdown in the 1st quarter of the Steelers win over the Bengals. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

As we always do after a Steelers victory, we invite you, the citizens of Steelers Nation to vote game ball winners for those who stood out during Pittsburgh’s. Here’s a look at this week’s ballot:

Steelers vs Bengals, Steelers Game ball winners Bengals

Ben Roethlisberger played what was perhaps his best game of the season, and Number 7 was particularly sharp in the first half, leading the Steelers to two touchdown drives on its first two possession, and adding a field goal drive inside the two minute warning.

  • Antonio Brown was Roethlisberger’s favorite target, having caught 4 passes for 65 yards including the Steelers first touchdown.

Le’Veon Bell earns a slot on this week’s ballot, thanks to his 135 yard performance in a game that saw Bell touch  the ball 35 times on the ground and 3 times through the air, including a 42 yard catch and run. David DeCastro also had an exemplary day, leading the way for Bell on run after run.

Their exploits need no introduction as Golden and Darrius Heyward-Bey hooked up on a key 4th quarter fake punt, while Boswell booted in 5 field goals to give the Steelers their margin of victory.

For as potent as the offense was in the early going, the Steelers defense stole the show in the second half, allowing Andy Dalton and the Bengals 19 yards from scrimmage. T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree and Tyson Alualu all sacked Andy Dalton, earning them ballot slots. Joe Hayden and William Gay also had interceptions, which secures their position on the ballot.

  • But remember, you my beloved reader, are the ultimate arbiter of who makes the ballot?

Think that JuJu Smith-Schuster,  deserves a game ball? Write his name in? Feel that Sean Davis or Anthony Chickillo deserve nods? Again, write their names in, or better yet write their names in and leave a comment stating your case.

Thanks in advance for voting, and be sure to check back for Steel Curtain Rising’s full game analysis of the Steelers 2017 Heinz Field win over the Bengals.

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