Steelers Bears “Blame Ball” Poll

Well, it was another trip to Solider Field for the Steelers, and another loss. The Pittsburgh Steelers history against the Chicago Bears shows that the franchise has struggled in the Windy City, and their 14 visit there was no exception as the Steelers lost 23-17 in overtime.

Mike Mitchell, Jordan Howard, Joe Hayden, Steelers vs Bears, Steelers vs Bears overtime

Mike Mitchell can’t stop Jordan Howard as he smokes the Steelers in overtime. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Alas, after a substandard effort like that in so many different parts of the team, we cannot in good conscious put up a “Game Ball” poll, so instead we’re launching a “Blame Ball” poll:

Which Steelers most deserve blame for the Bear's loss? (Multiple Votes allowed)

As you can see, only Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell are the only two individuals to share the dishonor of having ballot mentions.

  • However, please do not mistake that for a scapegoat of either man.

That’s because blame can be spread far and wide on this one, as this Bob Pompeani tweet summarized.

The Chicago Bears gave the Atlanta Falcons a run for their money early in the year, so perhaps this shouldn’t be considered a “Trap game.” Still, as the Tribune Review’s Joe Rutter pointed out, the Steelers have struggled mightly on the road in September, and this game proved the rule.

  • Frankly, blame for that falls squarely on the shoulders of Mike Tomlin, although both Todd Haley and Keith Butler‘s units performed piss poorly.

Danny Smith’s special teams, after being heroes in weeks 1 and 2, caused a costly mistake that resulted in a 6 point swing. Vance McDonald made a heads up play, but if Jordan Berry just lands on the ball, its a safety and the Steelers are ahead by one at game’s close.

  • And then there’s Eli Rogers muffed punt that set up Chicago’s first touchdown.

The stat sheet indicates that Ben Roethlisberger had a decent game, but he also had at least 3 passes that could have been picked off, and couldn’t get the ball to his receivers when he needed to, especially on 3rd Downs. Antonio Brown had a solid game, but that cannot be said for the rest of his wide receiving corps.

Martavis Bryant had 8 targets and only 6 catches. To be sure, some of those were not well thrown balls and/or balls that Ben Roethlisberger looked like he was forcing, but he still should have had the first bomb thrown his way, even if it was a little overthrown.

And while Le’Veon Bell didn’t necessarily have a “bad day” he’s still far, far short of the Hall of Fame level performances that characterized his play in almost every single game last year. All of that blame is not due to him, as his offensive line’s run blocking hasn’t been consistent.

  • On defense, it is hard to know where to point the finger, because the Chicago Bears ran all over the Steelers.

Ryan Shazier had a good day stastically, but it seemed like each and every defender failed to bring his man down on first contact. No matter how you slice it, the Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu, Bud Dupree, Vince Williams, Shazier and Anthony Chickillo utterly failed to stop Chicago’s running game when it counted.

The Bears won despite completing only one pass to wide receivers, so perhaps the Steelers secondary can avoid blame, but we’ll leave that for you the readers to decide.

As always, write in votes are not only allowed, but encouraged. Thanks in advance for taking time out to vote, and please check back for our full analysis of the Steelers latest loss to the Bears in Chicago.

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Steelers Report Card for Vikings Win – The Yin & Yang of Under and Over Achievement

Taken from the gradebook of a teacher struggling to understand the yin-yangish overachievement-underachievement dynamic of his new class here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2017 home opening win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Steelers vs Vikings, Tyler Matekevich, Steelers stop fake punt,

Tyler Matakevich stops a fake punt attempt to Blake Bell during the Steelers win over the Vikings. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger struggled to find rhythm early as evidenced by the Steelers 4 first half punts, although he did throw two touchdown passes and made a vertical strike downfield. On the day, Ben Roethlisberger 23 of 35 for 243 no interceptions and no sacks. He threw a few questionable passes, but none had any negative consequences. Grade: Bsteelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Running Back
Tony Defeo authored this site’s admonishment not to fret over Le’Veon Bell’s hold out, and we stand by that. But Bell’s ineffectiveness as both a running and a pass catcher makes it hard to not think that a little more bit of practice in July and August would have made for a little more of “perfect” in August. Le’Veon Bell improved against the Browns and appeared to run stronger as the game continued but he’s nowhere near his ’16 level. James Conner had one carry for 9 yards. Grade: C

Tight Ends
Xavier Grimble had one pass thrown to him that was caught but negated by a penalty. Jesse James got the starting nod, and was in sync with Roethlisberger early on catching four balls on 5 targets. However, Jesse James appeared to struggle as a blocker at times. He must improve there. Grade: C+

Wide Receivers
Has Mike Zimmer unlocked the key to shutting down Antonio Brown? That’s probably going to far, but it did take several quarters for Antonio Brown to get in a grove, although he did draw a key pass interference penalty. As did Martavis Bryant, who made the Vikings pay for progress towards shutting Brown down with a touchdown and a 51 yard field flipping play that set up another. JuJu Smith-Schuster made 3 catches, threw a key block, although he had 3 penalties called on him. Eli Rogers helped keep drives alive in the second half. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
While they might not be the Purple People Eaters, the Vikings have a strong front seven and the Steelers offensive line did an adequate job of giving Ben Roethlisberger protection, although pass protection did break down on a number of occasions. Two weeks into the season, their run blocking is remains below par. The Steelers have invested the salary cap space in their offensive line to get road grading quality run blocking, and that is not happening. Grade: C-

Cameron Heyward, Cam Heyward, Steelers vs Vikings, Steelers 2017 home opener, Case Keenum

Cam Heyward pressures Case Keenum in the Steelers 2017 home opening win over the Vikings. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Defensive Line
Can you imagine how good the defensive line would have been last year had Cam Heyward not gotten hurt. Against the Vikings, Heyward acted as a one man wrecking crew. His stats might appear modest, but he disrupted and/or stopped cold everything Minnesota tried to do. His counterparts also also had quiet days on the stat sheet, but don’t be fooled, this unit played well. Grade: B+

Linebackers
T.J. Watt didn’t have a sack, but did end a drive with a batted down pass. In contrast, Bud Dupree had also batted down a pass and did register a sack, as did Vince Williams later in the game. T.J. Watt couldn’t finish the game due to a groin injury, but Anthony Chickillo stepped in and the Steelers didn’t miss a beat. Ryan Shazier led the linebackers in tackles, and defensed a pass. Grade: B+

Secondary
Artie Burns made a heads up play behind the line of scrimmage, showing just how fast he’s developing. Mike Hilton led the team in tackles and got a lick in on the quarterback. Sean Davis was second on the team in tackles, but has been figured as the one who lost containment on the Minnesota’s long run. You didn’t hear Joe Hayden’s name much and that’s good for a corner often. Grade: B+

Special Teams
Specials teams isn’t the difference maker it once was. The extra point has become so rote that the NFL had to change the rules. They’re doing the same on kick returns. But if that’s the case, the truth is that a big special teams play can dramatically shift the momentum of a game.

A week ago Tyler Matakevich caused a big special teams play with a blocked punt, and against the Vikings he prevented another by stopping a fake punt.

While Chris Boswell was perfect as a punter, and Jordan Berry was solid, the coverage units did allow longer than you’d like returns (although they did down a punt at the Vikings on). Eli Rogers likewise attempted to field a punt he needed to fair catch, and JuJu Smith-Schuster returned one kick he probably should have downed. Grade: B-

Mike Tomlin,

Steelers head coach Mike Tomiln. Photo Credit: CBS Sports

Coaching
While it is true that Keith Butler’s defense really hasn’t been tested by a marquee offense yet, that doesn’t change the fact that his unit still had a strong outing. It true that Minnesota did have one touchdown drive that looked easier than it should, but the Steelers defense got off the field on third down, harassed the quarterback and shut down the run.

  • If Todd Haley’s game plan was easier to understand in week two, his unit’s execution remains uneven.

Early in the game, the Steelers offense couldn’t sustain drives and seemingly needed two long pass interference plays to set up touchdowns. In the second half, the Steelers found more rhythm but had to settle for four field goals. Le’Veon Bell and the offensive line do not appear to be on the same page.

In his post-game press conference, Mike Tomlin seemed to acknowledge that the Steelers remain a work in progress, something which he has been saying since the summer. You can argue that this shouldn’t be the case for a team that finished one game short of the Super Bowl, but credit the coach for understanding where his team is, and ensuring that his player execute sufficiently well to win. Grade: C+

Unsung Hero Award
For ten years Steelers Nation got accustomed to seeing number 94 as one of those defenders who would always appear in same camera frame as the ball. That number of course belonged to Lawrence Timmons who acted as a force for stability and consistency during his tenure in Pittsburgh.

  • Timmons has of course moved on, and now there’s a new number 94.

Tyson Alualu now wears number 94 and it was plenty visible on Sunday afternoon, as Alualu played well enough Stephon Tuitt’s absence wasn’t really felt. Mike Tomlin preaches that “The Standard is the Standard” and that the “Next Man Up” should be capable of a winning performance. Tyson Alualu breathed life into his coach’s credo, and that’s why he’s the Unsung Hero of the Steelers win over the Vikings.

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Steelers Report Card for Road Win over Browns – “Above the Line, But Below Par”

Taken from the gradebook of a teacher who couldn’t watch the game live on Sunday, and then spent much of Monday stranded in Montevideo, Uruguay thanks to storms over the Rio de la Plata, here is the Steelers Report Card for the 2017 road opener against the Browns.

Antonio Brown, Steelers vs Browns, Steelers 2017 season opener, Joe Schobert

Antonio Brown 4th quarter jump ball catch sealed the game 2017 opener for the Steelers. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger’s 24 of 36 for 263 yards with two touchdowns and one interception to give him a solid statistical start on his first action of the 2017 season. And to be fair, there are a couple of three occasions where Ben Roethlisberger threaded the needle in ways that only he can do. But if his only interception came on a ball that was tipped, he also threw at least two if not three passes that should have been intercepted but were not. While Big Ben had a good day against the Browns, he did look like a starting quarterback who’d only played one series in August. Grade: Bsteelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Running Backs
In a preemptive attempt to help his running backs, Mike Tomlin argued that penalties prevented the Steelers from establishing their running game. There’s some truth to that. It’s also true on the offensive line’s run blocking was left wanting on more than one occasion. But much of 3 quarters, Le’Veon Bell looked nothing like a back who has earned the right about being forced to play for 12 million dollars. To his credit, Bell delivered when his efforts were most needed late in the game. But he had a subpar afternoon, by any standard. James Conner also struggled. Grade: C-

Tight Ends
Vance who? The Steelers turned heads in late August by trading for Vance McDonald, with Mike Tomlin citing the need for a “Varsity” tight end. Vance McDonald dropped the one pass thrown his way, and was clearly upstaged in the passing game by Jesse James, who caught two touchdown passes in addition to four others for 41 yards. ON the flip side, there did appear to be some issues with James blocking. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
5 summers ago a young wide receiver who was burning through Steelers records faster than he was burning defensive backs asked the Steelers to make him the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver. Kevin Colbert said no thanks, and gave his contract to a man that they would later make the NFL’s NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver.

Against the Cleveland Browns, Antonio Brown again vindicated the faith the Steelers have shown in him. On an afternoon where the vaunted Steelers offense sputtering, Antonio Brown kicked into high gear, and was almost single handedly responsible setting up the Steelers first two scores as he was for killing to clock in overtime.

  • And let the record reflect that Antonio Brown bailed Ben Roethlisberger out late in the game in a ball that begged to be intercepted.

Martavis Bryant’s ballyhooed return to the gridiron consisted of 2 catches for 14 yards and a couple of drops. It might not be Bryant’s fault, but he never threatened to stretch the field. Eli Rogers caught two passes for 11 yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster had zero catches but multiple holding penalties. Grade: A-

Offensive Line
The Steelers have invested a lot in their offensive line and the unit it proved itself both in terms of pass protection and road grading run blocking during the latter half of 2016. The team doubled down by extending Alejandro Villanueva’s contract this summer. In terms of pass blocking, the unit did well, as Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once, only hit another time, and needed very little fancy footwork to keep plays alive. The same cannot be said for the run blocking. While the sample size was small, Bell and Connor had difficulty finding day light. Fortunately, the Steelers were able to run the ball when they needed to kill the clock, but it shouldn’t have taken 4 quarters. Grade: B-

Defensive Line
How good was the Steelers defensive line against Cleveland? Well, I watched the game on tape delay furiously fast forwarding between downs, and didn’t even realize that Stephon Tuitt was out of the lineup until the 4th quarter. While Tuitt made his presence known in just two plays, Tyson Alualu, Javon Hargrave and Cam Heyward more than made up for his absence, with Heyward and Hargrave registering sacks, Alualu leading the group with five tackles, and all three men registering tackles for losses. At the end of the day, Cleveland rushed the ball 25 times and barley got more than 50 yards. Grade: A

T.J. Watt, T.J. Watt rookie debut, Steelers vs Browns, DeShone Kizer

T.J. Watt had two sacks & an interception in his rookie debut. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Linebackers
All T.J. Watt did in in his professional debut was lead the Steelers defense in tackles, register two sacks, and atone for a foolish personal foul by intercepting a pass…. Ryan Shazier was close behind, with 7 tackles and a quarterback hit. Starting in place of Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo got two sacks, hit the quarterback two other times, and dropped two Cleveland ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. Vince Williams had 5 tackles. The Steelers linebacking stat sheet is helped by the work of the defensive line, but the only thing that forces the minus on this grade is the penalties. Grade: A

Secondary
Joe Haden had a homecoming an then some, winning his first home opener in 7 years, while recording a sack and defending a pass. William Gay was all over the field and looked sharp, although his personal foul was costly (and perhaps unavoidable, he did not intend to lead with the head). Artie Burns and Sean Davis’ names weren’t heard much, which can be good. While the Steelers secondary had a good game, it must also be noted that there were times when Cleveland’s receivers had them beat, only to see DeShone Kizer overthrow the ball. Stiffer tests await. Grade: B

Tyler matakevich, Britton Colquitt, Steelers vs Browns, Steelers punt block browns

Tyler Matakevic blocks Britton Colquitt’s punt setting up a Steelers touchdown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Special Teams
Sometimes measurables just don’t add up and the Steelers 1st quarter blocked punt explains why you keep a player like Tyler Matakevich on your 53 man roster. Matakevich blocked punt and Anthony Chickillo’s recovery got the Steelers on the board to start the day, and forced the Browns to play catch up from the very get go.

Eli Rogers saw his first duty as a punt returner, and he posted a respectable 10 yard average. The Steelers kick coverage was strong, although you don’t like to see an opponents punt return average 11 yards and break a 24 yarder. Chris Boswell was a perfect 3-3 on PAT’s while Jordan Berry had a strong day punting. Grade: A-

Coaching
Suffice to say, the Steelers offense failed to live up to the all of the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the return of the Steelers four Killer Bees. The unit stumbled for most of the afternoon hobbled by dropped passes, penalties and missed opportunities. But Steelers offensive sputters weren’t solely a question of failed execution.

In abstract terms, the Steelers coaches can be faulted for leaning too heavily on Le’Veon Bell during the latter half of 2016 (in practical terms, they didn’t have much of a choice). It seems like Todd Haley started 2017 determined to overcompensate.

  • The Steelers showed little desire in even attempting to establish the running game.

Yes, the line and Le’Veon Bell were not having a good afternoon, but they weren’t given much of a chance to warm up, let alone impose their will. Nor did Haley seem inclined to go with the vertical passing game, as his repeated bubble screens would indicate.

  • The Steelers offense was good enough to secure a W, but they left far too many plays on the field.

Keith Butler’s defense was its own worst enemy. Butler’s Boys gave DeShone Kizer a rude awakening to the NFL, stuff the run, and went 3-12 on third downs. The only issue is the defensive penalties, which set directly up one touchdown and facilitated another.

As Tony Defeo has rightly pointed out on BTSC, the Mike Tomlin’s Steelers avoided another embarrassing loss to an inferior team. But as Steel City Insider’s Jon Ledyard correctly argues, the Steelers have far too much talent on offense to allow a Browns team to need clock killing heroics to close the 4th quarter.

  • Mike Tomlin chose to rest a good number of his offensive stars for large stretches of the preseason.

Certainly, this is not the first summer Tomlin has taken that route. But regardless, the Steelers offense looked quite rusty against the Browns, although to their credit the units did effectively close both halves. The Steelers performance against the Browns was above the line, but still below par.  Grade: C+

Unsung Hero
This man has taken a lot of heat from fans in recent years, including barbs from this site. But Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith saw a weakness in the Browns punt formation, he trained his team to exploit it those men executed it to perfection and they scored the points that ended up being the difference in the game. And for that Danny Smith is the Unsung Hero for the win over the Browns.

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Steelers Improve to 2-0 in 2017 Preseason in Thrilling 17-13 Win over Falcons @ Heinz Field

It wasn’t the prettiest performance for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who opened the Heinz Field portion of their 2017 preseason schedule against the NFC Champion Falcons Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., but in the end, they left with a 17-13 victory, thanks to special teams heroics and a second half shutout by the defense.

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Matt Ryan started at quarterback for Atlanta, and on his one and only offensive series, he led a 10-play, 91-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown run by Terron Ward to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

  • On the drive, Ryan completed a very efficient four of six passes for 57 yards, as Atlanta averaged over nine yards a play and converted its only third down of the series.

Following Jordan Berry‘s second punt to open the game, veteran quarterback Matt Schaub replaced Ryan before quickly exiting with what appeared to be a hand injury. In his place, third-string quarterback Matt Simms directed the Falcons the rest of the drive, which ended with a 23-yard field goal by veteran kicker Matt Bryant and a 10-0 lead for the visitors.

Pittsburgh’s next drive resulted in its only points of the first half, as third-string quarterback Joshua Dobbs, starting in place of veteran Ben Roethlisberger and injured backup Landry Jones, led the offense on an eight-play, 54-yard drive that resulted in a 42-yard field goal by Chris Boswell that cut Atlanta’s lead to seven points.

The big play on the drive was a 23-yard hookup between Dobbs and receiver Martavis Bryant, who made his 2017 preseason debut after being reinstated by the NFL following a year-long suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

  • The Falcons reestablished their 10-point lead thanks to a second field goal by Bryant, this time from 26 yards away.

However, the Steelers special teams provided some sparks near the end of the first half.

After nearly blocking a punt on Atlanta’s penultimate drive of the second quarter, fullback and special teams ace Roosevelt Nix did one better by blocking a punt on the final play of the first half, as both teams headed to the locker room with the visitors ahead, 13-3.

Overall, it was a pretty bleak first half by the home team, as Atlanta racked up 259 total yards to Pittsburgh’s 76–including 211 vs. 58 through the air.

  • The Falcons also converted on five of nine third downs, while the Steelers were a paltry one of six in the same category.

The two teams exchanged punts on the first four possessions of the second half, but the Steelers soon closed to within three points on Atlanta’s third possession, thanks to a 64-yard punt return by reserve running back Trey Williams, whose only shot of making the squad may be on special teams.

Following an interception on an ill-advised decision by Dobbs, who was trying to shuffle a pass to tight end Jake McGee while being taken to the turf on a third and short play, second-year safety Jordan Dangerfield provided some heroics by picking off Simms on Atlanta’s very next play to help preserve a three-point deficit.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons faced a third and long from their own six-yard line. As he was about to be taken to the end zone turf by a blitzing Mike Hilton, Simms unleashed a pass that appeared to land short of the line of scrimmage. However, instead of a safety, the officials ruled the play incomplete because Simms’ pass hit a Steelers player before fluttering innocently to the ground.

No problem, as fourth-string quarterback Bart Houston directed the offense on a seven-play, 53-yard drive that resulted in a six-yard touchdown to receiver Justin Hunter, a free-agent acquisition in the offseason, who had turned some heads in the early stages of training camp.

Trey Williams

Trey Williams’ punt return helped brak the game against the Falcons. Photo Credit: Behind the Steelcurtain

The final crucial play of the game occurred with 2:14 remaining when a pass from Falcons’ fourth-stringer
Alek Torgeson bounded off the hands of his intended receiver and into the waiting arms of Jordan Dangerfield, who recorded his second interception of the day and all but wrapped up Pittsburgh’s second preseason victory.

In addition to Dangerfield and Williams, other stars of the game included reserve outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, who recorded two sacks; and feel-good story, James Conner, as the rookie third round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh returned to his college home and carried the football 20 times for 98 yards.

As for the rookie Joshua Dobbs, his day was rather uneventful, as he completed 10 of 19 passes for just 70 yards, no touchdowns and the one interception.

Next up for the Steelers is a tilt against the Colts, as they close out the home portion of their preseason schedule next Saturday night at Heinz Field.

 

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2016 Season

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his students make some impressive strides during the past year, but nonetheless sees that they’re still not ready to weather the pass-fail nature of a full NFL playoff run, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2016 Season.

Le'Veon Bell, Ben Roetlisberger, Steelers vs Bills, Steelers regular season rushing record

Le’Veon Bell in his record setting performance vs. the Bills. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Quarterbacks
By any measure, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played a fine season in 2016. Statistically speaking, Ben Roethlisberger’s quarterback rating was a one point above what it had been a year ago. But Big Ben’s 2016 campaign is not without fault. Ben Roethlisberger ‘s struggles on the road have become alarming, and his play in the later two rounds of the playoffs, while not bad, fell well short of outstanding. To be fair, Roethlisberger spent most of the season playing with a depleted wide receiver crops. Landry Jones played respectably in relief of Roethlisberger, and impressed with his overtime win. Grade: B+steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2016 season

Running Backs
While this conversation doesn’t begin and end with Le’Veon Bell, it perhaps should. In playing just 13 games, Le’Veon Bell affirmed his status as one of the game’s best two way threats, broke both the Steelers single game regular season and playoff rushing record and teased at reviving the concept of “franchise running back.” DeAngelo Williams played well in relief of Bell, although he did miss most of the second half of the season due to injury. Fitzgerald Toussaint Only got 14 carries, but looked respectable. Roosevelt Nix role in paving the way for Bell is under appreciated outside of Pittsburgh. Grade: A+

Tight Ends
This was an interesting year for Steelers tight ends. When he finally got on the field, Ladarius Green showed that he had “field flipping” capability, even if his advertised the straight away speed was slower than advertised. Unfortunately, Green only made it into 6 games. In his absence, the sum of Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and David Johnson performance in a “tight end by committee” situation was greater than the whole of its parts. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
How good is Antonio Brown? How about this? You take away any hint of a legitimate number 2 wide receiver, as well as a must respect dependable tight end and he still makes over 100 catches and brings in two more touchdowns than he did a year ago. Oh, yeah, and he consummated one of the most dramatic comebacks in franchise history on Christmas with a truly incredible play.

Unfortunately, Antonio Brown didn’t get a lot of help from his fellow wide outs. “Disappointment” is the only way to classify Sammie Coates second season. Coates was supposed to make us forget about Martavis Bryant, but instead reminded us of Limas Sweed.

Eli Rogers performed extremely well, although his fumble in the AFC Championship hurt the team. Ditto Cobi Hamilton. The former practice squad barnstormer came up with several clutch catches during the year, and Demarcus Ayers did the same when he finally saw action late in the year.

This improvement is both impressive and promising with an eye towards the future. However the Report Card grades on performance and results, and the Steelers didn’t have a Super Bowl caliber wide receiving corps this year. Grade: C+

Limas Sweed, Evan Oglesby, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers Ravens AFC Championship, Limas Sweed drop

Limas Sweeds drops the ball during the 2008 Steeler AFC Championship game against Baltimore. Photo Credit: Keith Spakocic, AP via NY Daily News

Offensive Line
After years of plug and patch the Steelers cemented their 4th lineman to a long term deal when they inked David DeCastro to his new contract. The Steelers 2016 offensive line did an excellent job in what is its most important task at this point in the Tomlin era – to protect Ben Roethlisberger. And the synergy between Le’Veon Bell waiting for holes to open and the line opening them was something special to behold. Still, there were times when the line struggled to open running lanes, namely on the road vs. Baltimore and of course at the goal line in the AFC Championship and their grade must reflect that. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
Let’s begin by ordering some crow with a side of humble pie. When Cameron Heyward went on injured reserve, this site declared, “Game Over.” Fortunately, that’s not what happened. Instead, led by Stephon Tuitt, everyone on the defensive line stepped up their play a notch. Nine games into the season, the Steelers defensive line looked incapable of stopping anyone. By the season’s end, the Steelers were holding feature backs to negative yardage for entire halves.

The Steelers defensive line didn’t put up a lot of sexy statistics, but they delivered time and time again by making the types of plays that don’t show up on stat sheets, but win games. Grade: B

James Harrison, Art Rooney II

Art Rooney II and James Harrison share a post-game handsake. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Linebackers
In 2016 the Steelers linebackers returned to their status as the strength of the defense. This resurgence was fueled by strong second halves by Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, who seemed to make splash play after splash play. Bud Dupree got a late start to 2016 thanks to an injury, but Dupree came in second on the team in sacks despite only playing in 7 games and starting in four.

  • James Harrison of course came off the bench to start the Steelers final 7 games, and the improvement of the Steelers defense with Harrison in the lineup full time is by no means coincidental.

If Harrison did provide a spark to the pass rush, and made smothering tackles in run defense, his days of covering receivers downfield should be at an end.

Vince Williams, Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats all provided valuable support as backups, but the unit was clearly better when all four starters played together. And that’s not something that’s been true of the linebacking corps for a long time. While this group made a lot of progress in 2016, their struggles in the AFC Championship game show they still have another leap yet to make. Grade: B+

Secondary
The secondary was the Steelers weak link in 2015 and arguably has been a weak link for some time before. Management gambled and essentially re-wrote the depth chart, taking a huge gamble in the process. Artie Burns and Sean Davis were both at the center of this gamble. While Sean Davis was the more consistent player who was playing like an absolute stud by year’s end, Artie Burns also made impressive strides as they year went on.

Ross Cockrell likewise vindicated the faith that the coaches and front office showed in making him a starter, and Mike Mitchell didn’t provide as many splash plays as he did in 2016, but provided veteran leadership and stability. William Gay offered steady play, but it is fair to ask whether he’s losing a step.

The Steelers secondary was no longer a liability in 2016, but they remain powerless to prevent Tom Brady from having his way with them, and until that changes they must continue to improve. Grade: C+

Special Teams
Special teams coach Danny Smith is everyone’s favorite scapegoat in Steelers Nation. While the Steelers special teams did leave a lot to be desired at times, all of the blame doesn’t necessarily fall on Danny Smith’s shoulders.

Chris Boswell provided another solid year of place kicking. Whether it was kicking field goals in the snow at Buffalo or in windy Cincinnati or on the road in Kansas City, Boswell was Mr. reliable and arguably the MVP on two of those 3 contests. His counterpart Jordan Berry had a solid year, but failed to do anything to stand out.

  • The Steelers kicking and kick coverage units were the bigger area of concern.

While the NFL is trying to eliminate kick returns, the Steelers kick returners routinely trade 15 yard returns for 25 yard touchbacks. And while the Steelers avoided getting burned by a punt or a kickoff returned for a touchdown returned long return this season, there were too many close calls.

  • On the positive side, the Steelers special teams defended several on-sides kick attempts; however, 2007 remains the last time the Steelers executed an on sides kick of their own.
  • The Steelers also got caught on two fake punts.

In all fairness, the Steelers special teams rose to the occasion in the playoffs against the Chiefs, but overall their play during the course of the season was too inconsistent, and rarely “special.” Grade: C-

Coaching
One of the things that frequently gets lost in the shuffle is that Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley had far fewer weapons to work with in 2016 than he had at his disposal in 2015. Nonetheless, the Steelers offense still finished in the top ten in terms of both scoring and yards.

Todd Haley drew fire for not relying on Le’Veon Bell enough against Miami in the regular season and the perhaps for trying to rely too heavily on him in the first matchup against the Ravens.

  • But the Steelers offensive found the right balance during the second half of the season.

On defense, Keith Butler’s second full season did not start well, as the Steelers struggled at times, and at the season’s mid-point, Butler’s defense was drawing unfavorable comparisons to Tony Dungy’s 1988 Steelers defensive squad, which set franchise records for futility.

  • But during the second half of the season, the Steelers defense began playing a new tune.

And if the inserting of James Harrison and Bud Dupree helped improve performance, the absence of Cam Heyward can hardly be considered a plus. The bigger change was that Butler got his players to focus on doing their job and, equally importantly, he got production out of his 3 rookies. By the season’s end the Steelers defense was one of the best at sacking the quarterback, and also improved in creating turnovers.

Mike Tomlin, Steelers locker room

Mike Tomlin addresses the Steelers. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

By his own admission, Mike Tomlin won’t be considered a success until his team raises Lombardi Number 7. Fair enough. It is also fair to criticize Tomlin for the team’s lackluster performance in Philadelphia and also for the loss at Miami.

Those are the types of losses that can sink a season. But Mike Tomlin kept his team from riding the emotional rollercoaster, and they went on a 9 game winning streak, with the team seemingly getting stronger with each win.

Trying to stack two Super Bowl eras on top of each other is very hard to do, and the Steelers still have a ways to go before they accomplish that goal. But the Steelers took another step closer in 2016. Grade: B

Unsung Hero Award
Losing a player like Heath Miller is never easy, and it becomes all the more difficult if the high profile free agent you sign to replace him only manages to play 6 games.

But the Steelers transition away from the Heath Miller era at tight end was largely successful, and Jesse James was a big reason for that. James’ blocking improved as the season wore on, and he found himself making several critical catches for the team during December and January, and for that Jesse James wins the Unsung Hero Award for the 2016 season.

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Struggling for Answers: Steelers Report Card for (latest) AFC Championship Loss to Patriots

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who watched his students soar through the second semester and on through the first 2 preliminary exams only to come crashing down to earth during the 3rd prequalification exam, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.

Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Rogers, Steelers report card patriots AFC Championship, Steelers vs Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship

The Steelers simply lacked answer in their AFC Championship loss to the Patriots. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Quarterback
For the record, Ben Roethlisberger threw 47 times and connected on 31 of them, for one touchdown and one interception. Given the injury to Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to take a lot on to his shoulders, and the force of his leadership was clearly evident on the field. Likewise, at one point Roethlisberger 13 consecutive passes.

  • Yet there were two other plays early in the game where the wide receiver was forced to play defensive back.

It is true that Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get much help from his receivers as he had at least two drops in the end zone. There were other catchable balls that receivers failed to land. While that’s not his fault, the game called for Ben Roethlisberger go the extra mile, and deliver passes that made his wide outs look better than they were. Ben didn’t quite reach that level, and it was what would have been required of Roethlisberger for a win. Grade: B-steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers vs patriots,

Running Backs
Injuries limited Le’Veon Bell to 6 carries meaning he never got a chance to get revving. The Steelers plan had been to ride Bell as far as he would take them, and that wasn’t very far in the playoffs. DeAngelo Williams stepped in and ripped off some impressive runs early, but was ineffective after that, although he didn’t have help from the line in the Red Zone. DeAngelo Williams did score the team’s first touchdown and he caught all 7 passes thrown his way, which raises his mark. Grade: B-

Tight Ends
David Johnson had 1 catch for one yard, while Jesse James had another strong playoff performance bring in 5 passes for 48 yards and almost scoring a touchdown. He also did well in the blocking game. While there’s not much to fault the Steelers tight ends, the group also didn’t do anything to stand out when the outcome remained in doubt. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
The Patriots did their best to bottle up Antonio Brown and kept him under 100 yards. Still, Brown caught 7 of 9 balls thrown his way, and showed off some excellent cornerbacks on one of the incomplitions that came his way. Moreover, Brown played with the passion and demeanor of a champion.

  • Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his counterparts.

Sammie Coates had a horrible game, dropping the first pass the Steelers threw in a play that could have set the tone for the entire game. Coates also dropped another catchable pass in the end zone. Eli Rogers caught 7 of 9 passes, but his fumble essentially put the game out of reach for the Steelers. Inexcusable in a playoff game. Cobi Hamilton too had a case of the butter fingers, and negated his own touchdown pass by stepping out of bounds. A rookie mistake, and a costly one. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
On the positive side, the Steelers offensive line kept Ben Roethlisberger spotless for almost the entire game. However, the offensive line’s run blocking, especially at the goal line at the end of the first half, left a lot to be desired. The Steelers could have sent a resounding message by punching it in before the second half, instead the offense traveled backwards.

Victory in this game would have meant the line giving a little something extra. Something the line didn’t have. Grade: C

Defensive Line
Javon Hargrave dropped Tom Brady on New England’s second 3rd down in what could have been a tone setter, but that was the high water mark of the defensive line’s achievement. The Steelers did contain LeGarrette Blount, but the Patriots overpowered them on Blount’s rugby-like 18 yard maul. The Steelers didn’t blitz much, which left it to the line to get pressure Stephon Tuitt hit Brady once, but that was it. L.T. Walton and Hargrave all had tackles for losses, but the line ultimately didn’t deliver. Grade: C-

Linebackers
For the record, Lawrence Timmons led the team in tackles with 14 and dropped two people behind the line of scrimmage. Ryan Shazier was next with 7, followed by Bud Dupree with 5, James Harrison with 4 and Jarvis Jones with 3.

  • None of those numbers mask the fact that this was a rough day for the Steelers linebackers.

The unit didn’t pressure Brady and couldn’t defend his short passes. The Steelers needed more from what is the strongest unit of their depth chart and didn’t get it. Grade: F

Robert Golden, Chis Hogan 1st touchdown Steelers AFC Championship, Chris Hogan, Steelers vs Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship

Chris Hogan scores a touchdown as Robert Golden, well, watches. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Secondary
Sean Davis had a garbage time sack and a hit on Tom Brady. Artie Burns had 6 tackles including a very physical one which sent his man back several yards. But the real number for the Steelers secondary in this game is zero. As in zero passes defensed, zero interceptions, zero sacks, zero forced fumbles. The simple fact is that Tom Brady picked apart the Steelers pass defense, and he made it look easy.

Some of that is just Brady being good, but at other times this unit seemed to go out of its way to help him. Grade: F

Special Teams
Chris Boswell missed an extra point, and while that didn’t have any impact on the game’s outcome, it confirmed that this was not an evening where the Steelers would get any breaks. On the positive side, Antonio Brown had one punt return for 1 yards. Sammie Coates also looked competent as a kick returner, although Justin Gilbert did not. The Patriots only returned one kick for 18 yards. Jordan Berry’s punting average of 38 yards looks OK, but is 10 yards below his counter parts. Special teams wasn’t a liability for the Steelers in this loss, but it didn’t provide anything extra. Grade: C

Coaching
If the Steelers first series of the game offers any indication, Todd Haley’s base game plan was to alternate between feeding the ball to Le’Veon Bell on and trying to make the Patriots pay for focusing on stopping him by throwing downfield.

  • That type of strategy only works if Bell doesn’t get hurt and receivers don’t drop passes that they should catch.

The Steelers of course couldn’t overcome Bell’s loss, but those lie in errors of execution as opposed to being rudderless without Bell.

On defense, Keith Butler had the unenviable task of breaking some horrendous defensive history against Tom Brady on the second biggest stage that the NFL has to offer. Ever since the game ended there’s been a firestorm over why Butler and Mike Tomlin didn’t shift to the man-coverage approach that worked during the 2011 upset of the Patriots.

  • You’ll find no such second guessing here.
Mike Tomlin, James Harrison, Steelers vs Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC championship game

Mike Tomlin and James Harrison leave the field after the Steelers latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots. Photo credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

The Steelers had the NFL’s most experienced defense in 2011. In 2016 they had one of the younger NFL defenses. Trying to learn a new scheme in the heat of the playoffs simple wouldn’t have worked. If Tomlin’s post game comments are any guide, he and his staff considered and ruled out the option. A wise move even in 20/20 hindsight.

  • Which doesn’t let the Steelers coaches off the hook.

Mike Tomlin is right that the gravest errors were execution errors – it is hard to imagine that whatever play was called on Chris Hogan’s first touchdown play envisioned EVERY Steelers push rusher getting COMPLETELY blocked AND allowing Hogan to have HALF of the end zone to himself.

But regardless whether its execution, game planning or preparation, Mike Tomlin and his staff are now 1-6 against Tom Brady with no sign that they’ve got any viable answer to offer against the NFL’s best quarterback. Until Mike Tomlin finds those answers, the Pittsburgh Steelers will remain also rans. Grade: F

Unsung Hero Award
Determining the Unsung Hero for this game is hard, because so few Steelers did anything to stand out. We’ll give our nod to Antonio Brown. While mistakes and struggles defined the night for Steelers other Steelers receivers, Antonio Brown like Ben Roethlisberger gave it his all, with tough catches, impressive runs after the catch and excellent improvisational defensive back skills on one bad pass. For that Antonio Brown is the Steelers Unsung Hero for the latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.

 

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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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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.

Ezekiel Elliot 85 yard touchdown reception Steelers, Mike Mitchell, Steelers 2016 defense implodes

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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