DeAngelo Williams Reaches Free Agency – Arm Chair Steelers General Managers Beware…

On paper, staffing a backup running back seems simple: Once a feature back establishes himself, you find a good number two back to slot him behind him. Your starter carries the bulk of the load, but you use your number two to keep your starter fresh and your backup sharp.

  • The process couldn’t be any simpler on paper.

Something simple like this is what the Pittsburgh Steelers had in mind when they signed DeAngelo Williams as a free agent during the 2015 off season. And while bringing DeAngelo Williams to Pittsburgh has been one of Kevin Colbert’s wiser free agent acquisitions, very little has gone according to plan.

Now, at age 34 and after 11 NFL seasons, DeAngelo Williams is a free agent, and the Steelers need to decide if he’s in their plans for the future.

DeAngelo Williams, Steelers vs. Patriots, DeAngelo Williams touchdown AFC Championship, DeAngelo Williams free agent

DeAngelo Williams AFC Championship touchdown may be his last, for Steelers at least. Photo Credit: USA Today’s SteelersWire

Capsule Profile of DeAngelo Williams Steelers Career

It says here that Mike Tomlin made the right move in cutting LeGarrette Blount after he abandoned his teammates during the Steelers 2014 win over the Titans. It also says here that Le’Veon Bell’s injury against the Bengals left the Steelers with their pants down when the playoffs arrived.

Clearly, the Steelers needed to find a reliable backup to Le’Veon Bell. Many were skeptical given that DeAngelo Williams was 32 and his production and been declining. Knowing that Le’Veon Bell was facing his first suspension, the Steelers were banking heavily on DeAngelo Willams to deliver.

  • And deliver he did, with two strong performances during the first two games of the 2015 season.

After Le’Veon Bell’s return, DeAngelo Williams saw his touches drop to single digits, but against the Bengals DeAngelo Williams was once again forced to carry the load for the Steelers rushing offense, as Le’Veon Bell was lost for the year. And DeAngelo Williams delivered again, proving to be a weapon rushing on the ground and catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger through the air.

  • Unfortunately, DeAngelo Williams got injured in the Steelers season finale against the Browns, and missed the playoffs.

In 2016, DeAngelo Williams again opened the season as the Steelers starting running back as Le’Veon Bell served his second suspension for substance abuse, and once again DeAngelo Williams delivered on the ground and through the air.

DeAngelo Williams, Steelers vs Raiders, DeAngelo Williams free agent

DeAngelo Williams ran for 170 yards and caught passes for 55 more in the 2015 Steelers win over the Raiders. Photo Credit: Kirby Lee, USA Today

Word was the Steelers would use Williams to spell Bell, but it didn’t work out that way, as DeAngelo Williams only touched the ball 8 times after Bell’s return. Nonetheless, those 8 touches were sufficient for Williams to injure himself, as he missed all but the final game of the Steelers 2016 season recovering from minor knee surgery.

DeAngelo Williams started in the Steelers New Year’s Day win overtime win over the Browns in a performance that didn’t make many fantasy owners happy, but D William’s performance was a lot better than statistics indicated.

DeAngelo Williams stepped in when Le’Veon Bell got injured in the AFC Championship, and ripped off a few impressive runs, including a touchdown, but overall the Patriots defense contained him on the ground, although he did do well catching the ball out of the backfield.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning DeAngelo Williams

Let’s acknowledge that an NFL running back who is about to turn 34 offers no “Upside” whatsoever. But does mean that a running back in his mid-30’s has nothing to contribute? Not at all. In fact, the opposite can often be true.

Last year this site set out to prove that because of his age, DeAngelo Williams was in danger of suffering a sharp drop-off from one season to the next because of his age. Logically, this seems like a no-brainer.

  • Research reveals that the opposite often comes to pass.

It is counter intuitive, but if an NFL running back both the talent and the durability to continue playing into his mid-30’s then, more often than not, he continues to perform at a reasonably high level. (Seriously, it took a ton of research, so click here and please read the article.)

DeAngelo Williams, Steelers vs Redskins, DeAngelo Williams Free Agent

DeAngelo Williams, at age 33, imposed his will on the Washington Redskins in the Steelers 2016 opener. (Photo Credit: Brad Mills, USA Today.)

Indeed, during the past two season, DeAngelo Williams has played in 28 games and missed 8 due to injury, whereas Le’Veon Bell has played in 20 games and missed 8 to injury.

  • Which Steelers running back has had more durability issues?

In DeAngelo Williams the Steelers have a viable number 2 running back who serves as a dual threat. If Le’Veon Bell can’t go, the Steelers offense is clearly in better hands with DeAngelo Williams in the backfield than Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Sure, DeAngelo Williams yards-per-carry might have dropped by a full yard between 2015 and 2016, but a big part of that drop is due to Williams getting carries in obvious kill the clock situations. DeAngelo Williams may be aged, but in this case age doesn’t signify “old” but rather “experienced.”

The Steelers should resign DeAngelo Williams.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning DeAngelo Williams

The story of the “should be over the hill football player defying father time” should stir the sentiments in any Steelers fan who saw players like John Stallworth, Dwayne Woodruff and Jerome Bettis perform at a high level long after they weren’t supposed to and leave the game on their own terms.

Those stories hold their rightful place in Steelers lore, but such sentimentality won’t win the Steelers a Seventh Super Bowl. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin know that, and Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II understand that too. The Steelers wanted to draft a running back last year, but couldn’t find one. This year they plan to address the position early in the 2017, and that’s the smart move.

  • Part of the reason the Steelers ran Le’Veon Bell so much during their 9 game winning streak was no one else was available.

The Steelers need a backup running back who will be available for 16 games, and DeAngelo Williams hasn’t quite done that, and expecting him to do it at age 34 simply isn’t realistic. The Steelers also need to think of the future at the position.

DeAngelo Williams, Steelers vs Browns, DeAngelo Williams free agent, DeAngelo Williams injury

DeAngelo Williams, carted off the field in the Steelers 2015 finale against the Browns. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via Sporting News

Should that prove to be his final year, either due to free agency or, God forbid, injury who is going to take over in 2018? Certainly not DeAngelo Williams nor Fitzgerald Toussaint. The Steelers need to draft and develop another running back, which makes DeAngelo Williams a luxury the Steelers can’t afford.

DeAngelo Williams has been a tremendous free agent pickup. He’s added a lot in the locker room and to the community. But it is simply time to move on.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers & DeAngelo Williams – Beware the Arm-Chair GM

If there’s any position that gets arm-chair general managers into trouble, it is running back. This writer knows this from bitter experience. The first lesson came in the 1995 Steelers run to Super Bowl XXX.

John L. Williams, 1995 Steelers

John L. Williams. Photo Credit: Scout.com

John L. Williams, the fullback the Steelers had signed to replace Merril Hoge, had arrived in 1994 at age 30 and upgraded the position (and these words come from a fan who practically worshiped Merril Hoge.) In 1995, Williams got injured and saw his production drop off. Yet, Williams made several critical plays during the Steelers regular-season close and playoff run.

  • Bringing him back to Pittsburgh seemed like a no-brainer.

Except it wasn’t. Not only did John L. Williams not return to Pittsburgh, he never got a wiff from another NFL team.

While Willie Parker’s injuries allowed Rashard Mendenhall to claim the starting role in 2009, Parker continued to get work and continued to perform well a backup. In the closing series of Steelers 2009 season finale against Miami, Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians opted to give Willie Parker 10 straight carries.

Willie Parker delivered with a display of power rushing that would have done Franco Harris proud, finishing with 91 yards and 7.98 yards per carry against a defense that knew he was coming. Willie Parker seemed to be making a statement that he was far from done.

  • Alas, Willie Parker would never carry in a regular season game again.

Isaac Redman did something similar. In October 2012 he was rushing for 150 yards against the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants. In October 2013 he got cut and was out of football.

In all three cases this writer thought that each of those running backs had something left; Steelers coaches concluded differently.

  • In all three cases the Steelers brain trust was right.

Word out of the South Side is that Steelers management has decided to move on from DeAngelo Williams. This writer would love to protest that they’re wrong, but history has shown that the Steelers have a pretty good eye for determining when it’s time for a running back (Franco who?) to hang it up.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Pittsburgh’s Archer Experiment Ends: Steelers Cut Dri Archer, Claim Jacoby Jones Off Waivers

Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have apparently seen enough. Pittsburgh’s Dri Archer experiment is apparently over as the Steelers cut Dri Archer and claim Jacoby Jones off of waivers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers turned heads during the 2014 NFL draft when they drafted Dri Archer in the third round.

EVERYONE KNEW the Steelers were looking for cornerbacks and wide receivers early in the 2014 NFL Draft. They broke from the script in the first round by drafting Ryan Shazier. They did it again in the second round by drafting Stephon Tuitt. There were good cornerbacks and wide receivers left on the board in the third round.

Instead they drafted Dri Archer, who was the fastest man at the 2014 NFL Combine. The appeal of Archer’s speed was obvious, but that speed came with a real downside, his size. Archer was not only the fastest man at the combine, he was also the smallest at 5’8” 173 pounds.

Stone Offered Template for Archer

Undaunted, the Steelers saw Archer as a potential scat or utility back, in the mold of Dave Meggett or Eric Metcalf. They even gave him number 13, indicating their plans to use him as a hybrid wide receiver running back. In that sense Archer’s arch could have followed another speedy player who earned himself a spot on the Steelers roster for 8 seasons from 1987 to 1994 Dwight Stone.

The Steelers used Stone as a kick returner throughout his career in Pittsburgh, and tried him at running back in 1988 before shifting him to wide receiver. Stone was never a star, but he was a legitimate role player during Chuck Noll’s final seasons as head coach, even if his nick name of “Hands of Stone” was well earned, (at times at least).

Stone’s held on to his starting role during much of Bill Cowher’s first two seasons, but it waned with the emergence of Yancey Thigpen and Ernie Mills. Like Archer, the Steelers hoped to use Stone as a utility back in 1994, but that role never emerged.

Dri Archer Failed to Follow Dwight Stone’s Arch

Unlike Dwight Stone, Archer could never make it work. As a rookie he had 10 rushes and 7 catches. While his averages were OK, that was hardly representative sample. The Steelers actions spoke volumes when Le’Veon Bell was injured in the 2014 season finale vs. Cincinnati, as they immediately signed Ben Tate and ran Tate with Josh Harris.

Archer began to get work as a kick returner in 2015, and while his average was decent, he chose to down a kick in the end zone vs. the Bengals instead of attempting to run the ball out of the end zone. A number of reporters commented on this, and one has to wonder if they weren’t echoing frustrations they’d heard off the record from Steelers coaches.

  • The timing of the Steelers decision to cut Archer is also curious.

Early in the season when the Steelers needed create roster room for Le’Veon Bell, Gerry Dulac reported that Archer was on the trading block. A trade never materialized as the Steelers made other roster moves. However, the NFL’s trading deadline came and went this week. One has to wonder if the Steelers tried and failed to trade Archer.

So apparently the Steelers cut Dri Archer having been unable to get anything for him.

Jones to Provide Relief for Brown?

Another telling fact about Dri Archer was that Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith never felt comfortable trying him out as a punt returner, as they instead continued to use Antonio Brown in that capacity, thereby exposing one of their best players to a greater injury risk.

Jacoby Jones best days are likely behind him, but his work as a kick returner in 2015 is still solid. His work as a punt returner isn’t quite as impressive, but he has had fewer opportunities there. The Steelers would nonetheless we wise to try him.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Cut 18, Sign Ross Cockrell, Roosvelt Nix Makes Roster. For Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers cut 18 players to get to the NFL’s mandate roster limit of 53. Headlining the cuts were running back Josh Harris, backup center/guard Doug Legursky, cornerbacks B.W. Webb, Kevin Fogg and 7th round pick safety Gerod Holiman.

With Le’Veon Bell facing a 2 game suspension, Josh Harris had a golden opportunity to establish himself as the Steelers third running back.

 

However, Harris did not perform well in preseason after spending much of training camp injured, and the Steelers will go with DeAngelo Williams as their prime running back, and Will Johnson and Dri Archer will serve as his backups. Fullback Roosevelt Nix also made the roster giving the Steelers 2 players at a position where many teams have none.

  • The Steelers cuts in the secondary also yielded surprises.

Kevin Fogg had an outstanding camp by all accounts and had the Steelers lone interception during preseason, he was expected to challenge B.W. Webb for a roster spot, instead both both visits from The Turk, as did 7th round draft pick Gerod Holiman.

The Steelers instead opted to sign cornerback Ross Cockrell whom the Buffalo Bills drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft and who appeared in 7 games for Buffalo last year.

The other Steeles hopefuls who got visits from The Turk are: The Steelers released 18 players and placed linemen Mitchell Van Dyk and Kelvin Palmer on the team’s waived/injured list.

running back Jawon Chisholm
offensive linemen Reese Dismukes and B.J. Finney
wide receivers Shakim Phillips and Jarrod West
defensive linemen Matt Conrath, Ethan Hemer and Mike Thornton
linebackers L.J. Fort, Shayon Green and Howard Jones
safeties Jordan Dangerfield and Alden Darby

The Steelers also placed offensive lineman Mitchell Van Dyk and Kelvin Palmer on the team’s waived/injured list. In other roster moves, the Steelers traded 2014’s punter Brad Wing to the New York Giants for a conditional 7th round pick, and will begin the 2015 season with Jordan Berry as their punter.

Practice Squad Potential

Steelers decision to sign Ross Cockrell indicates that the final composition of the Steelers 53 man opening day roster is far from complete. The Steelers depth at offensive and defensive line is painfully thin, and Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin will certainly be scouring the wavier wire looking for potential additions.

Several of the Steelers players who were cut can expect to return to the Steelers practice squad, with Kevin Fogg and Jordan Dangerfield topping the list. Howard Jones also could return for a second year, as could C.J. Goodwin and Ian Wild, whom the Steelers cut earlier in the week.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Roster Needs After 2015 Draft

The 2015 NFL Draft has come and gone and in the process the Steelers have potentially given themselves their pass rush and secondary direly needed shots in the arm. Wide receiving and defensive line depth also got a boost, as did tight end.

  • But doubling down at cornerback and outside linebacker, forced the Steelers to put other needs on hold.

While these needs were less immediate they nonetheless equal important opportunity costs that the franchise must address and/or pay at some point.

Steelers 2015 Draft, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Bud Dupree, Cornerback,

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin Discuss Steelers 2015 Draft

Offensive Line Gets No Love in Steelers Draft

A unicorn graced the presence of Steelers Nation in 2014. For almost the first time during Mike Tomlin’s tenure, the Steelers offensive line experienced stability.

The Steelers lost no starters for the season, and the impact of week-to-week injuries remained limited. No one told stories of Mike Munchak playing musical chairs his lineman during games. Oh yeah, and the Steelers offense broached historic highs…. Coincidence?  Not on your life.

  • Can such luck endure from season-to-season?

We’ll see as 2015 unfolds. Looking beyond 2015, Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster and Mike Adams are both entering the final years of their contracts. That doesn’t mean they’ll leave Pittsburgh, but the Steelers certainly did not select their replacements in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Health Miller’s Replacement will Have to Wait

To be fair, it’s possible that Jesse James could develop into Heath Miller’s replacement. Late round draft picks can and do blossom into soild starters or even stars (see William Gay, 5th round pick, and Antonio Brown, 6th round pick.) But you don’t project to replace a player like Heath Miller in the 5th round.

Josh Harris Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Steelers reserve running back stood as one of the players with the most to lose heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. Running back might not have been on the Steelers draft need list, but it was on their draft want list. Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, and presumably Dri Archer have roster spots locked up as does Will Johnson. Barring injury that might be the Steeler final 2015 depth chart. But with Le’Veon Bell looking at a 3 game suspension, the Steelers will certainly start the season with another back on their roster.

  • With a year of practice squad experience and a handful of games, Josh Harris now has the inside track on that slot.

Any running back the Steelers drafted, even on drafted late, would have placed a bullseye on Harris’ back. Josh Harris roster sport remains safe, for now.

Defensive Line Depth Still a Potential Issue

The Steelers defensive line depth was a liability going into the 2015 NFL Draft, but the Steelers addressed that in the 6th round by drafting L.T. Walton.

But a sixth round pick’s hold on a roster spot is tenuous at best, and as the cases of Josh Mauro and Nik Williams show, stuffing them on the practice squad puts them at risk.

The NFL Draft is All about Opportunity Costs

None of this is to suggest that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin erred in not addressing these positions earlier or more often in the 2015 Draft. Opportunity costs form the fundamental nature of the NFL Draft – choosing Casey Hampton in 2001 also meant passing on Reggie Wayne.

With very few exceptions (see picking Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan or yes, Gabe Rivera over Dan Marino) team’s drafts are defined by who they picked and not who they passed on. And in that light, the Steelers 2015 Draft Class adds players to the Pittsburgh’s roster who have the potential to fill vital needs. But the team still has needs it must fill, some of which it is already attempting to do via its 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for more on the Steelers and the 2015 NFL Draft.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

2014 Steelers Report Card Offense – Killer Bees Strike

Taken from the grade book who saw his star pupil flirt with mediocrity early on, until breaking out and soaring to achieve his full potential, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Report Card for the offense. Note, these are grades for the entire season, not a composite of each week’s report cards.

Quarterback
Statically speaking, this wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger’s best season, that would have been 2007 by 0.3 of a quarterback rating. Roethlisberger only threw 8 interceptions, and half of those came vs. the Saints and Jets. Beyond statistics, Roethlisberger played and acted as a team leader – not an insignificant role on an offense featuring 9 players under 30. Ben Roethlisberger is clearly in his prime now, and the unquestioned leader of this team. Grade: A

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell succeeded beyond the wildest hopes and dreams of even the most optimistic draft day projection. Between his rushing and catching efforts, Bell accounted for close to 1/3 of the Steelers offense. Bell had 2215 yards from scrimmage on 373 touches – with no fumbles. After Bell the Steelers suffered a significant drop off. LeGarrett Blount did play well, but was a negative influence on the team, and walked out his teammates. Dri Archer may well some day vindicate the faith the Steelers showed in drafting him in the third round, but he did none of that in 2014. Josh Harris looked “OK” with his playing time as did Ben Tate. Will Johnson, in contrast, played quite well as a full back. Grade: B+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller perhaps had a little slow start to 2014, but by mid-season it was clear that he was back to form and was simply Mr. Reliable, although is performance did drop a notch in the playoffs both in the passing and blocking. Matt Spaeth didn’t get many opportunities, but caught 3 of the 4 balls thrown his way, with one for a touchdown he also converted 1 two point conversion. Spaeth was a force in the blocking game. Michael Palmer struggled to get a helmet, but did catch one touchdown. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
This was a banner year for the Steelers wide receiving crops. Early in the year debate centered around why Justin Brown was starting over Lance Moore. By year’s end, Brown got sacrifieced when the Steelers needed to sign Ben Tate, and Moore found himself deactivated for the playoff game. That’s just how strong Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant came on. Bryant sucked up most of the ink, as you’d expect for a player who catches 8 touchdowns in 10 games played, but Wheaton also showed himself to be a treat, and came up with critical catches when the Steelers needed him to. And of course, there’s Antonio Brown, who is clearly one of the NFL’s best receivers right now. Grade: A

Offensive Line
The first accomplishment of this unit was to stay healthy. From 2010 to 2013 the Steelers offensive line resembled more of a M.A.S.H. unit. Even as the Steelers invested high round draft picks in the line, injuries forced the team to continue “plug and patch.” That ended in 2014, as the Steelers line played relatively injury free. Overall this until saw a lot of gains from years past. But for as well as it played, the until struggled to both run block and pass block in the same game a little too often, and they were dominated in the playoffs, which was a disturbing surprise. For that, their grade goes down. Grade: B-

To read the Report Card for the 2014 Steelers Defense, click here.
To read the Report Card for the 2014 Steelers Coaches and Special Teams, click here.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Report Card for Win over Bengals @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who has now seen his star pupil pass the four part final qualifying exam and has great hopes for coming playoffs, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Bengals at Heinz Field.

Steelers, Report Card, grades, Bengals, playoffs

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger finished the season in strong form, hitting 7 different receivers, (8 if you count Maurkice Pouncey), throwing for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns. Still, Roethlisberger threw an interception that proved to be costly, and gave Cincinnati the chance to start the 4th quarter by pulling within 3. The price of such costly mistakes gets higher starting Saturday vs. the Ravens. Grade: B+

Running Back
After having rugshot run over them just three weeks ago, the Bengals committed to stopping Le’Veon Bell on the ground, and they were quite successful. Bell however did his damage through the air showing he’s just as dangerous in the flat as he is between the tackles. Josh Harris got 7 yards on five carries which doesn’t looks so good, unlike the 50 plus yard burst that got called back on a penalty. Dri Archer had -1 yard on 1 carry, but he did catch two passes in two targets. Will Johnson caught one pas thrown his way. Grade: B-

Tight Ends
Matt Spaeth was back, and he appeared to help with the blocking. That stat sheet says that Heath Miller had 3 catches on 7 targets for 41 yards. That doesn’t reflect that he again came with the ball when the Steelers needed him to. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
It is hard to say enough about Antonio Brown. Yes, he did have some drops early, but once again he showed off his ability to make catch after catch, and come up with the big play when the Steelers needed him to. Newly minted Steelers rookie of the year Martavis Bryant simply catches touchdowns. Markus Wheaton might not get the ink that Brown and Bryant get, but he continues to play well. Grade: A

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger was not sacked the entire night and per ESPN’s stats, he was only hit once. That’s quite an accomplishment. Still, the Steelers struggled to run the ball, and with Bell injured the Steelers are going to need some road grading from their front five. Grade: B-

Defensive Line
Stephon Tuitt, after a moster game, struggled against the Cincinnati line, and Jeremy Hill had success running his way. Steve McLendon had 3 tackles. Dan McCullers had 1 and Cam Thomas had 1 QB hit. A solid night vs. the defensive line, but the Steelers must play the run better vs. Baltimore in the playoffs. Grade: B-


Linebackers

James Harrison had a though time vs. the Bengals Andrew Whitworth who kept Silverback away from his quarterback. However, Harrison’s loss was Sean Spence’s and Jason Worild’s gain as both men had sacks, and Worilds in particularly looked strong all night. 93 is one player who is peaking at the right time. Ryan Shazier split time with both Spence and Vince Williams, and actually finished 5th in tackles on the night looking like he knew what he was doing. And of course there was Lawrence Timmons, who lead the team in total tackles with 11. Grade: A-

Secondary
What do you get when you take 4 cast aways and a widely perceived under performing big free agent signing and ask them to win you a Sunday Night Football game? You get two interceptions, a forced fumble, and a hellicious (and totally legal) hit that takes out the opponents wide receiver.

Brice McCain might not remind anyone of Rod Woodson, but he now has three turnovers in two Prime Time games vs. AFC North rivals. Antwon Blake also drew blood forcing a key fumble that ended Cincinnati’s comeback. 2 decades from now few will think the words “Will Allen” when you say “Steeler safety” but no one’s talking Troy Polamalu’s absence. While the big plays fueld the Steelers victory, so did the ability of the secondary to keep the Cinncinati defenders in front of them, and deliver punishment after the catch. Just ask A.J. Green. Grade: A+

Special Teams
Antonio Brown’s punt return was a thing of beauty and, while forgotten, a key difference maker in the game. While a special teams touchdown normally leads to an “A” in the Steelers Report Card, Brad Wing’s interception on the fake punt was costly. He’s paid to kick not throw, but still must deliver. Markus Wheaton is not flashing signs of being the next Mel Gray, but his returns getting more respectable by the week. Coverage units were strong, although Cincinnati had one 29 yard return. Shaun Suisham was 2-2 kicking field goals and 3-3 on extra points. That’s 7 points in a 10 point game. Grade: B-

Coaching
Credit Dick LeBeau for coaching getting his players to execute on tackling after the catch. The Steelers defense delivered, and keep Andy Dalton on his toes all night, capitalizing on his mistakes. Such play leads to good things in “January football.”

Todd Haley’s game plan was a winning one, although the Steelers running game was shut down for the second straight week. That’s not to nitpick, as his players compensated elsewhere, but he’s going to need to be creative to avoid his offense becoming too one dimensional. The Steelers offense is much more dangerous when the threat of play action is real.

The time to assess Mike Tomlin’s 2014 performance will come later – hopefully several weeks later. But the fact is that the Steelers are playing January football because they rose to the challenge of playing strong December football. Tomlin has his team playing focused, smart, and hungry. Can’t ask a coach for more than that heading into the playoffs. Grade: A

Unsung Hero
Fantasy Football owners will look at this game and rave about the exploits of Brown and Bryant and even Bell. You’ll see plenty of the former two on highlight reels, and lots of talk about the impact of losing Bell (assuming he sits.) But on the other side of the ball, there was another man who morphed into a monster getting a sack, tackle for a loss, QB hit AND a pass defense. He also came in second on the team in tackles, not an easy feat for a defensive lineman in a 3-4. For that, Cameron Heyward is Steelers Unsung Hero for win over the Bengals at Heinz Field.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!