6 Take Aways for the Playoffs from Steelers Comeback Win Over the Browns

The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Cleveland Browns for yet another regular season finale at Heinz Field in a game that had zero impact on the Black and Gold’s post-season fortunes. With Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey out and James Harrison not playing, this figured to be an exam of sorts for the Steelers backups.

  • The Cleveland Browns, not having won a game in Pittsburgh since 2003, showed themselves as willing examiners.

The Steelers prevailed in a teeter-totter style game and, while the 7th straight win only adds window dressing to the 2016 regular season record, the comeback win over the Browns does reveal 6 key take aways that tell us something important about these Steelers as we head to the playoffs.

Cobi Hamilton, steelers vs. browns, steelers 2016 regular season finale browns

Cobi Hamilton catches the game winning pass in overtime as the Steelers comeback to beat the Browns. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

1. Landry Jones Has Grown into a Legit Backup

Going into this game, the pundits who weren’t labeling this “Landry Jones’ last game with the Steelers” instead suggested Mike Tomlin start Zach Mettenberger.

  • Landry Jones showed them how foolish they were.
  • Let’s be clear: If Ben Roethlisberger goes down, he takes the 2016 Steelers Super Bowl hopes with him.

If all goes well, the last image we have of Landry Jones during the 2016 season (other than him holding a clipboard) will be of him hitting Cobi Hamilton from 26 yards out in overtime to give the Steelers the win. Contrast that with his deer-in-the-headlight performance in the Steelers playoff win a year ago vs. the Bengals.

Landry Jones, Jesse James, Steelers vs. Browns

Landry Jones throws a pass as Jesse James blocks during Steelers 2016 season finale win over the Browns. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The Steelers drafted Landry Jones to grow into a competent NFL backup quarterback. The only thing that his 2013 and 2014 preseason performances inspired was job security for Bruce Gradkowski. Landry Jones made strides in closing out wins vs. the Raiders and Cardinals in 2015, and looked respectable in the Steelers loss to the Patriots.

  • Against the Browns, Jones showed he could overcome a costly interception, rally his team in the 4th quarter, and lead it to victory in overtime.

That marks and important step for the signal caller. Granted, Landry Jones wasn’t playing against the 85 Bears defense, but Steelers best offensive lineman and skill players were in street clothes. Salary cap math might prevent the Steelers from bringing Jones back in 2017, but he’s proven he’s a capable backup.

2. Darrius Heyward-Bey Is Back

It is no secret that Antonio Brown had to scratch and claw for his catches as the season wore on. And while Eli Rogers has stepped up his play late in the season, as had Hamilton, the Steelers still haven’t had a reliable deep threat to take heat off of Brown. Darrius Heyward-Bey may have only had one catch, but he brought it down for 46 yards.

If this is any indication of what he is capable of, the Steelers offense can be lethal in the playoffs.

3. Steelers Can’t Survive without Stephon Tuitt

When the Steelers lost Stephon Tuitt in the first series against the Bengals, things did not look good. Cincinnati ran the ball well against the Steelers in the first half, punctuated by Jeremy Hill’s powering his way into the end zone in the second quarter. Yet the Steelers run defense clapped down, and held Hill to negative yards in the second half.

  • Against the Ravens, the Steelers performance against the run was mixed.

The Steelers run defense held its own in the first half, but it struggled to stop the run at times during the second half. To be blunt about it, Isaiah Crowell looked like the Jim Brown running against the Steelers defense.

L.T. Walton has played well, as has Ricardo Mathews when healthy. Johnny Maxey has looked good as for a practice squader. But the Browns game clarified a that healthy Stephon Tuitt is essential to a successful Steelers Super Bowl run.

4. Sean Davis is Simply a Stud

When was the last time a rookie Steelers defender excelled to the level that Sean Davis has reached?

Sean Davis, Robert Griffin III, Steelers vs. Browns, Sean Davis sacks Robert Griffin III, Sean Davis RGIII

Sean Davis sacks Robert Griffin III in Steelers 2016 win over Browns at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Like Sean Davis, Troy Polamalu and Bud Dupree both won Joe Greene Great Performance awards, but neither of them made the type of impact plays that Sean Davis is making. You’d arguably have to go back to Kendrell Bell to find a rookie Steelers defender who made the type of impact that Sean Davis made.

  • Did someone tell Sean Davis the Browns game was supposed to be “meaningless?”

Apparently not. Davis dominated leading the team in tackles, sacking the quarterback, and recovering a bad snap to set up the Steelers first touchdown. It is usually a sign of desperation for a team to go into training camp counting on draftees to make a difference.

However, as Pittsburgh pivots to the playoffs, the Steelers can be confident that their 2016 draft class can contribute to a Super Bowl run with Sean Davis leading the way.

5.  DeAngelo Williams Isn’t Showing Any Rust

The Steelers haven’t seen much of DeAngelo Williams since his injury against Miami. Indeed, journalist David Todd went so far as to suggest that he might have made his last carry for the Steelers. On the surface, Williams numbers of 67 for 23 do not look good.

  • Numbers do not lie, but often times they fail to tell the full story and such was the case of DeAngelo Williams.
DeAngelo Williams, David DeCastro, Steelers vs. Browns, DeAngelo Williams touchdown Browns

David DeCastro leads DeAngelo Williams into the end zone as Steelers comeback against Browns.

Williams, like the rest of the Steelers offense started sluggishly, but he picked up steam as the game wore on. And it was DeAngelo Williams who got the Steelers on board to close the second half and who tied the game in the 4th quarter. Moreover, DeAngelo Williams used every ounce of his skill as a runner to save the Steelers from taking a safety on several occasions.

Injuries have forced the Steelers to start their 4th and 5th string running backs in their last two post season appearances. Pittsburgh’s offensive backfield will look a little bit different on this playoff trip.

6. These Pittsburgh Steelers WANT It

How many opportunities did this Steelers team have to mail it in against the Browns? Make no mistake about it, football is a brutal sport, and if your heart is not in it, that will show pretty quickly? How many times have we seen the Browns fold against the Steelers in a season ender after Pittsburgh puts up a two score lead?

  • The Browns went up by two touchdowns, but the Steelers fought back
  • Late in the 4th, Cleveland tied the game,and threatened to score at the Steelers 5, but the Jarvis Jones forced a fumble
  • The Browns won the toss in OT and marched to the Steelers two, but Ryan Shazier helped force a 14 yard loss

When the Steelers finally got the ball they came up to a 4th and 2 at their own 32-yard line. It would have been so easy for Mike Tomlin to send in Chris Boswell for a 49-yard field goal attempt, figuring Cleveland could not score in 3 minutes.

Instead, he went for it and Demarcus Ayers converted the third down. One play later, Cobi Hamilton was sealing the Steelers win in OT.
As Mike Tomlin said, fight won’t bring home a seventh Lombardi trophy, and some of the sloppiness the Steelers displayed vs. the Browns will doom them. But overall, the Steelers win over the Browns offers a lot of promise as Pittsburgh head to the playoffs.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

A’s for Excellence, Not Effort: Steelers Report Card for Christmas Comeback vs. Ravens

Taken from the grade book who has seen his failing student earn straight A’s since getting a failing mid-term progress report, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Christmas comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Bud Dupree, Joe Flacco, Bud Dupree sacks Joe Flacco, Steelers Christmas comeback over Ravens

Bud Dupree sacks Joe Flacco during the Steelers Christmas win over the Ravens. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Quarterback
How do you grade this one? Ben Roethlisberger got off to a strong start, then sputtered a little in the first half, only to throw two Kordell Stewartesque interceptions in the third. That would normally be enough to earn the signal caller an “F.” Then came the 4th quarter, where Ben Roethlisberger completed 14-of-17 passes for 164 yards for two touchdowns while hitting 6 different receivers. Players grades come as a product of performance and results. Do the results of Ben’s 4th quarter play outweigh earlier performances? Yes they do. Grade: A

steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers vs. RavensRunning Backs
Coming into the game the Baltimore Ravens had the NFL’s second best rushing defense that only allowed 3.5 yards per carry. Moreover, this is a rush defense that smothered Le’Veon Bell just two months before.

  • But in the Steelers Christmas comeback against the Ravens, Le’Veon Bell reminded everyone that ball players and not bean counters determine the outcome of games.

Le’Veon Bell rushed for 122 yards on just 20 carries (that’s an average of 6.1 yards per carry), scored 1 touchdown on the ground and another through the air, where he made 3 catches for 15 yards. Roosevelt Nix only appeared in 19% of the snaps, which is perhaps a surprise, but he blocked well when he was in the game. Grade: A+

Tight Ends
The big question going into the game was how much Ladarius Green’s absence would impact the passing game. The answer was that the men below him on the depth chart stepped up. Xavier Grimble caught the game’s first touchdown pass holding on to the ball when he knew he would get drilled. Jesse James came up big late in the game, catching 3 of his four passes in the 4th quarter. David Johnson didn’t have a target, but was a force in as a blocker, as were the other two Steelers tight ends. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown was quiet for much of the first three quarters, but exploded in the 4th quarter, catching 6 passes for 73 yards in the final 15 minutes.

  • However, if Brown’s only catch had been his last one, the touchdown catch, he’d have had a great game.

Eli Rogers put on another strong performance, catching a couple of field-stretching that set up scores, including a 20 yarder that put the Steelers in the Red Zone. Cobi Hamilton only had on catch, but it came on the game’s final drive.

You wouldn’t think that Antonio Brown, plus a 7th round pick playing his first game and two undrafted rookie free agents would be the recipe for success in a playoff-defining game but was it ever. Grade: A

Offensive Line
If you really want to see how much the Steelers have grown since their last loss to the Ravens, then offensive line provides the perfect gauge. Sure, the offensive line kept an injured Ben Roethlisberger clean down at M&T Stadium, but the Steelers rushing offense went nowhere, on a day when Pittsburgh needed it to.

  • The Steelers came out of the gate intending to run the ball, and dared the Baltimore Ravens to stop them.

Back-to-back Le’Veon Bell runs for 23 and 13 yards to start the 4th quarter for the Steelers show just how badly Baltimore failed. Ramon Foster also deserves extra credit for making sure Bell got into the end zone on the penultimate touchdown. Grade: A+

Defensive Line
This game looked to be a tough one for the Steelers defensive line, with Stephon Tuitt out and Ricardo Mathews nursing an injury. Suffice to say, no one envisioned the Steelers starting L.T. Walton, Javon Hargrave and Mathews on Christmas with the playoffs on the line.

  • The Steelers defensive line did encourter some rough sledding against the Ravens.

While the Steelers bottled up Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon and Kyle Juszczyk ran with authority, often times not going down on either the first or second contact. Still, while the Ravens did establish the run, their running backs never came close to taking over the game. Grade: C

Linebackers
James Harrison led the Steelers with 11 tackles. For all of the ink that Harrison generates as a pass rusher, he is perhaps even stronger against the run. Lawrence Timmons had 10 tackles, and a key sack of Flacco that put the Ravens out of field goal range. Ryan Shazier was next, with 10 tackles and a pass defense. Bud Dupree had another drive ending sack of Joe Flacco and got a hand on a pass on third down.

A little more consistent pressure on Flacco would have been nice, and perhaps a little better performance in the against the run. Nonetheless, it was a good night for the Steelers linebackers. Grade: A-

Secondary
Sean Davis made what was perhaps the most underrated play of the game when the Ravens had the ball on third down at the Steelers four, by knocking a way a touchdown and forcing the Ravens to settle for a field goal, keeping the Steelers within 10 as the 4th quarter began. William Gay led the Steelers defensive backs with 7 tackles, while Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell had 7 a piece, followed by Mike Mitchell who had 5 tackles and a pass defensed. Overall the Steelers pass defense was good against the Ravens, but Joe Flacco did complete 7 of 10 passes on the Ravens go-ahead touchdown drive. Grade: B+

Special Teams
Chris Boswell was perfect making his only field goal attempt and hitting on 4 extra points. However, he did get flagged twice for knocking kickoffs out of bounds, something which cannot continue.

The Steelers got little out of their return game, but their coverage units didn’t allow the Ravens much either. The same cannot be said for the Steelers punt coverage units, which allowed an average of 12.5 yards per return. That was hardly lethal, but with the top gunner Shamarko Thomas out for the year, the someone will have to step up.

The Steelers field goal until also reached on a botched snap. Those types of things usually hurt the kicking team, but if the defense isn’t on its toes, the opposing team’s kicking unit an turn a disaster into a big play. Danny Smith’s unit made sure that didn’t happen. Grade: B

Coaching
Amazingly enough, the Steelers coaching staff entered this game under attack. But the coaches answered the call.

Keith Butler was essentially forced to go into the biggest game of the season playing his 2nd string defensive line. That fact does show up on the stat sheet, but isn’t evident in the final score.

The bottom line is that Butler found a way to make it work. The Ravens did put up 27 points, but the telling statistic there is that the Ravens went 2 for 5 in the Red Zone, including one Red Zone possession that came as gift wrapped by Ben Roethlisberger.

Todd Haley also had his work cut out for them, given how well the Ravens defense has played the Steelers. The credit for the Steelers success rushing the ball lies with Le’Veon Bell and the offensive line, but Todd Haley and Mike Munchack were smart enough and confident enough to trust in those two units.

The Steelers offense put on a championship caliber performance in the 4th quarter. Again, the men who authored those plays on the field deserve credit, but they only excel in those situations on Sunday if they’ve been well-coached during the rest of the week.

  • Finally, we come to Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers entered this game fighting a lot of history and knowing that none of their previous 5 wins would mean anything if they’d lost. The Steelers came out and played focused football, daring and succeeding in attacking the strength of the Ravens, their rush defense.

  • But that wasn’t the whole story of course.

The Steelers offense sputtered for much of the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and easily could have folded or devolved into finger pointing when they began the 4th quarter down by 10. The same could have happened when they were down by 3 with 1:25 to play.

But the Steelers refused to blink and that reflects on their coach. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award
There are so many candidates worthy of this honor in the Christmas win over the Ravens. All the well-placed praise lavished on the game stars, Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown, doesn’t change the fact that their heroics are only possible if their supporting cast does their job.

  • Jesse James and/or the entire Steelers tight ends receiving corps earned strong consideration.

But here we’re going to follow Mike Tomlin’s lead and give recognition to the young 7th round draft pick, how drew a 35 yard pass interference play and then blocked for Le’Veon Bell one touchdown drive. He then made 9 yard catch AND got out of bounds as the clock was ticking down towards zero.

  • All of this came in his very first NFL game, during the 4th quarter with the playoffs on the line.

This young player answered the challenge, and for that Demarcus Ayers wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers Christmas Day win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Chris Boswell Kicks 6 Field Goals as Steelers Beat Bengals 24-20, Set up Christmas Showdown

In the 15th week of the NFL’s 2016 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals to the tune of 24-20 at Paul Brown Stadium. Officially, the victory gives the Steelers their 5th straight win, improves their record to 9-5 and keeps them one game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens.

  • Each of those accomplishments represents a necessary step that advances the Steelers towards the playoffs.

But reaching the playoffs isn’t the Steelers goal, winning the Super Bowl is. And in the game against the Bengals, the Steelers also showed progress on another front that they must master if they are to bring home Lombardi Number 7 this season.

In scoring 15 unanswered second half points against the Bengals, the Steelers showed that they can muster the discipline to avoid the self-destructive penalties that have plagued them for the last several weeks.

2016 Steelers vs. Bengals Paul Brown Stadium, Ryan Shazier, Andy Dalton

Ryan Shazier sacks Andy Dalton in the Steelers 24-20 win over the Bengals. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Steelers vs. Bengals First Half: When in Doubt, Look for a Flag

As a team, the Pittsburgh Steelers improved on several fronts during their recent four game winning streak.

  • The Steelers offensive line began playing complete games, simultaneously protecting Ben Roethlisberger and opening holes for Le’Veon Bell.
  • The Steelers run defense began shutting down opposing ground attacks.
  • Keith Butler found away both to turn up the pressure on opposing passers and secure turnovers.
  • Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave stopped playing like rookies.
  • Ladarius Green showed he could help add a vertical element to the passing game.

At first these milestones came with an asterisk – after all, the Steelers had “only” accomplished these feats by beating Cleveland or the Luckless Colts. The wins against the Giants and the Bills helped wipe away those asterisks, but Pittsburgh’s peevish penchant for self-destructive penalties persisted.

Whether the Steelers were screwing up field positions on special teams, or nullifying turnovers thanks to untimely penalties, the tendency continued as Pittsburgh stacked wins. The wiser scribes in Steelers Nation scolded that sooner or later, these penalties would come back to haunt the Steelers.

And during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals, it looked like the Steelers were going to do themselves in with flags.

  • A facemask against Stephon Tuitt on third down gave the Bengals new life and they scored.
  • A pass-interference penalty on Artie Burns set up the Bengals first touchdown.
  • A chop block called on Le’Veon Bell nullified an Antonio Brown touchdown.
  • And so it was, as the first half drew to a close, the Pittsburgh Steelers were looking at a 20-9 deficit while the Baltimore Ravens were leading the Eagles over in Charm City.

On his way in the locker room, Mike Tomlin made no bones about the impact that the penalties had had on his team, and declared that the key to a second half rally lay in “playing cleanly.”

Steelers Play Clean, Bengals Revert to Form

The last time the Steelers played at Paul Brown Stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals were approximately 2 minutes away from their first playoff victory since 1990. But then the Bengals of discipline took over, as the Steelers forced a fumble, moved down the field, and then got into easy field goal range thanks to back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

  • During the first half, it looked like the Steelers lack of discipline would lead to their undoing.

The Cincinnati Bengals went into the locker room holding an 11 point lead on a team that needed this win. Cincinnati was playing for pride, playing to be the spoiler. It would be unfair to say that Cincinnati became completely unhinged in the second half. After all, the Bengals defense continued to force the Steelers to settle for field goal after field goal.

But with Pittsburgh down by 2 in the 4th quarter, the Bengals suffered what Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer would call “Bengals moments.”

  • First, it was an off sides penalty on a failed 3rd and one conversion by Ben Roethlisberger. First down, Pittsburgh.
  • Roethlisberger followed with another incompletion, but Cincinnati matched with another defensive holding penalty. First down, Pittsburgh.
  • Ben Roethlisberger’s next pass fell incomplete, and Cincinnati committed another defensive holding penalty. First down, Pittsburgh.
  • Next, Le’Veon Bell ran for no gain. Cincinnati committed an unnecessary roughness penalty. 15 yards, first down Pittsburgh.

The Bengals did a fine job of blowing up a Sammie Coates reverse, but on the next play, Ben Roethlisberger fired a bullet to Eli Rogers through double coverage which put the Steelers up for good. While the Steelers did earn their share of flags in the second half, none of these were of the drive killing or drive sustaining nature that

While Butler’s Boys Set Table, Boswell Quietly Serves

Chris Boswell wins the Steelers MVP award in a no brainier landslide. Going six for six on field goals in any stadium is no simple task. But Boswell did it outdoors, on a cold December day along the Ohio River. And Boswell didn’t just knock in a couple of chip shot field goals because the Steelers stalled in the Red Zone.

  • Boswell, kicked field goals of 45, 49, 49, 46, 49 and 30 yards.

These kicks, while impressive, weren’t even Boswell’s best performance of the day, which came with his shoe-string, touchdown saving tackle of Alex Erickson.

Chris Boswell, Alex Erickson, 2016 Steelers vs. Bengals Paul Brown Staidum

Chris Boswell’s shoe string tackle of Alex Erickson saved a touchdown. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

It took three and a half quarters for the Steelers offense to get in gear, and even when they did, the assist they got from the Bengals lack of discipline greatly facilitated their only touchdown. Thanks to Chris Boswell the Steelers stayed in this game.

  • But Chris Boswell hardly acted alone.

The other side of the story was told by Keith Butler’s defense. Stephon Tuitt stepped up his play tremendously in the absence of Cameron Heyward, but the Steelers lost Tuitt’s services early in the game. Then they lost Ricardo Mathews.

That left L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave as the Steelers only healthy defensive lineman, forcing James Harrison into some spot defensive-end duty.

  • The Bengals opened the game by scoring on all four of their first half possessions.
  • In the second half, Andy Dalton’s crew went Punt, Interception, Punt, Punt.

They never even threatened to score in the second half, thanks to Lawrence Timmons’ interception, Ryan Shazier’s sack, timely passes tipped away by Ross Cockrell and Artie Burns, and solid tackling all around.

Steelers Have Positioned Themselves to Capitalize on Christmas

The win over the Bengals improves the Steelers record to 9-7, bringing up a Christmas Day show down against the Baltimore Ravens. The stakes in the game are simple:

  • A Steelers win will assure them the AFC North Division Championship and a playoff spot.

A loss likely leads to the Ravens winning the division, while Steelers Nation passes the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day memorizing NFL playoff tie breakers. The Steelers have worked hard to put themselves in position for this. Now Mike Tomlin’s crew must capitalize.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Le’Veon Bell and Ladarius Green Go to Photo Finish in Steelers-Giants Game Ball Poll

The votes are in for the Pittsburgh Steelers game ball winners for last weeks victory over the New York Giants and the contest was one of the most closely contested game ball polls we have seen here at Steel Curtain Rising in a long time.

But with all of the ballots counted, Le’Veon Bell edged out Ladarius Green as to top vote getter by a count of 19 to 18. Not only did the two offensive stars go neck and neck for top billing in this poll, but they were the only two contestants to break double digits.steelers game ball winners giants, le'veon bell, ladarius green, steelers 2016 defense, Lawrence Timmons, Sean Davis, James Harrison

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the next highest vote getter for the offense with 8 votes, which doubled Antonio Brown’s total of 4. Kudos to the citizen of Steelers Nation who took time to write in Jesse James name. Jesse James appears to be blossoming into a quality number 2 tight end, and he played a fabulous game winning unsung hero honors in the Steelers-Giants Report Card.

One of our write in voters nominated the entire Steelers defense, and this sentiment found plenty of support in Steelers Nation, as that is the highest vote getter on the Steelers defense.

Lawrence Timmons led individual Steelers defenders with 8 votes and his interception in no small part helped turn the game. Timmons was followed by Sean Davis, who had a fantastic game, and including several key stops and a game-sealing interception. After that votes tapered off, with James Harrison and Artie Burns earning 4 votes a piece.

Steelers Nation isn’t ready to give a lot of love to Ricardo Mathews who, despite registering his first sack for the Steelers, got zero votes. Better luck next time Ricardo.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising extends its thanks to everyone who took time out to vote, and especially to those made the effort to cast write-in votes.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Pittsburgh Gets Physical: Offensive Line, Defense Deliver as Steelers Beat Giants 24-14

December football has arrived. As the temperatures drop, this is the time of year when the contenders rise above the pretenders. It is impossible to label a 7-5 team “a contender” but the Steelers 24-14 win over the New York Giants gives Steelers Nation hope that they can soon earn the label.

And what’s more encouraging is that the Steelers authored this win, to borrow the words of Jim Wexell, by reverting “to a formula that helped them win two Super Bowls last decade,” a formula that combines physical, playmaking on defense, a ball control rushing attack paired with a field flipping passing game.

Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, steelers vs giants, eli manning

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

Steelers Offensive Line Tolls the Bell

The Pittsburgh Steelers best three players are Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. All three have Hall of Fame level talent. The Cowboys loss confirmed that The Triplets can’t carry the Steelers alone, but during the Colts win others flashed that they might be stepping up.

  • The Giants game confirmed that players are stepping up on multiple fronts.

An underperforming offensive line was a constant in the Steelers 5 losses this season. They either protected Ben Roethlisberger or opened holes for Bell, but struggled to do both simultaneously.

Undaunted by coaching against tough a Giants defense, Todd Haley opted to ram the ball down New York’s throat. The Giants made 5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage proving they’re for real..

But those plays stand out as the game’s exception, not the rule. Unlike the Ravens game, the Steelers offensive line created room for Le’Veon Bell to run, and when they couldn’t, Bell created his own space. Le’Veon Bell’s 118 yards will keep fantasy owners happy, but the offense did its best work late in the game.

  • With 7 minutes remaining to play, the Steelers offense imposed their will to defended their 14 point lead.

Todd Haley force fed the ball to Le’Veon Bell 8 times, as Bell gained all but 5 of the Steelers 48 yards and set up Randy Bullock’s insurance field goal.

Sometimes, It IS Easy to Be Green….

An offensive line and a running back grinding out victory late in the 4th quarter certainly appeals to the “3 yards and a cloud of dust” purists in Steelers Nation, but it isn’t very sexy. A tight end who can stretch the field and make opponents pay is.

  • Against the New York Giants, Ladarius Green put Bills, Bengals, Ravens and Colts on notice that they will ignore him at their peril.

The Steelers have needed someone to take heat off of Antonio Brown, and against the Giants, Ladarius Green proved he can be that player. Green made 2 “field flipping” plays against the Colts, but the New York Giant’s 5th ranked defense figured to give him a stiffer test.

  • Ladarius Green aced the exam with flying colors.

Green set up the Steelers first field goal with his 37-yard reception. After that, Ben Roethlisberger found Green for completions of 9 and ten yards. In the third quarter Brown flipped the field again with a 33-yard catch and topped it off with a 20-yard touchdown catch.

On a day when the New York Giants bottled up Antonio Brown as well as any other team has, Browns jaw-dropping end zone and sideline catches notwithstanding, the Steelers needed another playmaker and Ladarius Green delivered.

New and Old Playmakers Drive Dominant Steelers Defense

Can it just be that 21-days ago commentators, including this one, had written the obituary on the Steelers 2016 defense? Yes, that happens when a defense surrenders 2 touchdowns inside of the 2-minute warning.

  • But the Giants game reinforces that reality that the NFL season is a 16-round fight.

And the Steelers defense has rallied since suffering what could have been a season-killing TKO at the hands of Ezekiel Elliot.

You can use a host of statistics to document the Steelers defensive dominance over the Giants – limiting them to 234 total yards, nearly shutting out Odell Beckhman in the first half, holding the Giants to 14 rushing attempts – but none of those do justice to what the Steelers defense accomplished.

  • The Steelers defense dominated because it combined physical football with splash plays at critical junctures of the game.

Lawrence Timmon’s interception end zone interception and 58-yard return both took points off the board and set up the Steelers first touchdown. Artie Burns, James Harrison, William Gay, Ryan Shazier and Timmons all stepped up to log yet another 4-down goal line stand when the Giants entered the Steelers Red Zone early in the second half.

With Eli Manning racing to avoid pressure, Sean Davis’4th-down interception prevented the Giants from transforming a Ben Roethlisberger interception into points.

  • Ricardo Mathews led a gang sack of Eli Manning on 4th down, effectively ending New York’s final chance rally for victory.

Last February Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin decided to attempt a little addition by subtraction by letting go of underperforming and/or overpriced veterans on defense. Growing pains tied to that decision cost the Steelers during the 1st three months of the season.

But December football has started, and the win over the Giants shows that the Steelers early-season sacrifices are beginning to bear fruit for Keith Butler‘s defense.

Steelers Must Maintain Focus

Unlike its last two wins, the Giants victory arrives without an asterisk and that’s a welcome because both the Ravens and Bengals are also bringing their best football to the table here in December. The good news is that the Steelers control their own destiny and are free to focus on one opponent at time.

Mike Tomlin’s ability to get his team to do just that will define whether the 2016 Steelers end December football earning the title of “contender.”

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Vote Now Steelers Nation: Steelers Game Ball Winners for Giants Game

Winning sure is fun, even if the Steelers didn’t make it as easy on themselves as they should have. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Giants to the tune of 24-14 and had it not been for a plethora of penalties and inopportune times, the Steelers victory could have been more decisive.

  • But as Mike Tomlin is probably reminding us now as I write this, “They don’t add style points.”

As we do after every Steelers win, we invite citizens of Steelers Nation to vote game ball winners. Here are the candidates who’ve made it to the ballot:

[yop_poll id=”43″]

On offense, Ben Roethlisberger earns a ballot slot due to his strong performance. Ladarius Green had what might be a breakout game, including his critical touchdown late in the game. Le’Veon Bell didn’t always have room to run, but showed why he is the most complete running back in the league. Antonio Brown’s yardage totals might have been down, but he came down with the ball in the end zone, and made another critical catch late in the game.

  • Remember, you are not limited to these choices. If you think that Jesse James deserves a game ball, please by all means write in his name. Better yet, write in his name in leave a comment pleading your case.

On defense, Sean Davis leads the balloting. Even before his interception, Sean Davis had a strong game, coming up to make a number of critical stops.

Lawrence Timmons also gets a nod on the ballot, as his interception was critical. Mike Mitchell also gets a ballot slot, as he came up with several key pass defenses against Odell Beckham Jr.

James Harrison recorded yet another sack, and again was strong in run defense. And Ricardo Mathews gets a ballot slot thanks to his sack of Eli Manning late in the game.

  • One good candidate for a write in would be Artie Burns, who lead the team in tackles, and had a key pass defense in the end zone.

On special teams, we’re also giving a slot to Steelers emergency kicker Randy Bullock, who knocked in 3 field goals and was perfect on extra points.

Thanks in advance for taking time to vote. Please be sure to check back for Steel Curtain Rising’s full analysis of the Steelers win over the Giants.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Pittsburgh Steelers Activate Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward to Injured Reserve

Is the Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush about to pick up an octane boost? That might be too much to expect, but the Steelers have activated Bud Dupree ahead of their road game vs. the Cleveland Browns. To make room for Bud Dupree, the Steelers placed Cameron Heyward on injured reserve.

Bud Dupree’s rookie season got off to a strong start sacking Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick and Philip Rivers in his first five games. Dupree also downed Andy Dalton midway though the 2015 season, but then hit the infamous rookie wall.

Bud Dupree, steelers activate bud dupree, bud dupree sacks colin kapernick

Bud Dupree sacks Colin Kapernick in the Steelers 2015 win over the 49ers. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Bud Dupree has spent all of 2016 on the injured reserve list due to a sports hernia, and the Steelers pass rush has suffered in his absence. Cam Heyward leads the Steelers in sacks with three, and he has missed two games and played injured in the Steelers loss to the Cowboys. After that, the Steelers sack “leaders” are rookie Anthony Chickillo, Vince Williams and James Harrison.

The headline “Steelers activate Bud Dupree” shouldn’t signal a panacea for Pittsburgh’s pathetic pass rush, but at the very least it provides hope that Dupree can compensate for the loss of Heyward.

Is 5 the Magic Number for Steelers Defensive Line?

With Cameron Heyward lost for the season, the Steelers decision to replace him with Bud Dupree doesn’t amount to much of a surprise, but it does leave Pittsburgh without much defensive line depth. With behind Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Ricardo Mathews, the Steelers have Daniel McCullers and L.T. Walton.

The Steelers normally carry 5 active defensive lineman on game day, although they also have also have Caushaud Lyons and Johnny Maxey on their practice squad.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Steelers Report Card for Loss to Patriots

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

jarvis jones, steelers vs patriots, steelers report card vs. patriots, steelers grades patriots

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.