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 Report Card for the Wild Card Win over the Dolphins – Acing the Essay, Coasting on Multiple Choice

Taken from the Grade Book of a teacher who watched his star students ace the essay portion of the test only to coast a little too much on the multiple choice section, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Wild Card Win over the Dolphins.

Antonio Brown, Steelers Report card wild card win dolphins, Steelers vs. Dolphins

Antonio Brown waltzes into the end zone to put the Steelers ahead 7-0 in the Wild Card win over the Dolphins. Photo credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger started the game in playoff form, completing his first 11 passes including two long touchdown strikes. Those numbers are excellent, but by Ben Roethlisberger’s own admission he took his eye off the ball. The Steelers fourth drive should have put the nail in Miami’s coffin, instead Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception which opened the door to Miami making a real game of it. Standards are higher here in the playoffs, hence the “Good, but…” grade for Ben. Grade: B-

Running Back
Le’Veon Bell finally got to start a playoff game and when he did he broke Franco Harris’ single game yardage record. Bell ran for 167 yards. Take out Bell’s longest run, and his average is still above 5 yards. Wha’ts more impressive, the Dolphins knew the runs were coming, and Bell STILL earned his yeards. DeAngelo Williams got two carries in mop up time, and Roosevelt Nix saw time at fullback. Grade: A+steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers vs. dolphins, wild card

Tight Ends
This is another clear case of how statistics don’t accurately measure a player’s performance. Jesse James has one catch for 6 yards. Ho hum, right? Wrong. Jesse James saved an interception by snatching it away from a defender. Jesse James also made a critical block the permitted the first touchdown. David Johnson and Xavier Grimble also saw time. Their names don’t show up in the stat sheet, but you can see the product of their work in Le’Veon Bell’s record breaking day. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Believe it or not, Antonio Brown had never caught a touchdown pass prior to the Dolphins game. Brown rectified that scoring two, and doing so in dramatic fashion to give the Steelers a 14 point lead. After that, the Steelers went into a run on first, run on second and run on third type offense, limiting the opportunities for the rest of the receiving corps. Eli Rogers, however did make a nice 19 yard catch, and Demarcus Ayers had two nice short catches. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Cobi Hamilton each had 1 catch for 10 yards.

While the play of the wide recievers overall was strong, Brown had a couple of drops. These didn’t impact the game, but Kansas City will not be as forgiving and the group’s grade reflects that. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
While its wrong to say that an NFL running back is only as good as the line in front of him, the truth is that no running back can truly excel without a quality line blocking for him. The Steelers offensive line delivered so well for Le’Veon Bell that their third touchdown drive consisted only of runs. While the line’s overall play was extremely strong, Ben Roethlisberger did face a little more pressure than he has of late, and this is not a tendency that can be allowed to build momentum as the post season progresses. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
Just 3 months ago the Miami Dolphins humiliated the Steelers defensive line, and the unit took it personally. The Steelers defensive line responded with a monster game. Stephon Tuitt might only have four tackles and no splash plays, but he was all over the field, always running to the ball. Javon Hargrave only had 1 tackle, but if he’s not playing well Jay Ajayi is. He didn’t. Grade: A

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons had a monster game leading the team with 14 tackles including 2 for losses, 2 sacks and registered 2 more QB hits. And he was probably not the best linebacker on the field. That distinction belongs to James Harrison, who set the edge and completely shut down Miami’s running game on the weakside. Harrison also had one of his strip sacks, which prevented Miami from getting on the board before the half. Bud Dupree had a strong game, with a hellicious hit on Matt Moore, and shared a sack with Harrison. Ryan Shazier had an interception which essentially ended any threat of a Dolphins comeback, and played extremely well against the run. An outstanding day for the linebackers. Grade: A

William Gay, Lawrence Timmion, Leonte Carroo, Steelers Wild Card win Dolphins

Wlliam Gay and Lawrence Timmons send Leonte Carroo reeling in Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger PennLive

Secondary
Mike Mitchell was all over the field all day, and his strip sack of Matt Moore set the tone for the defense in the second half. Ross Cockrell led the defensive backs in tackles, and helped negate a Dolphins 2 point conversion. Artie Burns had 4 tackles while William Gay had a pass defensed that he could have intercepted. Sean Davis stepped up with a tackle for a loss before getting injured. Grade: B+

Special Teams
The Steelers special teams were showing some disturbing tendencies as the season drew to a close, and those have continued here in the post season.

  • Fitzgerald Toussaint continues to struggle as a kick returner.
  • Chris Boswell missed an extra point, and several of his early kick offs were short.

Worse yet, the Dolphins averaged close to 30 yards on kick returns including a long one of 58 yards. The Dolphins also had a 9 yard punt return.

The Steelers return team continued to commit needless penalties, and again failed to stop a fake punt attempt. At the end of the day, these mistakes did not prove to be costly for the Steelers, but if they continue it is only a question of when and not if it will cost the Steelers a playoff game. Grade: D

Mike Tomlin, Danny Smith, Joey Porter, Steelers wild card win dolphins

Mike Tomlin, Danny Smith and Joey Porter look on during Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Coaching
You don’t get many do overs in the NFL, but both Todd Haley and Keith Butler learned from their mistakes in the first outing vs. Miami.

The Steelers began with a balanced attack and quickly put up 14 points, and then essentially turned the game over to the offensive line and Le’Veon Bell. That plan worked, and would have worked better with just a little better execution from Ben Roethlisberger, which isn’t Todd Haley’s fault.

On defense, Keith Butler’s unit completely smothered the Dolphins running game, forcing them to try to beat the Steelers through the air. As has been said many times in this space, Fantasy Football owners who started Matt Moore and Jarvis Landry probably came away happy, at least based on yardage totals. But, Keith Bulter’s boys forced the Dolphins to settle for 3 early in the game, and later the defense came up with turnovers on 3 occasions to snuff out any Dolphin comeback attempts.

  • Colin Cowherd might find the Steelers performance lackluster, but the scoreboard proves him wrong.

Two years ago when the Steelers lost to the Ravens at Heinz Field in the playoffs, several position groups appeared to be out of their depth. Perhaps that was to be expected, although not excused, given the long layoff and turnover since the Tewbowing at Denver.

  • The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers displayed no playoff jitters against the Dolphins.

This was a team that came out with a specific plan on both sides of the ball and fearlessly executed it. Focus perhaps could have been a little better after the lead was established, but the fact that the Steelers were aware of that speaks to their coaching.

Mike Tomlin’s staff had a solid game plan and his players executed. The only real critique probably lies in the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was in the game so late into the 4th quarter. And that drops the coaching grade. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero Award
When the Dolphins run roughshod over the Steelers in October, any number of commentators pointed to opposing teams tremendous success in running the ball against the Steelers defense when either Cameron Heyward or Stephon Tuitt was out of the lineup.

  • Came Heyward missed both Dolphins game due to injuries.
  • Yet in their second outing they Dolphins struggled to rush where they’d soared before.

What changed? Well, certainly the improvement is the result of a team effort. But one player who has stepped up and quietly but steadily made plays each week is L.T. Walton, who played extremely well against the Dolphins, making tackles behind the line of scrimmage, recovering a fumble, and plugging gaps to allow the linebackers to make plays, and for that L.T. Walton wins the unsung hero award for the Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Then you have the critical breakdown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • This is unacceptable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steelers Report Card for Loss to Patriots

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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