Steelers Report Card for Meltdown to Chargers – Tripping Instead of Leaning In Edition

Taken from the grade book of a teacher depressed to see his students tripping instead of leaning in as the finish line approaches, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the meltdown against the Chargers.

Ben Roethlisberger, Justin Jones, Joey Bose, Steelers vs Chargers

Justin Jones & Joey Bose sack Ben Roethlisberger. Photo Credit: Mike Nowak, Chargers.com

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger’s stat line of 19-45 for 281 for 2 TD’s and 1 pick looks respectable. And the Steelers signal caller looked sharp at times. Yet his interception was costly and likely took points off the board. He also failed to connect with an open WR, although the WR may be responsible, nonetheless that also took points off the board. That brings Ben below the line. Grade: D

Running Backs
James Conner had two touchdowns and 60 yards on 15 carries including a long run and a key 4th down conversion. Roosevelt Nix looked strong blocking. Jaylen Samuels had two carries for 5 yards and looked good scoring Pittsburgh’s last touchdown through the air. Grade: BSteelers, Report Card, grades,

Tight Ends
Vance McDonald might not be Pittsburgh’s Gronk, but he can catch tough passes over the middle, more importantly, he can move DB’s to gain extra yards. Jesse James had one catch for 7 yards and blocked well. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
The WiFi was on as Antonio Brown looked every bit the Steelers number one wide receiver as he caught 10 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown.  JuJu Smith-Schuster had a quieter night, going 6 for 49. Ryan Switzer had two catches for 9 yards and Justin Hunter got open for a sure TD that he either under ran or Roethlisberger over threw. Grade: C+

Offensive Line
Running backs had room to run. Ben Roethlisberger had a ridiculous amount of time to throw on many occasions. The Los Angeles Chargers only sacked Ben Roethlisberger once and only touched him 2 other times. But on the first series of the 4th quarter a holding call put the Steelers back, followed by a sack, which in turn set up a punt return for a touchdown. On this page, grades are earned based on performance and results. Grade: C-

Defensive Line
Javon Hargrave got the only pressure of the second half with his sack of Philip Rivers. Stephon Tuitt deflected a pass forcing a punt early on. Cam Heyward got pressure in the first half. However, the pressure was absent in the 2nd half, and Justin Jackson broke through to the second level too many times during the meltdown. Grade: D

Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Heyward, L.J. Fort, Steelers vs Chargers

Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Heyward and L.J. Fort gang tackle. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Linebackers
L.J. Fort played for most of the night and led the team in tackles. Vince Williams was next. T.J. Watt got some good pressure in the first half. Bud Dupree played injured, splitting time with Anthony Chickillo and Ola Adeniyi. The linebackers had a lot of responsibility and to their credit the Chargers got very few after catch yards. They made some strong plays in the first half, but couldn’t come up with a big play in the second half. Grade: C-

Secondary
Philip Rivers is as hot as a quarterback can be right now, and the defense contained him in the first half, not so much in the second half. Terrell Edmunds had some nice plays and made the only splash play of the night for the defense. Joe Haden would have had an interception in the end zone but got KOed by Sean Davis instead. That could have been the difference in this game. Again, the Steelers defense needed a take away in the 2nd half and didn’t get one. Grade: D

Special Teams
Sure, the Steelers had a partially blocked punt that was nice. Jordan Berry boomed off some nice punts. But Chris Boswell missed another extra point. And the Steelers special teams seemed to commit penalties on each return.  Again.

  • And of course there’s the punt returned for a touchdown.

YES, it should have been called back and wasn’t. But that one illegal block in the back didn’t prevent the other 10 guys from not touching the returner. Grade: F

Coaching

Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Chargers

Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Whenever a team suffers such a catastrophic 2nd half meltdown, the easy out is to point the finger at the coach for allowing complacency to set in.

  • The Steelers however, showed no lack of hustle or focus in the 2nd half.

No one can be accused of mailing it in. And nor can Mike Tomlin be faulted for the critical plays where officiating wasn’t at the issue. Tomlin didn’t throw the pick, miss the PAT or collide with his fellow defensive back to break up an interception.

With that said, Ben Roethlisberger has now attempted over 45 passes or more in 4 of his last 5 games. While the results are not universally bad, a more balanced approach would be welcome, particularly because the Steelers have shown they can run the ball.

  • Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin need to take a long look at a run defense that suddenly seems to be gouged with double-digit yard runs with alarming regularity.

However, perhaps these last several games have revealed the truth that the 2018 Steelers defense is a unit that is capable of playing well for stretches, but one that simply doesn’t have the talent to do all it needs to do during a 60 minute football game. Grade: D

Unsung Hero Award
Had the Steelers won, this space would consider several candidates for the award. But critical failures in all three phases contributed to the second half meltdown and trying to award an Unsung Hero Award feels a little bit too much like the pro version of giving out a participation trophy so we won’t do it here.

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Steelers 2nd Half Meltdown vs Chargers Makes Pittsburgh Look More Like Pretenders than Contenders

Good teams define themselves with December football. No hardware is awarded in December, but that is when the cream rises to the top, and teams prime themselves for championship runs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a chance to do that on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.

  • And for 30 minutes, Pittsburgh played the part of a team readying for a championship run.

Yet, 30 minutes later, something very different happened and, when it all ended, the Steelers had lost 33-30. The hard truth behind their second half meltdown may be that Pittsburgh is simply a pretender and not a contender.

Terrell Edmunds, Keenan Allen, Steelers vs Chargers

Terrell Edmunds fails to stop Keenan Allen on a 2 point conversion. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.com

Steelers Open Game in Championship Form*

Everyone knew the stakes when the action started at Heinz Field Sunday night. The Steelers held a narrow lead in the AFC North, while the red hot Chargers were chasing a Wild Card slot.

  • And for 30 minutes, there was no doubt as to which team was stepping up.

The Steelers wasted little time starting the fireworks, as Ben Roethlisberger struck Antonio Brown on a 46 yard pass that ended at the one. One play later and James Conner put Pittsburgh up by a touchdown.

On Pittsburgh’s next possession, the Chargers helped the Steelers out with a blatant pass interference penalty on Ryan Switzer. Again, this set the Steelers up for another James Conner one yard touchdown plunge.

The Chargers responded with a touchdown of their own, thanks to an uncalled false start penalty, but the Steelers responded with a field goal.

  • The Steelers closed the half with another one of their trademark 2 minute drives that included a 16 yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster and another touchdown to Antonio Brown.

On the other side of the ball, Philip Rivers was completing passes, but the Steelers defense was yielding no quarter : A sack by Terrell Edmunds, a deflected pass by Stephon Tuitt, pressure from Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt along with stout coverage by L.J. Fort led to four Chargers first half punts.

  • The Steelers first half hadn’t been flawless.

But they’d left some points on the board, but they entered the locker room holding a 23-7 lead, and those missed plays looked to be little more than footnotes as another Carolina like rout appeared to be in the making….

Steelers Suffer Epic Meltdown in 2nd Half

The LA Chargers left both Steelers coaches and amateur film reviewers with a lot of tape to dissect from the worst meltdowns in franchise history. I’ll leave it to others to dig into the root causes and adjustments that the Chargers made and that the Steelers failed to counter during the implosion.

Terrell Edmunds, Justin Jackson, Steelers vs Chargers

Justin Jackson stiff arms Terrell Edmunds. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

The Steelers could have put the game away with a score on their opening drive, but instead had to settle for a punt plus 5 minutes burned off the clock.

  • The Chargers response was telling.

Conventional wisdom says that when you’re 16 points behind, on the road, and you’ve only got 25 minutes left on the clock, you rollout your hurry up offense. San Diego didn’t do that. Instead, they methodically moved down the field and scored a touchdown, in a drive the consumed 8 minutes.

At that pace, the Chargers didn’t seem to stand a chance of mounting a comeback, even if their defense could force the Steelers to punt, as they did.

  • But a Desmond King punt return for a touchdown changed everything for San Diego in a heartbeat.
  • After their second successful two point conversion, the Chargers had tied the game.

The Chargers responded with another touchdown to take the lead, but only after Sean Davis collided with Joe Haden taking away a near-certain Haden interception. Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers for a touchdown, this time by connecting with Jaylen Sammuels, but San Diego had enough time on the clock to get in field goal position.

After three tries, thanks to Steelers special team penalties, the Chargers won it at the closing gun.

Who Not to Blame for the Loss

Citing a desire not to send any more money to New York, Mike Tomlin stopped short of blaming the officials for the loss. Others have taken up his cause.

  • An uncalled but blatant false start should have nullified the Charger’s first touchdown
  • An illegal block in the back should have nullified their second touchdown
  • The Steelers got screwed on a spot and were forced to burn a time out
  • A couple of questionable holding penalties scuttled Steelers drives in the 2nd half
  • The off sides penalty that allowed a Chargers re-kick as time expired looked questionable

Poor officiating certainly hurt the Steelers, but pointing the finger at the zebras for this loss might feel good, but it only papers over some deficiencies that Mike Tomlin and company need to address quickly.

Mirror Shows Steelers Tripping Instead of Leaning In

Bad calls are part of the game. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they do not. Some bad calls have greater impact than others, but when they do occur, good teams must stay focused to overcome those.

Poor officiating didn’t force:

  • Chris Boswell to miss an extra point
  • Ben Roethlisberger to throw an interception trying to reach Vance McDonald
  • A failed connection between Roethlisberger and a wide open Justin Hunter in the end zone

If the Steelers make two out of those three plays, they have the points they need to win the game.

And all of those plays came in the first half, when the Steelers were playing well. Bad calls didn’t keep Philip Rivers clean, as Javon Hargrave’s sack seemed to be the only time the Steelers defense touched him in the 2nd half.

Poor officiating also didn’t allow Justin Jackson to run rampant in the Steelers secondary throughout the second half with runs of 18, 19, 18, and 11 yards. There were any number of occasions in the 2nd half when a sack, a forced fumble, or an interception would have shifted momentum back to the Steelers.

  • Yet, the Steelers defense failed to make a play.

December football is the time when true championship contenders “lean in” towards the finish line. Against the Chargers the Steelers started by leaning in, only to trip over their own two feet.

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Steelers Activate Ola Adeniyi, Cut Matthew Thomas

Heading into their critical Sunday night show down with the San Diego er um, Los Angeles Chargers, the Pittsburgh Steelers made personnel moves, one expected, the other a bit of a surprise.

  • First, the Steelers have activated outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi off of injured reseve.

This move was expected. Bud Dupree’s participation in practice was limited this week, and T.J. Watt also suffered a minor injury in the Steelers loss to the Chargers. Anthony Chickillo also suffered some sort of ankle injury in the Steelers win against the Chargers, although he has practiced since then.

  • So it was not a surprise to see the Steelers activate Ola Adeniyi off of the injured reserve list.

During the preseason Ola Adeniyi, whose full name is Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, was one of the stand out players for the Steelers defense as he recorded 3 sacks, and was a regular presence in the offensive backfield.

Ola Adeniyi, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi

Steelers activate Ola Adeniyi for Chargers game. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

However, their move to make room for Ola Adeniyi does count as a bit of a surprise, as Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert chose to wave inside linebacker Matthew Thomas. Matthew Thomas joined the Steelers as part of their 2018 undrafted rookie free agent class, and had a stand out effort in preseason.

In fact, just prior to the opener, Jim Wexell reported some Steelers coaches were considering the possibility that Matthew Thomas could be splitting time with starters Vince Williams and Jon Bostic by the end of the season.

That role for Matthew Thomas never materialized, as the Steelers have turned to L.J. Fort as their primary backup at inside linebacker. The Steelers can of course resign Matthew Thomas to their practice squad, but he would have to clear waivers first.

Other Steelers News Heading into Chargers Game

In other injury-related news, safety Morgan Burnett is also likely out against the Chargers, paving the way for rookie Marcus Allen to see his first playing time of the year taking over the role of dime linebacker.

Starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been ruled out leaving Ben Roethlisberger’s protection in capable hands of either Matt Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor. Cornerback Cameron Sutton is listed as questionable.

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Steelers Free Agent Analysis Michael Vick – Time for the Veteran to Begin “Life’s Work”

In August 2015 the Pittsburgh Steelers made the most controversial free agent decision in the franchises history, when injuries to Bruce Gradkowski forced them to find a veteran presence to back up Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers of course signed Michael Vick, who like Mike Tomlin is a Tidewater Virginia, native.

Much of Steelers Nation was up in arms, not because of anything that Mike Vick had done off the field, but because of his conviction for participating in a dog fighting ring.

Capsule Profile of Mike Vick’s Career with the Steelers

Mike Vick saw limited action in preseason, but at the time signing him looked to be a no-brainer as he sliced through opposing secondaries. However, Vick saw action for real in week 3 when Ben Roethlisberger got injured vs. St. Louis. He closed out the game with a win, but his performance was OK. A few days later in a Thursday night game at Baltimore, Vick struggled, although he did hit Antonio Brown perfectly in the end zone only to see Brown drop the ball.

Vick continued to struggle for 3 quarters vs. San Diego, before he came to life, and helped the Steelers come back to win. A week later he was shaky again vs. the Cardinals, until straining a hamstring, forcing Landry Jones into the line up.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Mike Vick

Mike Vick is a franchise quarterback and someone who is no stranger to pressure. He pulled it out when he had to vs. San Diego, and with a year of experience under his belt, should be able to step in if need be.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Mike Vick

The fact that Landry Jones kept the number 2 quarterback spot long after Vick fully regained his health speaks volumes about where the coaches see Vick.

And Steelers beat reporters have as much said that Vick’s struggles on game day were evident in practice. Mike Vick will be 36 and players of that age have little “upside.”

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Mike Vick

Signing Michael Vick was the right thing for the Steelers to do, in fact, the Steelers would have been wise to consider using him in vs. Denver had Ben Roethlisberger had to come out.

But Vick probably gave the Steelers the last quality quarter of football he had left in him vs. San Diego and it’s time for the team to move on.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Fining Cameron Heyward for “Iron Head” is Simply Inane

Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward got a lot of air time during the Steelers Monday Night victory over the San Diego Chargers. And so he should have, Heyward had in the estimate on of Neal Coolong at DKonPittsburghSports, the best game of his career.

Unfortunately, all that attention came at a price for Heyward.

Cam Heyward didn’t say how much he’d been fined, but the information of course leaked out anyway:

There’s only one word to describe the NFL’s Cameron Heyward uniform fining: Inane.

For the record, here is the portion of the NFL’s uniform policy:

The League will not grant permission for any club or player to wear, display, or otherwise convey messages…which relate to political activities or causes, other non-football events, causes or campaigns, or charitable causes or campaigns.

Nice. So what the “message” that was related to a political activity, cause or campaign was Cameron Heyward promoting? “Iron Head”

The reference to “Iron Head” was to Cameron Heyward’s late father Craig Heyward. Craig Heyward was a stand out star on the University of Pittsburgh in the 1980’s and truthfully “Craig Iron Head Heyward” was and remains the only college that I wanted the Steelers to draft.

And that’s simply because as a high school sophomore, I saw ESPN highlights of him, say that he was playing for Pitt, and remembered Chris Berman saying “They call him IRON HEAD.” Heyward earned his legend. A friend of my brother’s who played at Annapolis told me that his friends on the defensive line “took tickets to see who would tackle Heyward” because Heyward inflicted so much punishment on tacklers.

  • The Steelers passed on a drafting Craig Heyward opting to take Aaron Jones while, the New Orleans Saints picked Heyward.

Heyward had a solid 10 year NFL career playing for the Saints, Bears, Falcons, Rams, and then retired after he played a final season for the Colts. But his battle with cancer had already begun, as he was diagnosed with chordoma malignant bone cancer. After surgery and radiation the cancer went into remission, but it was back in 2005 and in 2006 it took his life.

  • As everyone knows the NFL supports breast cancer research in October in part by incorporating pink into teams uniforms.

So it seems only logical that Cameron Heyward would honor his father’s memory and battle with cancer by spelling out Iron Head with his face paint.

The logic is lost on Roger Goodell. Instead of commending him for finding a cool, creative way to honor his father and the fight against cancer we have the spectacle of the NFL fining Cameron Heyward…

…Meanwhile, the side judge who “forgot” to stop the play clock after the Charger’s final kickoff got suspended for one game – with pay if rumors are correct. So if you screw up in a way that very much could have altered the competitive balance of the game, you get a slap on the wrist. But if you honor your father creatively, you get fined.

The NFL fining Cameron Heyward for painting “Iron Head” is simply inane.

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Mike Tomlin’s Trust Fuels Steelers Monday Night Football Win Over Chargers

The Pittsburgh Steelers Monday Night Football Win Over Chargers featured the very best the NFL has to offer:

  • Hard hits,
  • Crisp tackles,
  • Backs and receivers fighting for every extra inch on every carry,
  • Defenders defying with equal intransigence
  • Deep passes to please the fantasy crowd, and three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dusty rushing for the purists’ pleasure.

Ultimately the Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed 24-20 in this Monday Night Football test of wills and they did so because during the game’s two critical junctures Mike Tomlin held fast to an timeless quality that has nothing to do with football: Trust.

Three Quarters in the Trenches

The San Diego Chargers entered Monday Night at 2-2, having won their last matchup in overtime, thanks to a penalty that allowed them to re-kick a field goal. The Pittsburgh Steelers arrived in San Diego having lost in overtime after having missed two kicks as the clock wound down in regulation.

  • Both teams face 5-0 division leaders but there was only one 3-2 ticket out of San Diego and both teams arrived poised to fight tooth and nail for it

The Chargers drew first blood, and they did it quickly and seemingly effortlessly. Perhaps Pittsburgh would go gently into the night after all? Fortunately, the Steelers defense was not prepared to accept mediocrity.

After averaging 16.8 yards per carry on San Diego’s opening drive, the Steelers held the Chargers to an average of 5.0 yards during the rest of the game.

And this effort came on a hot humid night when the defense played almost a game’s worth of snaps in the second half alone. The modern NFL is geared to produce high scoring games featuring prolific passing and, truth be told, those fireworks help make the game what it is. But first three quarters of the Steelers Chargers matchup featured none of that, and instead gave fans a classic chess matchup.

  • The game cannot sustain itself on such defensive stand offs, but they are enjoyable to see every so often.

Credit the Keith Butler and the entire Steelers defense for authoring yet another performance worthy of epic proportions. The Steelers first 10 offensive processions finished like this: punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, interception on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, punt, punt, punt.

  • Whether you’re talking Pop Warner or Monday Night Football, that’s a recipe for losing football.

But when the third quarter ended, the Steelers weren’t simply in the game, they were leading, thanks to Antwon Blake’s 70 yard pick six.

Tipping the Hat to Philip Rivers

It would be remiss not to acknowledge both the skill and the spirit displayed by Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense. Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree sacked him. Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Blake and Jones laid out Chargers defenders behind the line of scrimmage. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt dominated the line of scrimmage so thoroughly that the San Diego

Chargers had nowhere to run.

But Philip Rivers never flinched, even if he was playing behind an offense line held together with spit, duct tape and bubble gum.

Instead, he marshaled his team, and looking every bit like a field general as he moved them down the field in the 4th quarter, scoring twice, doubtlessly leaving the field each time feeling like he’d left the Steelers on the ropes, given how badly Michael Vick was struggling.

In fact, Mike Vick looked every bit as tentativein his second start and as he had in his first.

  • He still couldn’t connect with Antonio Brown
  • Vick threw three should have been interceptions
  • He was taking sacks and/or under duress

In fact, Vick had only completed 8 passes for 63 yards. Things looked hopeless. The Dr. de Acero thought he had a prescription:

For those not fluent in Spanish, my friend Gustavo said “We’re screwed. Since this is a lost cause, we should give Landry Jones an opportunity.” On ESPN former Super Bowl winning head coach John Gruden voiced similar thoughts.

Fortunately, such ideas never cross Mike Tomlin’s mind.

With Tomlin Its A Matter of Trust

On Monday morning Ivan Cole of Going Deep on the Steelers rhetorically asked if too much coaching could get in the way of good football. At its core, Cole’s question is an age-old variant of the “Nurture vs. Nature” balancing act that every teacher, coach and parent struggles to perfect.

  • During the 4th quarter of the Steelers Monday Night win over the Chargers, Mike Tomlin proved he’s got pretty good balance on that question.

Tomlin is a big believer in investing in having a veteran backup quarterback. There’s no substitute for experience and there’s no substitute for in born talent. When you can put the two together, great things can happen.

For 3 quarters, Mike Vick played like a washed veteran, who was struggling in an unfamiliar system. On paper, Landry Jones familiar with the system figured to give the Steelers an edge.

But you win football games on the field, not on the coach’s chalkboard. Mike Tomlin understands that, which is why he never thought of pulling Vick, explaining:

This guy has seen about all of this game has to offer. He has unique abilities that you can’t coach. That scramble play, that’s indicative of what he is capable of. He has a career of highlights like that delivering those types of plays at critical moments. That’s why for the time being he is our quarterback

On the sidelines, Ben Roethlisberger saw a weakness in the San Diego defense. With Todd Haley’s approval, he drew up a play with Mike Vick and Markus Wheaton. Moments after Gruden called for Vick’s benching, Mike Vick entered the game, rolled out, fired off a lighting quick pass to Wheaton that he took 71 yards to the house.

Philip Rivers of course regained the lead.

Vick now had to run the two minute drill. Again he delivered:

  • First with 2 precision passes on third down to Darrius Heyward-Bey
  • Second with a 24 yard, head first scramble on 3rd and 6
  • Finally with another 16 yard third down strike to Heath Miller

There the Steelers had the ball on the 1 inch line, with 7 seconds left. That left Mike Tomlin with a choice. He could take the safe route and kick a chip-shot field goal and play for over time. Or he could go for it all.

  • Tomlin opted to go with Le’Veon Bell, arguably the most talent player on the field.

Bell delivered, ran the half yard and earned a touchdown. Faced with an all or nothing prospect, Mike Tomlin opted to trust the game by putting the ball into the hands of his most talented player on the field.

And because of that trust, the Steelers left San Diego at 3-2 with their first west coast victory in a decade.

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Vote Now Steelers Nation: Steelers Game Ball Winners for Win Over Chargers

steelers, chargers, game ball, winners, monday night football

Steelers Chargers Game Ball Winners

The Pittsburgh Steelers win a photo finish vs. the San Diego Chargers. And that can only mean one thing Steelers Nation, its time to vote for Steelers Game Ball Winners.

There is no shortage of candidates tonight. Michael Vick might not have won any style points, he won’t make anyone forget he’s not Ben Roethlisberger, but he made handful of plays precisely when the Steelers needed him to make them.

 

But Bell had help. Markus Wheaton showed why he is an unrated threat and Darrius Heyward-Bey again proved he is capable of coming down with the ball when the Steelers need him to. Heath Miller only had three catches, but as he always does, Heath made each and every one of them count.

  • But for all of the drama on offense, the Steelers defense more than held its own.

Shamarko Thomas got some of his first action at safety, and recovered a fumble. Jarvis Jones got his first sack and stripped the ball that Thomas recovered. Antwon Blake made yet another splash play on defense bringing a pick six to the house. Lawrence Timmons led the defense in tackles. James Harrison helped snuff out a key third down pass on the part of the Chargers. Ross Cockrell is making Kevin Colbert looks smarter and smarter every week.

And let’s not leave out the special teams, with Chris Boswell nailing his first field goal, and Dri Archer made some noise in the return game, while Roosevelt Nix showed why Mike Tomlin kept two full backs.

What a game. Check back tomorrow Steelers Nation for full analysis of the Steelers win over the Chargers, but for now take a moment to vote the Steelers game ball winners. Remember, you’re not limited by the selections you see, you’re free to write in player or coach’s name.

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Steelers Rule Ryan Shazier Out vs Chargers, Martavis Bryant in Doubt Too

In what amounts to a minor surprise, the Pittsburgh Steelers have ruled starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier out vs. the San Diego Chargers. Ryan Shazier was injured at the tail, tail end of the Steelers 43-18 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. At the time Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin described Shazier’s injury as simply “bumps and bruises” along the way.

Shazier however did return to practice this week and, according to Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Shazier pronounced himself “good to go” after the Steelers final practice ahead of the Chargers game. The Steelers however have officially ruled Shazier out vs the Chargers.

Sean Spence will replace Ryan Shazier this week, although Vince Williams is also expected to get snaps.

Bryant’s Status in Doubt Too

Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant returned from a four game suspension this week, and Bryant’s return was expected to provide a boost to both Michael Vick and the entire Steelers offense. The Steelers, however, have not yet activated Bryant, and need not do so until Monday afternoon before the game.

  • Dale Lolley of the Irwin Standard Observer confirmed that Bryant “practiced sparingly” this week, and Mike Tomlin does not like to play younger players who’ve had less than a full week of practice.

Given the porous run defense of the San Diego Chargers, combined with the fact that the Steelers are already playing without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers can be expected to lean heavily on Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams.

Beyond ruling Ryan Shazier out vs chargers, the Steelers listed Cortez Allen as questionable, Matt Spaeth (hand), Daniel McCullers (knee), Markus Wheaton (ankle) and Ross Ventrone where all listed as questionable.

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Can Martavis Bryant Help Michael Vick the Way Eric Green Helped Bubby Brister?

Martavis Bryant‘s return to the Steelers this week following a four game suspension brings up two critical questions as Pittsburgh prepares to face the San Diego Chargers:

  • How much can Martavis Bryant help Michael Vick?
  • And can a big-play receiver really help a struggling quarterback?

The latter question rarely gets the discussion it deserves. When a star running back’s performance slips, the smart observer first looks to the performance of the offensive line playing in front of him. Jerome Bettis production dip in 1998 and 1999 came in direct proportion to the decline of the Steelers offensive line. When the line got better, so did Jerome Bettis.

  • Decrypting the link between quality quarterbacks and quality receivers is far more challenging.

Steelers Hall of Famer John Stallworth’s best seasons came not when he was catching passes from Terry Bradshaw, but rather when he was catching them from Mark Malone and David Woodley. Yet no one ever said, “Imagine how bad Woodley and Malone would have been had they not had John Stallworth and Louis Lipps.”

  • On the flip side, every football fan knows Dan Marino as Hall of Famer, but who under 40 remembers the names Mark Duper and Mark Clayton?

Steel Curtain Rising doesn’t propose to answer the larger question here, but we do suggest that Steelers history supplies an example of a big play receiver giving a struggling quarterback a boost when both he and his offense needed it the most.

The Other Steelers 1st Round Pick Named Green…

To find that example you need to go back to Chuck Noll’s foray up Walton’s Mountain in 1990. Lost in the afterglow of the 1989 Steelers story book season is the fact that the 1989 Steelers offense finished last in the league in total offense. Chuck Noll sought to rectify that by hiring Joe Walton as his offensive coordinator.

  • Noll’s decision was a disaster.

The Steelers offense struggled. During preseason sheer chaos reigned when the Steelers had the ball. Things failed to improve when the games started, as the 1990 Steelers went the entire first month of the season without scoring an offensive touchdown. No one on the Steelers offense was happy with Joe Walton’s system, but none complained more loudly or struggled more than quarterback Bubby Brister.

  • Things changed for the better in October, and they changed thanks to the arrival of one man.

That one man would be first round draft pick Eric Green. When Bryant’s suspension began, Steel Curtain Rising offered Eric Green’s substance abuse troubles as a cautionary tale for the young wide receiver. Today we remember Green’s sensational rookie year and the difference he made to a Steelers offense that could do nothing but struggle.

Green had held out throughout training camp and threatened to hold out the entire year. Green finally reported, but didn’t work himself into the offense until week 5. The results speak for themselves:

Bubby Brister, Eric Green, 1990 Steeler, Chuck Noll, Joe Walton

Eric Green boosted the 1990 Steelers offense

The 1990 Steelers fielded two different offenses one with Eric Green and one without it. It is almost fair to say that Bubby Brister was a different quarterback with Eric Green in the lineup. That’s not 100% accurate, but he completed 10% more of his passes, threw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, and threw for 60 more yards per game.

  • Of course the analogy of the 1990 Steelers and the 2015 Steelers is very imperfect.

With Merril Hoge, Barry Foster, Tim Worley, Warren Williams the 1990 Steelers offense was

built to run, even if Walton favored the pass. And unlike Eric Green, Martavis Bryant is fortifying an already strong receiving trio of Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

It’s also right to acknowledge that while Eric Green did provide a big boost, he was no panacea for Joe Walton’s offense. The unit still struggled at critical times, and Brister never mastered it. Still, the historical symmetry between Green’s insertion into the 1990 Steelers offense and Bryant’s return to the 2015 Steelers offers a final, enticing parallel.

Eric Green’s rookie breakout game came in week five just as Byrant’s return comes on week five, and the Pittsburgh Steelers opponent in week five of 2015 is none other than the San Diego Chargers, just as it was in 1990….

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Steelers Report Card vs. Chargers @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who, as a second semester junior, decided to blow off studying for his open book, open note final in Crime the Individual and Society and bombed it accordingly. The feeling here is that the Steelers took the same approach to the Chargers game and their report card reflects it. As a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback
Of all the units quarterback is one that offered something redeeming. Which is not to say Ben Roethlisberger played well. He was rusty early on and finished 5-13 on third down conversions – and that includes garbage time. So Ben must bear some responsibility. However, he didn’t have help from his running game, his receivers, or his offensive line. In spite of that, he did his part moving around to buy time and leaving the pocket and rushing. It wasn’t enough.  Grade:  C-

Running Backs
Jonathan Dwyer outran Roethlisberger by one yard, and most of his carries came on a 14 yard scamper. Outside of that he got nothing. Isaac Redman had 2 carries for zero yards. Chris Rainey had some one garbage time carry. Arguably the running backs should have gotten more carries, but they indisputably were ineffective in the carries that they had.  Grade:  F

Wide Receivers
Mike Wallace looked great. The problem was he didn’t start playing until garbage time, save for the final drive of the first half. Before that he dropped an almost certain touchdown. Antonio Brown had a drop, as did Jerricho Cotchery and even Heath Miller dropped a touchdown pass. Plaxico Burress made a difficult catch in triple coverage. The Steelers needed plays like that. They didn’t get them. Grade: F

Offensive Line
The Steelers offensive line started to click in Cincinnati when Willie Colon settled in at guard. Colon’s been hurt or out recently and line play has suffered. But the Standard is the Standard, and all of the Steelers offensive lineman were “below the line” in both their run blocking and their pass blocking. If they could get it done, at least against the Raven’s pass rush, then why was Ben running for his live vs. the Chargers? This unit failed to get it done. Grade:  F

Defensive Line
Vs. the Steelers San Diego was playing offensive lineman who’d spent the previous Sunday watching games while drinking beer with their buddies. And while San Diego only rushed for 2.6 yards, the Steelers defensive line did not dominate this group by any definition. Ziggy Hood did fairly well early on, and Brett Keisel chased Philip Rivers around but the Steelers needed more, and didn’t get it.  Grade:  D

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons played well, especially early on. However Jason Worilds was invisible, James Harrison failed to be a factor as did Larry Foote. This group more than the lineman must shoulder blame for the lack of pressure on Rivers and San Diego’s almost automatic ability to convert third and shorts. Where have the forced fumbles been? Grade:  F

Secondary
Against the Ravens, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown looked ready for prime time. Against the Chargers, ready for the practice squad Brown looked. Allen also took a step back. Troy Polamalu made some good tackles at the line of scrimmage, but a potential interception was botch by a collision with Allen. Keenan Lewis made some plays, but the truth is that Philip Rivers owned the Steelers on third down having converted more than the last several opponents combined. Unacceptable.  Grade:  F

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham made a 49 yarder. Drew Bulter punted well after a poor first punt. But the Steelers started inside their own 15 seven times. That’s not all on the special teams, but they could have provided a spark, but they didn’t and when it seemed like they were about to, you guessed it, it got called back on a penalty. Likewise the special teams got caught asleep at the switch on a fake punt at a point when the offense must might have been able to get the Steelers into the game. Inexcusable.  Grade:  F

Coaching
Norv Turner is terrible head coach but an excellent offensive and it would be interesting to see his life time record vs. Dick LeBeau. During the first half LeBeau held his own, but Turner out foxed him, calling just the right play on third down time and time again. On a day when his player executed so poorly, its difficult to assess Todd Haley’s performance, other than to say it wasn’t good enough.

But the spotlight is and should remain on Mike Tomlin. The day he was hired, he declared that a true measure of a team isn’t how it handles failure but how it handles success. In the locker room after the game, the Steelers player all but said they’d overlooked San Diego. Yes, professionals shouldn’t “need to be motivated, but it’s the head coaches job to get his team mentally prepared to play, and the Steelers were anything but prepared. Grade:  F

Unsung Hero
Naming any kind of award winner here is a challenge. The Chargers opening possession of the second half really complicated things for the Steelers, but Steelers return unit Rainey stood ready to answer that with a 29 yard kick return, that while it wouldn’t have been a game breaker, could have set the tone for the Steelers in the second half. Instead it got called back, but that doesn’t negate Chris Rainey’s effort or attitude, and for that he is the Unsung Hero of the week.

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