Taken from the grade book of a teacher who warned his students that falling behind early would have dire consequences later on, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Ben Roethlisberger was 23 for 39 for 349 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Those numbers could have been better if not for a few drops. Roethlisberger rallied the team from behind twice in the second half, and looked poised doing so. Still, he did cough up the ball on his first sack in two games, and that hurt. Overall, an extremely solid performance. Grade: B+
Le’Veon Bell ran for 4.5 yards a carry, most of it in the first half. He also had five catches for 36 yards. Felix Jones ran twice for 7 yards, and Jonathan Dwyer kept the pile moving in short yardage. Hard to fault the running backs here. Will Johnson only had 1 catch for nine yards, but it was good for a first down. Grade: B+
Heath Miller was active early on, including several long throws. Matt Spaeth saw his first action for the Steelers since 2009, and looked good as a blocker. He was not a factor in the passing game. Miller threw a key block on Brown’s touchdown run. Grade: B
Antonio Brown played extremely well, especially on his 55 yard catch and run. Jerricho Cotchery played well and came up with the ball when it was needed, especially in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders was more quiet, but he did catch the first touchdown pass. Markus Wheaton had one pass thrown his way and seemed to hope to get a pass interference call – they don’t give those calls to rookies. These positives were real, but the drops, particularly late in the game took their toll. Grade: C+
Cody Wallace got his first start as a NFL center, and did OK, although his penalty was costly. Mike Adams got his first start back at left tackle, and Steelers Nation did not hear his name called all day – a good thing. David DeCastro threw some key blocks to help the running game early one. Marcus Gilbert got beaten once early but played a solid game beyond that. The line did do a good job of protecting Roethlisberger, until the end when the Steelers could least afford a breakdown in pass protection. Grade: C+
Cameron Heyward gets better with each passing game and is arguably the MVP of the Steelers defense. Heyward had a sack, was strong vs. the run, and tossed more than a few Dolphins around like rag dolls. Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon went out with injuries, and while their play is solid, neither is in Heyward’s class. Al Woods played a lot, and shoulders some responsibility for the missed tackles. Grade: B
The only negative to Jason Worilds play is that he is almost certainly pricing himself out of the Steelers range, unless major surgery is required. Worilds led the defense, had a sack, and was generally around the field all day. LaMarr Woodley made his return, and appeared to have forced an intentional grounding call. Other than that, he was invisible. Jarvis Jones bit hard on two inside plays. Lawrence Timmons was quiet. Too quiet on a day when two 40+ yard runs were allowed. Grade: C-
There was the beautiful and the ugly. Cortez Allen blanketed Mike Wallace and neutralized him as a downfield threat. Yet he gave up a 40 yard pass to Clay. Troy Polamalu’s pick size was the kind of play that make him a “Once in a generation type player.” However, he missed a tackle on Miami’s go ahead touchdown, a tackle that should have been made. Ryan Clark’s personal foul was bogus, and he helped neutralize Wallace. William Gay had a solid performance. Overall however, there were too many big plays down field, and the secondary must be held to account. Grade: D
The Steelers coverage units were OK, although Miami did have one above average punt return. The Steelers return game made zero impact. Shaun Suisham kicked well. But the real sin of this until was the blocked punt. No, no points were scored off of it. But a blocked punt in a must-win conference game in December is inexcusable, even if the block did not result in points score by the opposing team. Grade: F
How much of what transpired can you attribute to coaching failures vs. execution failures? That’s often a difficult question to answer and so it is here. But when you lose a game of this importance, all questions go on the table. The Steelers ran the ball well in the first half, only to see that element of their game disappear. Certainly, the offense was moving the ball and scoring in the second half, but when the drops started, the questions of “why didn’t we run it and burn up some clock” get asked.
More importantly, the fact that Ben Roethlisberger had to burn another time out in a critical situation because of communication issues shows that he and Todd Haley are still not on the same page after nearly two years.
The defense of course is open to questioning. But it is hard to fault Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau for the missed tackles that led to the defense getting gouged by 40+ yard runs not once, but twice. With that said, Miami’s success in throwing the ball with Mike Wallace neutralized suggests that perhaps the team over schemed against him. Of course no one says that if Wallace catches deep balls down field all day, but people ask these questions when you lose. Grade: D
In a game of so many highs and lows, finding an unsung and still deserving hero can be difficult. But early in the game the Steelers were running the ball well, and one of the reasons for that was the lead blocker that was opening holes for Le’Veon Bell. And for that, and for his 9 yard third down converting catch, Will Johnson is the Unsung Hero of the Dolphins game.