Is there a better quarterback right now in the NFL? Perhaps there is, but it would be hard to improve on the quarterback play in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger went 21-27 for three touchdowns and 369 and was excellent on third downs and a near super human 13.7 yards per attempt. All on a day when he tied Terry Bradshaw’s career victories record at 107. Grade: A+
No one is ready to say Le’Veon who? But DeAngelo Williams has demonstrated why, even in this ”Thou Shalt Not Run” era of NFL football team needs a solid backup running back. For the second straight week Williams ran hard and ran well. While Williams didn’t have a “dominating performance,” the Steelers ran when they needed to, particularly in the Red Zone where Williams scored three touchdowns, a feat last accomplished by Willie Parker in 2008. Jordan Todman got the lone other carry, but he took it for 11 yards. Grade: B+
A week after passing Lynn Swann as the Steelers number 2 all time receiver, Heath Miller only found himself targeted twice. In true Miller fashion, he caught both passes, including one for a touchdown. Grade: A
While no one is saying, “Le’Veon who?” a couple more wide receiver performances like we saw yesterday in Pittsburgh might be people asking, “Martavis who?” Markus Wheaton only had two catches on four targets but Wheaton his 48 yard reception set up William’s third touchdown rush, and essentially put the game away for good. Darrius Heyward-Bey showed off his speed and the catching skills he showed in the touchdown he scored did justice to his number 88 jersey. What more can we say about Antonio Brown? 9 catches for 195 yards almost makes it seem like he and Roethlisberger can do it all by themselves. Grade: A
Caution was the word going into this game. The San Francisco 49ers liked a Rex Ryan style offense, featuring 2, 3 and even 4 tight ends.
- Could the Steelers defense line go toe-to-toe?
- Would they have the endurance to keep pace? The answers are yes and yes.
The Steelers limited 49ers running backs to 2.7 yards per carry and took the fight to the 49ers backfield. Both Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt had sacks, and tackles for losses. While Daniel McCullers, Cam Thomas, and Steve McLendon’s stat sheets are similarly flashy, Johnny Mitchell rotated his lineman regularly, and no one noticed the difference. Grade: A
Lawrence Timmons bounced back after a subpar game vs. New England making nine tackles and defensing a pass. Bud Dupree now has two sacks in as many NFL games, he also had a tackle for a loss and a QB hit. Jarvis Jones didn’t make an “splash” plays, but he did record 5 tackles. Arthur Moats had 3 tackles, half a sack, a tackle for a loss and a QB hit. James Harrison had two tackles and a QB hit. Those would be impressive numbers by themselves for the linebacking crops. But they all pale by Ryan Shazier’s game, where he made 15 tackles, dropped three people behind the line of scrimmage, had a drive-killing sack, and recovered a fumble to set up another touchdown. Grade: A+
What a difference a week makes. Antwon Blake led the secondary with 11 tackles and one for a loss, but more importantly, he had a pass defensed. As did William Gay. As did Will Allen. As did Brandon Boykin. These types of aggressive challenges to receivers were missing vs. New England and their return was welcome. As was the hard hitting which helped contribute to drops as the game wore on. The 49ers ran 3 drives that entered the Red Zone and totaled 48 plays but only yielded 3 points. That only happens if the secondary is doing its job. While the arrow is pointing up on the Steelers secondary this week, the unit also allowed a 75 touchdown catch where Torrey Smith went untouched. This brings their grade down. Grade: B-
Punter Jordan Berry was the star here as he boomed off a 62 yard punt just when the Steelers needed him and average 47.5 yards. Antonio Brown returned on punt for 16 yards, but a player of his caliber should not be returning punts except in critical situations. While the 49ers punt and kick returners were hardly a threat to disrupt the game, their averages were a little high than one would desire. Josh Scobee missed an extra point kick, which coupled with his two misses last week isn’t comforting. Grade: B-
Keith Butler promised more aggressive use of his defensive lineman, and if the 49ers game previews things to come, which it might not, then that is an encouraging sign. The Steelers have invested heavily in their linebacking crops, and that showed vs. the 49ers. Moreover, the communication issues which plagued the Steelers defense vs. New England were not evident.
It may have taken a lot of growing pains to get there, but Todd Haley has Ben Roethlisberger playing the best football of his life. Yes, he has a strong supporting cast, but the fact that the offense is missing two of its most explosive players shows you just how well this group is firing on all cylinders.
Mike Tomlin preached balance after the loss to New England and was preaching it after the 49er’s win. That is good. The first 12 games of the 2014 season were characterized by some rather wild swings in the quality of the Steelers performances, and Tomlin appears to be attempting to keep the team on an even keel. Grade: A-
Unsung Hero Award
369 yards passing and 3 touchdowns through the air and 3 more on the ground is nice. So is one receiver catching 9 passes for just under 200 yards. These offensive fireworks are fun to watch, and they make the fantasy owners happy.
- But all of this is made possible by something that entire franchise of fantasy football fails to mention – spectacular offensive line play.
Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert might not get stats, you might not hear people moaning, “Oh, I wish I’d started DeCastro this week” but the simple fact is that their play is what allows the Roethlisbergers, Browns, Millers and Williams of the Steelers offense to excel.
To the point. The San Francisco 49ers failed to touch Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers ran the ball when they had to. And for that the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line win the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over San Francisco 49ers.