Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is delighted to see his star pupils show up on the first day of school both willing and ready to work, here is the Steelers Report Card for their Monday Night Football win over the Washington Redskins.
Ben Roethlisberger might not have been perfect, his fumble could have been very costly, and led the team to two and outs to start the game. But after that, Roethlisberger was nearly flawless completing 27 passes on 37 attempts for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He was also able to seamlessly work relative newcomers into the offense. Grade: A-
Who says 33 is over the hill in the NFL? That certainly did not apply to DeAngelo Williams Monday night, who ran for 143 yards on 26 carries and was running through the Redskins secondary at will by the time it was all over. The fact that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s stat line reads 3-6 surprises shows just who dominate the Steelers rushing attack was. Grade: A
Antonio Brown continues to maintain an almost mystical connection with the Steelers and is clearly the best receiver in football. With Markus Wheaton out, carrying the rest of the load fell to Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers. Both men made impressive plays, although both did see the ball bounce off their hands only to caught be another receiver. Fortunately in Coates’ case Rogers was the receiver and it was in the end zone. Teams like the Patriots, Bengals or Ravens won’t be so forgiving and the grade must reflect that. Grade: A-
The post-Heath Miller era began against the Redskins, with Jesse James taking up the mantel, for the time being at least. As he flashed in 2016, Jesse James showed that he can be a fairly reliable target in the passing game, although he didn’t look quite comfortable out there. His blocking remains a liability, having missed a couple of key blocks. In contrast, David Johnson played in an H-Back roll, and made a key block on one of DeAngelo Williams first big gains. Xavier Grimble also saw some action. Against the Redskins, the Steelers tight end by committee worked well enough. Grade: B
The Washington Redskins actually had a decent rushing average against the Steelers, but the truth is neither running back broke the 25 yard mark. Cameron Heyward led the unit with 2 tackles, followed by Stephon Tuitt with one and registered a QB hit. Javon Hargrave made his rookie debut, and little was seen of him, although that’s not always a bad thing for a nose tackle. Grade: B
Ryan Shazier had another fantastic night, forcing a fumble, breaking up a touchdown pass in the end zone, and hauling in an interception that permanently reversed the course of the game for Pittsburgh. Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 8 tackles and was all over the field. James Harrison might only have had 3 tackles on the night, but his run stop of Matt Jones was a beauty. L.J. Fort saw his first regular season action and got a hit on Kirk Cousins late in the game. Jarvis Jones quietly recorded 6 tackles. Grade: B
Ross Cockrell let an interception slip though his fingers, and the Steelers defensive backs didn’t record any take aways, but they did force the Redskins to settle for field goals on three occasions when touchdowns were very real possibilities. Mike Mitchell led the group and set the tone by keeping receivers in front of him, and then laying in the wood afterwards. William Gay had a quiet night, which is good for a cornerback. Robert Golden looked like he belonged as did the rookie Sean Davis. Grade: B
Chris Boswell made all of his extra points and a 46 yard field goal (on the road, at night, on grass.) Jordan Berry’s punting was solid. The kick coverage of Fitzgerald Toussaint’s return was good, and it looked like a more capable returner could have taken that much further. Toussaint needs to learn to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves.
- The Redskins had one kick return of 29 yards and a punt return for 17.
Danny Smith must see to it that future play by the Steelers kick coverage units must renders those numbers to statistical aberrations. Grade: B-
Mike Tomlin won his first road opener since 2008, and he did it against a defending divisional champion. In the NFL it is more about how you finish than how you start, but the goal of every coach is to “start fast, finish strong” and the Steelers took a first step in that direction. Yes, there was some rustiness, but considering that the Steelers are fielding a host of different players than the squad that was last on the field in Denver, a 38 to 16 performance is all the more impressive.
- The Steelers locker room is embracing Tomlin’s “Next man up” credo.
It took Todd Haley’s offense a quarter to get warmed up, but once it got into gear, it almost seemed as if the Steelers offense was restraining itself against the Redskins at times. Scoring 38 points against an NFL defense always impresses, but the Steelers could have scored more. The tests will get tougher, starting this week against the Bengals, but Haley’s crew passed the first with flying colors, and the did it against a team that made big time investments in their pass defense.
Keith Butler’s defense lacked some of the splash plays from 2015. Over the long term that figures to be a problem. If the fireworks were missing, the Steelers defense was fully in “bend but don’t break mode.” Playing against a defending divisional champion, on the road, the score could have easily been 14 or 21 nothing giving the way the game unfolded. Butler’s defense saw to it that the score remained 6-0. Overall, the Steelers coaches had their players prepared and ready. Grade: B+
Unsung Hero Award
More than one fan has looked at the performance of Cody Wallace in 2013 and 2015 and asked, “Why are we paying the other guy so much?”
Against the Redskins, Maurkice Pouency answered those doubters. When the Redskins stripped Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers were down by six and at their own 25. A turnover there could have changed the direction of the game, and breathed life into the Redskins. Instead, Pouency got the ball away from the defender, and Ben Rothlisberger recovered it. On the very same drive, the Steelers went up by 7 after converting on a 4th down.
It is plays like that which facilitate fireworks by the super stars like Brown and Roethlisberger and for that Maurkice Pouncey is the Unsung Hero award winner of the Pittsburgh’s win over Washington.