In a continuation of a recent theme for the veteran quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger attempted 53 passes. Sure, he completed 33 of them for 305 yards and two touchdowns, but his 5.8 yards per attempt were rather pedestrian, and the passing game as a whole seemed very lethargic–speaking of recent themes. Still, Roethlisberger may have enjoyed a better fate if not for seven more drops by his receivers. There was also the matter of more tipped passes–including the one that was intercepted by former Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic that snuffed out Pittsburgh’s last realistic chance for victory. Grade: C+
If James Conner was worried about being replaced during his absence due to testing positive for COVID-19, he need not worry after Monday’s dreadful performance by his replacements. Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland and Jaylen Samuels rushed for a combined 21 yards. McFarland had a chance to be a bit of a hero when he was the target of Roethlisberger’s pass on fourth and one late in the game. Unfortunately for the rookie, the pass was a bit off and he was a bit lacking in his response to helping his quarterback out. Grade: D-
Eric Ebron did have seven catches for 68 yards, but there were more notable drops as he appears to be in his own head regarding that annoying flaw. As for Vance McDonald, he wasn’t targeted once. It’s too bad I can’t give these guys brownie points for blocking in the running game. Speaking of which, Ebron gets one demerit for his pathetic excuse for a block on Snell’s failed attempt to score from the one on fourth and goal. Grade: D-
James Washington had a great effort on a 50-yard touchdown catch-and-run, which is the only thing keeping me from giving this unit an F. Again, seven more drops, including a few from JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. Rookie Chase Claypool saw a drop in playing time and didn’t really contribute a whole lot except for drawing another pass interference penalty. Grade: D
The offensive line again kept Roethlisberger clean for a fifth-straight game, but was that based on ability and talent or the fact that No. 7 now likes to get rid of the football quicker than any passer in the league? If you cite the lack of a running game along with the unit’s 2008-like habit of not being able to get any push on short-yardage plays as evidence, I’d say it was the latter. However, considering center Maurkice Pouncey was out for a second-straight game due to COVID restrictions, I will give the hogs the benefit of the doubt–at least a small one. Grade: C-
The trio of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu had a bit of a quiet night, but Tuitt did record one of the defense’s three sacks. Also, the Washington Football Team was limited to just 45 yards on the ground–including 23 on 14 carries for running back Peyton Barber–and that starts up front. Grade: B-
T.J. Watt was his usual disruptive self, tallying one sack and four hits on quarterback Alex Smith. As for rookie Alex Highsmith, filling in for the injured Bud Dupree, he had a decent enough showing for his first-career start. But he’s no Bud as a pass-rusher (at least not yet), and it showed. Robert Spillane had another decent night from the inside linebacker spot and recorded one sack, three tackles and three passes defended before exiting with a knee injury. Avery Williamson took his place and had a rather active night in his own right. Normally, I would say it was a decent evening for both the inside and outside linebackers–and it was–but Watt made two critical errors in the game. The first came when he was called for holding on a fourth and goal play early in the second half that kept a Washington drive alive and led to a touchdown. His second error occurred in the fourth quarter when he had a chance to fall on a fumble that he forced but seemed too intent on scooping and scoring, allowing Washington to recover. Grade: C+
The unit came into the night missing cornerback Steven Nelson, who missed the game with a knee injury and ended the night without cornerback Joe Haden, who left in the second half with a concussion. There was no doubt these injuries were a factor, as Washington tallied 296 passing yards and the unit struggled to cover tight end Logan Thomas. Mike Hilton did have an exceptional night and probably would have been the player of the game had the team won. Grade: C-
Marcus Allen was called for roughing the punter early in the game, a penalty that kept an early Washington drive alive. As for return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud, he wasn’t his usual dynamic self. Punter Jordan Berry averaged 44.3 yards on six kicks and downed two inside the 20. Matthew Wright, filling in for an injured Chris Boswell, connected on two extra points and a 37-yard field goal. Unfortunately for the youngster, head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t have enough confidence in him to allow him to attempt a go-ahead 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Grade: C+
Tomlin isn’t shy about absorbing the lion’s share of the blame when his team doesn’t perform well. His players jumped out to a 14-0 lead and seemed to act as if the game was in the bag after that. Then, there were the mental errors and physical errors. Plenty of blame for the head coach to absorb.
As for the offense, I’ve always been a defender of much-maligned coordinator Randy Fichtner, but his unit failed to pick up a single yard after facing a first and goal from the one. Also, there was the matter of Washington’s defenders bragging that they figured the Steelers’ offensive tendencies out.
I hate to harp on Keith Butler‘s defense too much, considering the injuries just keep piling up on that side of the ball. But I think the turning point in the game came on Washington’s first drive of the second half. Washington was backed up and faced a third and very long. Washington converted and eventually marched down the field to score a touchdown. That’s how 4-7 teams get back into games and start to believe. Grade: C-
Mike Hilton recorded six tackles, including two for a loss. One of those TFL’s occurred in the first quarter when he snuffed out a Washington running play on fourth and one.