Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 400 yards, which is usually a recipe for failure in Steelers football. As he was all year, Big Ben played under dress, suffering five sacks. Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, both of which set up Patriot’s touchdowns. Beyond that, Ben was pretty sharp, throwing 4 touchdowns and keeping the Steelers in the game in the second and third quarters. A valiant effort in many ways, but insufficient nonetheless. Grade: C+
Le’Veon Bell continues to improve as a rusher. He’s improving his ability to find and hit holes and drives to get to the second level. The stat sheet shows a lot of 1 and 2 yard runs, but he also posted 8 and 9 yard runs, and turned something into nothing with a 29 yard scamper on 3rd and 30. Still he made errors in the passing game. Jonathan Dwyer only carried once but made it count by going 30 yards. Felix Jones carried once for 5 yards. Grade: B
Emmanuel Sanders led the group with six catches for 98 yards including a 42 yarder. Antonio Brown had 5 catches and a touchdown. But the real star of the show was Jerricho Cotchery, who caught 7 passes but converted 3 of them for touchdowns – all in the Red Zone. The Steelers lost this game for many reasons, but play at the receiver position wasn’t one of them. Grade: B+
Heath Miller had 5 catches but those did help bring first downs. David Paulson was neither seen nor heard, neither was Michael Palmer. Mike Adams served as emergency tight end. Grade: C
Another game another injury to the offensive line. The Steelers have now had four lineman forced out of games due to injury in just 2 weeks. Guy Whimper struggled mightily during this game as the unit again failed to protect Ben Roethlisberger, save for a few drives during the third quarter. For what it’s worth, Mike Adams looked good coming in for Marcus Gilbert. Fernando Velasco got flagged for clipping. This unit’s play remains below the line. Grade: D+
All a team that wants to move the ball on the Steelers needs to do is to rush. A year ago fans were clamoring for Steve McLendon, now we’re missing Casey Hampton. The Steelers inability to stop the run isn’t solely the responsibility of the defensive line, but it certainly starts there. Grade: D
LaMarr Woodley recovered a fumble, but got little pressure on Tom Brady. Lawrence Timmons led the group, with 11 tackles, one for a loss, one QB hit. Vince Williams continues to play like a rookie. The real start of the until was Jason Worilds, who played like a man intent on keeping his starting job, recording two sacks, two QB pressures, and two tackles for a loss. Still, this unit certain shares the blame for the inability to stop the run and Tom Brady’s ability to convert third downs at will. Grade: D
Troy Polamalu forced a fumble. Ryan Clark delivered a walloping hit on Rob Gronkowski that kept him out of the game for a few series. But this unit was terrible. Tom Brady completed passes at will, throwing four touchdown passes as he used and abused William Gay, Sharmarko Thomas, Polamalu, Clark, and Cortez Allen. One of the worst days for the Steelers secondary in years. Grade: F
Antonio Brown’s 26 yard punt return helped fuel the Steelers comeback. Mat McBriar’s line drive punt set up a 43 yard return that effectively ended the Pittsburgh rally and allowed the Patriots to shift their pummeling into high gear. Felix Jones had a nice kick return, but the special teams came up short again, no matter how you measure it. Grade: D
Dick LeBeau has not forgotten how to coach defense. He simply no longer has the players to execute his schemes; the ones he has are either too old or too young. Todd Haley can’t really be faulted for a game plan that put 31 points on the board or for an offensive line that failed to stay healthy. However, the offense did come out flat in the first quarter, and its third down conversion rate was 5/13 – not great, but not good enough. But the Steelers offense’s slow starts have become chronic, and this is yet another liability which puts the burden on the defense early and forces the offense to play catch up.
The real finger here needs to be pointed at the Mike Tomlin. The buck stops with him. For one quarter the Steelers hung with the class of the AFC (OK, east of the Rockies that is). Before that they sputtered. After that they fell apart. Which is most indicative of the talent that the Steelers have? Right now 2-6 record answers that question well enough. But the 3rd quarter run does suggest that the Steelers are capable of at least some consistency. That has eluded Tomlin’s Steelers all season long. Grade: F
Unsung Hero Award
The defensive line did not play a good game. Perhaps its grade of “D” is more generous than they deserve. But one player on the line actually played fairly well, at least vs. the pass. Cameron Heyward registered a sack and collapsed the pocket on another, made two other QB hits, and made two more tackles for a loss, and for this he wins the Unsung Hero Award.