Taken from the grade book of a teacher who feels like he’s watching his student shift into high gear just as its too late to get into college, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Bengals at Heinz Field. As a caveat, no other Steeler grades were consulted prior to this posting.
First, Ben Roethlisberger deserves credit for sounding the “You will see no quit on this team” call loud and clear. Roethlisberger managed the offense in the no huddle in a first half effort that saw the Steelers score 27 points. Overall he was 20 of 25 on the night, and threw on touchdown pass. He also threw an amateurish interception in a play that, had the ball been thrown well, could have iced the game. Still, a solid night. Grade: B+
Le'Veon Bell again had another nightmarish day running the ball – if you look at his average. But Bell those numbers mask some good runs, and Bell was effective in the short passing game. Bell is also proving himself to be an adept blocker. Felix Jones got five carries on the night, and looked good on all of them. Jonathan Dwyer ran twice for 15 yards in the second quarter, helping the Steelers add a field goal and also entered during the clock killing phase of the game. Grade: B
Heath Miller caught four passes. The Steelers offense scored on each of those drives. Coincidence? Not on your life. Matt Spaeth played a lot and didn’t get a catch, but helped with the blocking, as did Miller. Grade: B
Antonio Brown led the group with 5 catches for 66 yards. A “quiet night” by his standards, but that make no mistake, he delivered when called upon. Emmanuel Sanders also had a modest night, but was able to deliver on a clock-killing 3rd down conversion late in the game. Jerricho Cotchery had one catch for 2 yards. Grade: B
My, how this unit has come along. Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once. The December vs. September difference in pass protection has been night and day. Indeed, it would be metaphysically impossible for the protection to have been better on the touchdown pass to Brown. Run blocking, however remains a work in progress, and what game would be complete without a player taken off for injury. This time it was Marcus Gilbert’s turn, although his injury was not serious. Grade: B-
As usual, this unit was lead by Camr…. No, it was actually lead by Ziggy Hood. Hood not only led the defensive line in tackles, he recorded a tackle for a loss, a QB hit, and recovered the fumble caused by Troy Polamalu. Hood’s biggest play came when he ended the Bengals second possession with a sack of Andy Dalton, a play which further cemented the Steelers control of the game. Al Woods started and looked strong in the middle and with Cameron Heyward they neutralized the Bengals running game. Woods also had a pass defensed and a tackle for a loss. With McLendon and Kesiel out, it was up to the “youngsters” to get this done. The Kids Are Alright. Grade: A-
LaMarr Woodley’s return to the lineup lasted all of two plays. Aside from the linebackers had a strong showing. Jason Worilds did not have a sack, but did have two pressures. Lawrence Timmons was all over the field as usual, and Jarvis Jones defensed the Bengals 2 point conversion attempt. Vince Williams resumed his spot at inside linebacker, and Terrance Garvin also saw signifgant time in the Steelers Nickle defense. Grade: B+
Cortez Allen replaced William Gay in the starting line up and had a pass defensed. Ike Taylor led the team in tackles and defended two passes. Polamalu forced another fumble and returned to his strong safety spot for most of the night. Will Allen likewise got playing time, and Gay defended a pass. The secondary put in a strong night, but coverage broke down badly on the Bengals final touchdown pass, which, had the two point conversion been successful, could have gotten Cincinnati back in the game. Grade: B-
Special Teams in the NFL is all about “want to” and the devastating job that the punt return team did in clearing a path for Antonio Brown on the 67 yard return (where Brown displayed yet another bust of speed) was all about attitude. While Steel Curtain Rising does not condone helmet to helmet hits, it must be said that Terrance Garvin’s jaw breaking block on Kevin Huber represented an awesome display of power. Shaun Suisham was 3-3 including a 45 yarder into the wind. Mat McBride’s punting average was nothing to write home about, but no punts were returned. While the praise for all of these positives is legitimate, it would be remiss to ignore the fact that the Bengals kick return game enjoyed a lot of success, including one 52 yard return. Those don’t erase the positives, but they do bring the grade down. Grade: B
There are times when analysis of the coaching staff revolves around game plans, personnel choices, and strategic decisions. And then there are times when those things finish in a very distant second place. Quitting on a coach when the playoff homes have been elimated is an artform in the NFL. Few coaches can keep a team both fired up and focused.
Yet a visitor from Mars observing the intensity and focus displayed in the first quarter against the Bengals would readily conclude that it was the Steelers, and not the Bengals, who were vying for the division crown and a possible first round bye. While credit for that must be shared across the franchise, Mike Tomlin deserves to be first among equals. Grade: A-
Unsung Hero Award
By the time December rolled around, former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher was fond of saying that first year players were no longer rookies. While the greatest jump in performance is typically tracked between years 1 and 2, young players do make progress in their rookie years. And this young gentleman certainly has. This player not only led his unit in tackles, he put himself in position to make a play during the Bengals first attempt to convert a 3rd and 1 and he stopped him man cold. This play set the tone for the entire night, and for that Vince Williams is the Unsung Hero in the victory over Cincinnati at Heinz Field.
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