Pittsburgh Steelers' Positional Grade Report for Victory over the Browns
In the end, the victory over the Cleveland Browns did not matter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. By virtue of the Baltimore Ravens' win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers found themselves locked in as the AFC's fifth seed.
The game may have been costly for the Steelers, as neither Ben Roethlisberger or Maurkice Pouncey got a chance to rest their high-ankle sprains, and Rashard Mendenhall (right knee) and Cortez Allen (right arm) both left with injuries and did not return.
As a result, Pittsburgh's all-in effort at having a chance at a home playoff game may have, in hindsight, not been worth the risk in some eyes. However, I do believe that Mike Tomlin made the right decisions in the end.
Roethlisberger got time to work off the rust, and did he ever have some rust, and the offensive line got one more test run as a unit before the playoffs.
Pittsburgh will enter the playoffs winning six of their last seven games. They will play the AFC West champion Denver Broncos in the Wild Card round next weekend.
But before we look ahead to the playoffs, here is one last look at the positional grade report for regular season as the Steelers closed out the season with a 13-9 victory over the Browns.
It was not a pretty effort, but rather, the gritty performance that you come to expect from Roethlisberger.
In cold, windy and wet conditions, Roethlisberger completed only 23-of-40 passes for 221 yards and did not throw a touchdown or an interception.
He started off looking very rusty, completing only one of his first five passes, though he did have a dropped pass or two.
Roethlisberger's increased mobility was encouraging after watching him barely be able to move a couple of weeks ago against the San Francisco 49ers.
While Roethlisberger did not do anything spectacular, he did not make mistakes and managed the game enough to help lead the Steelers to a win.
Season GPA: 2.31
Running Backs: B-
The Steelers did what they were suppose to do, and that was run the ball effectively on the poor Browns rush defense.
Prior to injuring his knee, Mendenhall carried the ball eight times for 38 yards. His loss, though, will really hurt the Steelers playoff chances, as they were already down Mewelde Moore and Jonathan Dwyer.
Isaac Redman picked up the slack with 19 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. He had several carries where he broke tackles to pick up the extra yardage.
However, this did not bode well on two carries in which Redman fumbled. Both fumbles were lost and put the Browns in good position. Luckily for the Steelers, it did not hurt them in the end.
The two fumbles are a bit troubling considering that Redman will likely be the featured running back next week.
With the fumbling issue, rookie John Clay got the majority of the carries in the fourth quarter and picked up 31 yards on nine carries. He did an admirable job stepping in, but the Steelers still had some problems running the clock out in the fourth.
Season GPA: 2.59
Tight Ends: B-
Heath Miller made two nice grabs but was otherwise invisible. With the weather conditions and performance of the Browns defense, it should have been the perfect day to feature Miller.
I suppose it should be expected that he is ignored for the most part.
David Johnson had a catch, and Weslye Saunders was called for a holding penalty.
Season GPA: 2.90
Wide Receivers: B
In what was a non-descript shovel pass that resulted in a three-yard loss, Hines Ward finally became the eighth player to reach the 1,000 career reception mark.
Ward needed five receptions to achieve that milestone, and that is what he got. The Steelers clearly wanted to get him the catches he needed, but they may have been better served utilizing him in the red zone, where they failed on three of four attempts.
Besides Ward and his 24 receiving yards, Antonio Brown was once again the star of the day.
Brown made clutch third down receptions and the big plays that we have come to expect from him.
One of his receptions was reminescent of his helmet grab in the AFC Divisional round against the Baltimore Ravens last year, as he once again made a long reception, grasping the ball between his hand and helmet this year.
He had another sliding catch on his hip, just barely keeping the ball off of the ground.
Brown finished with six receptions for 90 yards, including one for 40 yards.
Jericho Cotchery added three receptions, and Emmanuel Sanders had one catch in his return.
Mike Wallace had another disappointing week with only one reception. He really needs to pick up his game, as he once again appeared to shy away in traffic and has been a non-threat on deep balls.
Season GPA: 2.93
Offensive Line: B+
The offensive line did a solid job against the Browns, holding them to two sacks despite losing Chris Kemoeatu for a short period of time with an injury and having a hobbled Maurkice Pouncey.
For the most part, Roethlisberger had plenty of time to throw the ball, which was important due to his limited mobility.
The stat of the day, though, would be the Steelers' 4.5 yards per carry rushing average.
Pittsburgh ran the ball 36 times for 165 yards, with all but eight of those carries coming from their second and third-string backs.
The line did have some problems generating a push in the red zone and late in the game when the Steelers were trying to kill the clock, but for the rest of the game, they performed well.
Marcus Gilbert, who missed last week's game, allowed a sack to Jabaal Sheard.
On Cleveland's other sack, Kemoeatu allowed his man to go by, and Pouncey gave help to the outside rather than picking up the inside rusher.
Season GPA: 1.87
Defensive Line: A
A week after allowing the St. Louis Rams to gash them on the ground, Pittsburgh's run defense solidified and looked more like the run defense of old.
While the Browns 4.8 yard average looks good on paper, 44 of their 72 rushing yards came on scrambles by Seneca Wallace.
Peyton Hillis, who at one point took Casey Hampton for a ride, only had 30 yards on 10 carries, and Montario Hardesty had two carries for minus-two yards.
Hampton made up for his "ride" with a huge stop when the Browns were deep in the Steelers territory. He penetrated the line to make a tackle for a loss.
Both Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood had deflected passes. Keisel also ripped the ball from Hillis' hands, but it flew out of bounds.
Season GPA: 2.63
Lawrence Timmons had one of his best games of the season with six tackles, a sack and a pass defense.
He was solid in all phases, as he was able to pressure the quarterback and was excellent in downfield coverage.
The rest of the linebackers were quiet, but effective.
Jason Worilds had a better game this week, as he was able to get some pressure on Wallace and was not completely overmatched.
James Harrison was surprisingly quiet.
Season GPA: 2.57
Defensive Backs: A-
The Steelers took a hit in their defensive backfield with injuries to Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis.
That resulted in Bryant McFadden having to play with the defense again, and that did not work out too well, as the Browns attacked him often once he entered the game.
However, as a whole, the unit was outstanding.
Troy Polamalu was a stud making plays all over the field, highlighted by making a stop in the backfield as Wallace was attempting to hand the ball off.
Polamalu had three passes defensed, including his second interception of the year. He also knocked away the Browns' Hail Mary attempt.
Ryan Clark had two tackles for a loss and a sack, and William Gay nearly had his third interception of the season, but was unable to reel it in.
Ike Taylor was once again outstanding, completely shutting down his side of the field and had an exceptional batted pass as he laid out his body in front of the receiver to knock the pass away.
Season GPA: 2.82
Special Teams: B+
It was tough conditions for special teams, but overall, the Steelers performed well.
Shaun Suisham made two of three field goals, with one being carried wide by a gusty wind.
Jeremy Kapinos was impressive, with one punt downed inside the five and a 45.3 yard average.
While the return game did nothing special, neither did the Browns. Pittsburgh's coverage units held the dangerous Josh Cribbs to a long return of 15 yards.
Antonio Brown had a 24.3 average on three kick returns compared to Cribbs' 11.5 yards per return.
Season GPA: 2.77
The Steelers handled the Browns in virtually every statistical category and doubled them in time of possession, yet only won by four points.
Once again, the Steelers had massive failures in the red zone, and this has been one of their major down falls all year. Actually, ever since Bruce Arians has been offensive coordinator.
Whether it was planned or not with the Mendenhall injury, the run-pass ratio was a bit puzzling given the weather conditions, and Roethlisberger's condition for that matter.
Roethlisberger threw the ball 40 times to only 36 runs, with many of those coming in the fourth quarter. Given his low completion percentage, which is likely a product of his injured ankle, a greater number of safe passes would have been nice to see.
The defensive game plan was well-executed, as the Browns could not run the ball and Wallace was held to well under 50 percent passing and only 4.3 yards per pass attempt.
Tomlin had an interesting call when he did not accept a holding penalty to give the Browns a third-and-long, but push them out of field goal range. Instead, he allowed the Browns to take a field goal, which they converted.
To the coaching staff's credit, they did get Ward his 1,000th reception.
Season GPA: 2.28
Study Up: What Must Improve
The Steelers need to continue to show balance on offense. They have been running the ball better recently and should continue this trend in the playoffs.
Roethlisberger needs to step up his game, as the Steelers will likely lean on him, even with a running attack, particularly in the red zone. Right now, their performance when they are inside the 20 is inexcusable. Fact is, when they convert in the red zone, they win easily. Failures like they had on Sunday will keep games close.
They need to continue to use Brown as a go-to receiver, but also find a way to get the dangerous Wallace involved. He has been too quiet lately. However, they cannot get enamoured with the big play and remember that safe throws to Miller, Ward and the running backs are good options as well.
The defense will need to bring their A-game when it comes to stopping the run against Denver. Tim Tebow is not much of a threat in the passing game, and Pittsburgh cannot get beat on the ground.
Now that the playoffs are here, turnovers are a must. The Steelers have to win the turnover battle as they move forward against the AFC's best.
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