Steelers vs. Raiders: Live Game Grades and Player Analysis for Pittsburgh

Joshua HayesCorrespondent IISeptember 23, 2012

Steelers vs. Raiders: Live Game Grades and Player Analysis for Pittsburgh

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    As the Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for a Week 3 bout with the Oakland Raiders, fans in the Steel City hoped that the team could duplicate last week's outcome.

    The Steelers had control for three quarters, but the Raiders (1-2) prevailed, 34-31.

    See all of the final positional grades for the Steelers (1-2), quarter-by-quarter, as they prepare to bounce back after Week 4.

    FINAL SCORE: RAIDERS 34, STEELERS 31.

    Last Scoring Play: Game-winning field goal, Sebastian Janikowski (OAK)

Ben Roethlisberger

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    FINAL GRADE: A

    4th Qtr.-B-

    The Raiders defense finally got pressure on the passer, forcing an incomplete attempt on a critical 3rd-and-9 late in the game.  However, this was only after Roethlisberger watched in frusturation as his teammates did everything in their power to erase a would-be win.

    Though his final act wasn't the magnificently clutch performance we normally expect in close games, his gaudy numbers and stellar play hardly deserve the criticism for the day's loss.

    3rd Qtr.- A+

    Big Ben makes a “Happy Houdini,” doesn’t he?

    Niftily evading Raiders and escaping backfield pressure, Roethlisberger rolled right and fired to a wide open Mike Wallace to open the third quarter with a touchdown.  The drive would have never been realized without an excellent rifle throw on 3rd-and-15 to Mike Wallace.

    Ben was as crisp here as he was in the first quarter, finding open targets with ease, moving in the pocket like a man with eyes in the back of his head, and engineering two pass-heavy touchdown drives.

    Speaking to the sharpness of Big Ben, who has earned the moniker of “field general” through three quarters, seven receivers had multiple receptions for the Steelers entering the final quarter.

    2nd Qtr.- B

    He looked crisp and in command in the first, testing the Raiders secondary and connecting with a slew of different offensive players.  However, the second act saw the passing game—which should have focused more on stretching the field against a maligned secondary—become tighter, focusing on more intermediate routes.

    The focus on offensive balance and high percentage completions proved ineffective.  Not until the offense went into a no-huddle two-minute drive at the end of the half did Big Ben get to shine again.

    No. 7,  who was not responsible for the errors that kept Oakland in the game, completed nine straight passes (discounting two clock-killing spikes) to end the half.  His final two-minute drive resulted in a last second field goal as Big Ben beat the clock once again.

    1st Qtr.- A+

    Early in the game, Ben Roethlisberger looked particularly sharp.  His mobilty in the pocket, effective use of play action, and uncanny ability to pump fake had Oakland's injury-plagued secondary shaking its collective head. 

    Of note, Ben recognized off-coverage along the sideline against Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.  With Oakland's secondary clearly playing off out of respect for their speed, he connected on two consecutive quick outs which both netted first downs.

    On two touchdown drives, the Steelers converted two third downs, both by air.  Altogether, Ben  completed 11 of 17 passes, twice connecting with Heath Miller for touchdowns.  Though he missed on an open throw down the sideline to Antonio Brown (2nd-and-25) on Pittsburgh's lone scoreless drive, he made solid decisions and avoided mistakes.

Offense

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    FINAL GRADE: B+

    4th Qtr.- F+

    A perfect strike from Big Ben into the arms of Antonio Brown resulted in a collective “yes!” from Steeler Nation!

    Then, a second fumble by Brown evoked the opposite cry, and the Steelers were not so fortunate as to recover this time.

    In the first and third quarter, the unit was unstoppable.  The turnover made fans wonder if the fourth quarter would be reminiscent of the offense’s effort in the second, where self-inflicted stagnation limited them to a field goal.

    Amazingly, Mike Wallace nearly followed with another turnover on another perfect strike from Big Ben.  But, the offense redeemed itself with an enormous conversion on 4th-and-inches by Isaac Redman. 

    Nevertheless, a sad final quarter by the offense ended with a failed third down conversion, a problem that the Raiders’ offense did not share.

    3rd Qtr.- A+

    Balance is great on offense, but most defensive backfields aren’t in such disarray as the Oakland secondary today.  While they haven’t stretched the field by hitting on deep plays, the Steelers offense has taken what’s given to them, “dinking and dunking” the Raiders to death on their scoring drives. 

    The offensive line once again kept No. 7’s jersey clean, and with time to throw, Big Ben fired against the Raiders’ secondary with authority once again.

     After two incomplete passes, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace got into a groove with their all-pro quarterback.  With both wideouts moving the chains, the result was a stunning touchdown to a wide open Mike Wallace that gave the Steelers their biggest lead of the game, 24-14.

    The unit’s second drive was more of the same, including a misdirection play that saw Big Ben roll left, pump fake, and fire over the middle to an open Heath Miller.   The tight end was lost again in coverage as the Raiders’ secondary focused on Pittsburgh’s blazing fast receivers.    

    Though Antonio Brown’s fumble sullied an otherwise incredible scoring drive, an alert recovery in the end zone allowed Pittsburgh to reclaim a 31-21 lead.

    2nd Qtr.- C

    After sputtering in their final drive of the first quarter, the offense unfortunately continued the trend for much of the second.   

    Though their relative explosiveness was negated, the Black and Gold did show more balance.  One positive was Isaac Redman, who twice converted short yardage into first downs on a pair of bruising runs. 

    However, as the team attempted to drive toward a double-digit halftime lead in the final minutes of the half, Jonathan Dwyer was hit immediately on a failed draw play.  The back coughed up the football.  The fumble was forced by Desmond Bryant.  It was the momentum-changing turnover that the Raiders desperately needed, and they ultimately tied the score.

    Thankfully, showing the toughness and grit that good teams do during adversity, the unit responded with an enormous two-minute drive.  Outside of two spikes with time winding down, nine straight pass completions culminated in a field goal drive.

    If mixing up playcalling results in similar stagnation after halftime, the Steelers will need to go back to a relentless attack of Oakland's secondary.

    1st Qtr.- A-

    Though they struggled to establish a running game, Big Ben still managed to use play action to his advantage.  This kept Oakland linebackers at bay and allowed gave offensive line an easier assignment in pass protection.

    Two drives resulted in two touchdowns, almost exclusively as the result of the team's dynamic passing attack.

    On their third and final drive of the quarter, the Steelers wasted ideal field position.  A false start and holding penalties resulted in a 3rd-and-25, wasting a great opportunity for the team to extend on a 14-7 lead.  This resulted in the "minus" part of the grade.

Defense

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    FINAL GRADE: F

    As the game progressed, it was painfully obvious that the Raiders offensive adjustments were not answered by the Steelers defense, adjustments that fall back onto Dick LeBeau.  The unit, which started the game promisingly minus a long run by McFadden, fell apart.

    Here's hoping a healthy lineup takes the field in Week 5.  As it stands, the prideful unit was unable to get even a modicum of a pass rush.  Notably, Casey Hampton is clearly not the force he once was, and one has to wonder if Steve McLendon would be a more viable option for his strength up the middle.

    4th Qtr.: F---- (that's four minuses!)

    The Raiders fifth straight third down conversion to start the second half preceded another Carson Palmer touchdown pass, drawing the Raiders to within three points of the Black and Gold.

    Next, Antonio Brown fumbled. 

    Truly, the rest of the team did the defense no favors, as the unit had to take the field after a long drive without a breath. Nevertheless, at any time over the course of Oakland's final five drives the Steelers defense could have made a key play.

    It never came, with the lone exception of a great individual tackle by Lawrence Timmons' to force the Raiders into a game-tying field goal.

    Tied in the final two minutes, Carson Palmer and crew picked apart Pittsburgh again.  Another third down conversion on the first series of downs gave fans in the Steel City an ominous feeling, and Dick LeBeau's unit failed to come up with any answers.

    After an entire half of being unable to get off the field on third down, being unable to pressure the passer, being unable to prevent receivers from getting open beneath the coverage, being unable….

    Well, after a half of simply being unable in all phases, a fifth consecutive scoring drive by Oakland sealed a 34-31 loss. 

    3rd Qtr.- F

    In the first two quarters, I was lenient on the defense, both for its response to a long McFadden touchdown and the bad circumstances that led to Oakland’s second score.

    However, after surrendering another short-field touchdown after halftime, my grading scale has to account for the unit’s inability to answer the adversity.  In other words, they deserve a harsher ranking in the third quarter.

    After a great kickoff return, Oakland’s offense took advantage with a  48-yard touchdown march. The drive included two third down conversions, including on 3rd-and-9.  McFadden converted a short distance effort on a powerful run as well.

    The defense a chance to get off the field but failed, as Palmer found open receivers with alarming frequency.   To end the quarter, Palmer- with time to throw on every dropback- completed four straight passes for 52 yards.

    The Raiders started the fourth quarter with possession deep in Pittsburgh territory.

    2nd Qtr.- B-

    The defense did everything that they could to keep the Steelers ahead.  They opened the quarter by forcing an incompletion from Carson Palmer, ending a Raiders’ drive on third down.

    The unit clamped down on McFadden, whose three yard loss on a third down tackle by Ike Taylor served as a microcosm of his quarter.

    However, a fumble by Jonathan Dwyer gave Oakland’s offense a short field.  Though it appeared the team made a key stop on third down, Carson Palmer and the offense forced a huge mental error by the defense, which was drawn offsides.

    The Raiders capitalized on the resulting 3rd-and-goal with a touchdown pass to Heyward-Bey.

    Once again, the defense put up a near-A effort, but a huge mistake negated some of their swagger.

    1st Qtr.- B-

    Considering Darren McFadden's 64-yard touchdown run, in which the linemen got blown off the ball via zone blocking and allowed a huge hole, it seems surprising that the unit finished with a B-rating.

    However, the defense forced a turnover (Palmer interception), got pressure (including a sack by Brett Keisel), and responded to the long touchdown by forcing a three-and-out by the Raiders offense. 

     After his long run, McFadden was stuffed for minimal gains on both a pass reception and run attempt.

Special Teams

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    FINAL GRADE: F+

    4th Qtr.- C+

    After two rough periods of play, the special teams was largely quiet in the fourth quarter.  Drew Butler's lone punt was decent, giving the Raiders' possession at their own 25-yard line.

    3rd Qtr.- F

    So, how important are those touchbacks that Shaun Suisham had been forcing on nearly every kickoff this season?  In a word: very!

    After taking a 10 point lead, Suisham’s subsequent kick was taken at the 1-yard line, where the Raiders’ Mike Goodson took a 51-yard return into Pittsburgh territory.  It was Oakland’s second long return of the game. 

    Suisham redeemed himself with a touchback on his second kickoff of the quarter.

    2nd Qtr.- F

    The second quarter was a rough going for special teams coach Amos Jones, who surely had a few choice words to share with his largely undisciplined unit at halftime.

    A frustrating fifteen minutes included a holding penalty that negated a long Antonio Brown touchdown return, a shanked punt off the foot of Drew Butler, and a personal foul face-masking infraction that backed the Steelers offense deep in its own territory halfway through the quarter.

    Additionally, the normally reliable and explosive Brown, one return removed from a negated touchdown, waived for a fair catch with plenty of room for the return. 

    1st Qtr.- B

    Shaun Suisham's opening kickoff was a low linedrive effort that the Raiders returned 40 yards.  However, the defense held, and there was no resulting damage on the scoreboard.

    Since, Suisham's subsequent kickoff resulted in a touchback, Drew Butler's punt in the late stages of the quarter was fair caught at the 15-yard line, and Antonio Brown returned a booming Lechler kick into Oakland territory.

Coaching

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    FINAL GRADE: D+  (TODD HALEY: B+)

    4th Qtr.- F

    The Steelers were at one point among the best road teams in the NFL.  Now, it seems they can't help but to self-destruct away from home, going as far as to waste a fine game by Big Ben in Oakland.

    The offense sputtered with the game on the line, the defense failed abysmally in the second half, and the special teams self-destructed with penalties.

    And.... the Steelers did something that was once rare in the Steel City; they blew a double digit lead.

    What else needs to be said?

    3rd Qtr.- C

    Sometimes, adjustments aren’t fancy.  Take for example something I mentioned to my significant other during the game:

    “Sometimes, x’s and o’s can be superficial.  We dominated their secondary, who couldn’t keep pace with our receivers.  We need to get back to attacking their backfield.”

    The offense took a page from their first quarter script, forcing their strength against the Raiders’ weakness. It was an obvious adjustment, but one that needed to be made.

    However, a painful observation had yet to be made through three quarters: what adjustment would Dick LeBeau make to help a struggling defense?  The Raiders offense has struggled mightily at the start of this season, making their success alarming.

    2nd Qtr- D

    While the Raiders had yet to commit a penalty at halftime, the Steelers happily assisted Oakland after the end of the first quarter.

    Coaches don't fumble or commit penalties, but they're directly responsible for the discipline of their players.  In the second quarter, the Steelers watched their lead dwindle, largely due to huge special teams penalties and an inexcusable turnover by Jonathan Dwyer.

    Likewise, the offense failed to attack Oakland's dismantled secondary with aggression until the final minutes, a strategy that many are surely questioned at intermission.

    Though a Tomlin challenge (Heath Miller's effort on an incomplete pass) failed, it was a well-timed chance on a ruling that had a slight chance of being overturned.

    Pittsburgh, who has over 235-105 edge in yards and nearly twelve minute advantage in time of possession, are in a close game.  The team has had self-inflincted wounds on the road lately, and this game appears to have a similar complexion. 

    1st Qtr.- A-

    A few penalties negated an opportunity to put the Raiders behind by two scores, but the team came out and attacked the clear weakness on the Raiders' defense: the injured secondary.

    While many may be calling for better balance on offense as the game progresses, I'm of the belief that you shouldn't fix what isn't broken.  The gameplan is working, minus one play by McFadden. 

    The offense has looked sharp early, and the defense responded well in the wake of what could have been a disheartening long run.