Eagles vs. Steelers: Final Grades, Analysis for Pittsburgh

Joshua HayesCorrespondent IIOctober 7, 2012

Eagles vs. Steelers: Final Grades, Analysis for Pittsburgh

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    GAME-WINNING SCORE: Shaun Suisham 34-yard field goal

    Two of the NFL's best teams in recent years, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, squared off in one of Week 5's marquee NFL contests.

    Whether dubbed the "Battle for Pennsylvania" or the "Keystone Clash," local Pennsylvanians and loyal fans of either team know that theirs is a rivalry for bragging rights.  On Sunday, Steelers Country won the "Battle for the Brag!"

    Entering the game, the Eagles boasted a 3-1 record and a penchant for winning by narrow margins.  Instead, Philadelphia finally fell by a narrow margin, proving the adage that you "live by and die by the sword."

    The Steelers hoped that the returns of Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall would aid them in their pursuit of a .500 record.  Mendenhall's presence was a particular boost, giving the club a clear boost in the ground game that it desperately needed.

    Clutch play by key members of the offense, a marvelous first half showing by Lawrence Timmons and the Steelers defensive front, and another perfect day by kicker Shaun Suisham aided the Steelers in victory.

    However, two key fumbles lost by quarterback Michael Vick were the most important factor of the contest, causing the Eagles to steal defeat from the jaws of victory.  Conversely, despite consistent harrassment, Ben Roethlisberger avoided both sacks and critical mistakes. 

    The win improved the Steelers record in the series to 5-11, a rare victory over an opponent that has troubled them.  Let's take a look at the quarter-by-quarter and final game grades for Pittsburgh following their vital return to the "W" column.



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    After a slow, mistake-filled start for the offense, it was the presence and playmaking of No. 7 that facilitated a return to form.

    Against a defense that recorded 50 sacks a season ago, Big Ben avoided even a single sack despite pressure, and he used his intangibles to the max for a hard-fought and critical victory.

    Ben's 21-for-37, 207 yard performance may have lacked the passing touchdowns and statistical pizzazz by which fantasy owners judge player performance.  Nevertheless, anybody who watched this contest knows that Roethlisberger was the cog that enabled this team to beat Philly!

    Think about it: Vick failed to consistently avoid pressure and had two key turnovers.  Ben's aplomb in a chaotic backfield was the difference between winning and losing.

    4TH QTR: A+

    On the winning drive, Big Ben faced 3rd-and-12.  After avoiding another (another, another, another) heavy pass rush and would-be sack, Roethlisberger fired a confident pass over the middle to Antonio Brown.

    Then, on 2nd-and-7, the "Oak Tree" stood tall in the pocket until the very last second, dumping the ball to Rashard Mendenhall on a perfectly executed jailbreak screen.

    Finally, on 3rd-and-4 and just out of field goal range, No. 7 hit Emmanuel Sanders for another key first down.


    After that, it was up to Rashard Mendenhall to put the Steelers in position to win with a field goal.

    Lastly, it was up to Shaun Suisham.   See slide 4!

    3RD QTR: C

    Ben avoided pressure and made some creative throws, but the Steelers’ first drive ended when Mike Wallace couldn’t handle a floating toss behind Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  If Wallace makes the catch, which would have been tough in good weather conditions, Ben's grade would likely be very different.  As it stands, the rain "rained" on his passing parade.

    On their next possession, Roethlisberger’s third down pass was clearly affected by the slick, oily pigskin.  Stepping up to avoid pressure, the football fell well short of any targeted Steeler and, in fact, was close to being intercepted.

    2ND QTR: A+

    After a frustrating first quarter for the offense, the unit gave their quarterback a chance to “do what he does.”  Big Ben was on brilliant display in the second quarter, engineering an 11-play scoring drive to give Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead.

    On the march, Roethlisberger completed 5 of 6 pass attempts, which doesn’t include his lateral toss to Rashard Mendenhall in the flat for a 13-yard score.

    Big Ben also showed off his athletic prowess.  On one play in particular, “Houdini” used his magic, narrowly avoiding a heavy rush coming from behind, stepping up in the pocket, taking off on the rush, faking a pitch, cutting inside of the waiting (and thoroughly fooled) Eagles defender, and picking up nine yards on the run.

    On their second drive, Roethlisberger showed toughness and led the offense to a field goal.  Overcoming some hard hits in the backfield, Ben niftily avoided sacks, creating offense from an oft-collapsing pocket. 

    Though he dropped a pass in the end zone, Antonio Brown continued to get targets from Roethlisberger, who twice completed third down passes to the speedy receiver. 

    The intangibles No. 7 possesses are a commodity that Steelers fans should never take for granted.


    He avoided mistakes, wasn't sacked, and didn't exactly have a lot to work with.

    From his team's drops, untimely penalties, bad snaps...  Sigh!

    It would have been unfair to grade Big Ben in the first quarter considering the obstacles that worked against his success.  For more information, see the offense's first quarter grade on the next slide.



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    Who was it that said the return of Rashard Menenhall wouldn't be a significant boost to the offense?  "Mendy's" 81 yards were as many as the Steelers had in total in any game so far this season.  Redman and Mendenhall combined for over 140 yards rushing.

    An emotional win in the "Keystone Clash" was engineered on a clutch offensive drive in which all phases came through. 

    However, all of that positive mojo still doesn't allow me to have selective amnesia.  The group's horrendous start has to be accounted for in their final analysis.

    Likewise, they had a role in the team's inability to put the Eagles away with the football and a 10-point lead after halftime.

    For as ineffective as they were in the first and third quarters, the unit was dynamite in the second and fourth.  While they didn't score many points, the normal faces made key plays to give the team a lead and then to win the game in the end.

    4TH QTR: A+

    After complimenting his play in the third quarter, Willie Colon rewarded my good graces with a holding call to open their game-winning drive.  Facing 1st-and-20, Pittsburgh had a stiff test before them. 

    On 3rd-and-a billion, can you guess which receiver came to the rescue?  (Well, I suppose you likely already read the result on the previous drive, so I suppose I'll just give it away!)  Mr. 3rd-and-forever himself, Antonio Brown!

    The passing game engineered  a drive into field goal range with no time left, then the running game ate up the clock.  Rashard Mendenhall niftily ground out time and picked up yardage in chunks. 

    3RD QTR: B-

    It was a tale of two drives, like Jekyll and Hyde.

    With a double-digit lead entering the half, the offense hoped to put the Eagles away in the third quarter.  Instead, their exceptional execution in the second quarter got rained on… literally.

    A wet football has huge impact.  Rashard Mendenhall burst through a wide open hole behind the left guard, but a long run ended whenever the ball squirted loose from his grasp and rolled out of bounds.

    The passing game’s accuracy was also negatively impacted by the soaked ball.  Mike Wallace was unable to make a catch that would have been difficult on a dry, sunny day, and Big Ben’s accuracy was clearly affected on the team’s second drive (see first slide).

    The “third drive was the charm.”  Mendenhall continued to burst through the line for significant gains.  Frankly, his change of direction in the backfield, initial burst, power, and vision were clearly sorely missed by Pittsburgh.  Part of the rejuvenated ground attack has to be credit to the guards, particularly Willie Colon, who dominated as a run-blocker.

    The team had 72 rushing yards in the quarter, easily their most impressive showing on the ground in 2012.

    2ND QTR: A-

    The first few plays of the quarter seemed like an encore of a terrible first period.  A bad snap, a dropped pass, and an ill-advised (and poorly executed) attempt to convert a fourth down caused fans to shake their heads.

    Terrible Towels that sat on laps would soon get a chance to twirl in the Heinz Field stands.

    The unit avoided all of the first quarter gaffs, avoiding penalties, getting production out of the backfield, and allowing their Pro Bowl quarterback to lead them to points.

    The running backs twice converted on 3rd-and-short, once by Redman and Mendenhall each.

    Then, capping an impressive drive, Mendenhall showed Steelers fans what they dearly missed:  speed, elusiveness, and playmaking from their running back.   Rashard took a lateral pass in the flat, turned on the Jets to get around the edge of the Philly defense, and niftily scampered into the end zone for a touchdown.

    1ST QTR: F

    The opening drive on offense featured a draw up the middle for no gain, a high snap that resulted in substantial loss of yards, and a checkdown pass to Heath Miller that resulted in no gain.

    The second drive was just as frustrating.  An illegal formation call negated a season-long 22-yard running attempt, sadly erasing Rashard Mendenhall’s tackle-breaking burst.  A false start by Antonio Brown preceded a holding call on 3rd-and-14 by Willie Colon.  The latter error caused the Heinz Field Crowd to boisterously voice their displeasure.

    Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.



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    They didn't make stops on key plays in the second half, and they consistently allowed the Eagles to get first downs and drive the field.  Third downs were again an issue, and they surrendered the lead in the fourth quarter.

    However, they did pitch a shutout in the first half, even though that was largely the result of Michael Vick's key fumble at the goal line in the first quarter.  Likewise, they successfully engineered the appropriate gameplan for beating Vick and crew: getting pressure, hitting the Eagles' passer, and forcing turnovers.

    Also, nobody should confuse the fact that giving up 14 points to the Eagles has to be considered a successful Sunday.


    4TH QTR: D

    If first and second down won and lost games defensively, the Men of Steel would have had an amazing fourth quarter.  Instead, minus Troy Polamalu, Ryan Mundy missed a tackle in the open field on LeSean McCoy, causing fans to wonder if the absence of No. 43 was having an impact in the second half.

    Failing again to stop the opponent on key downs in the second half, the defense surrendered a second touchdown on three second half drives.

    Two third down conversions and two FOURTH down conversions allowed Philadelphia to take the lead on a march that covered 79 yards on a whopping 17 plays that ate up over eight minutes.   With multiple shots to make the key play, the Steelers defense allowed four critical conversions.  Twice, the unit had penetration in the backfield, only for LeSean McCoy to evade a drive-killing tackle. 

    Indeed, the Eagles took the lead on the back of No. 25!

    3RD QTR: C

    The second half has been a horror show for the Steelers defense this season, particularly in Oakland.   Things went awry again after halftime, the result of personal fouls by the two Ryan’s.

     On the first Eagles’ play of the second half, Ryan Clark was called for a personal foul, hitting Brent Celek after the whistle was blown.  Clark is a smart player who doesn’t often cost his team.

    Ryan Mundy, however, has no excuse.   A personal foul (helmet-to-helmet hit) against Jeremy Kerley put the ball into field goal territory for Philly.  While it was debatable whether the contact was truly illegal, Mundy certainly entered the game on the league’s radar after his hit on Darrius Heyward-Bey two weeks ago.

    The 30 extra yards aided Philly; a 15-yard pass from Vick to McCoy cut the lead to 10-7.

    On their second drive of the third quarter, James Harrison got pressure on Vick up the middle, and the passer skipped a pass that appeared to slip out of his fingers.   Then, on third down, Brett Keisel came uncontested up the middle- a huge issue for the Eagles on the drive- and Vick was unable to roll left and find an open target.

    Isn’t it amazing how much more effective the defense can be when it doesn’t give up free yardage?

    2ND QTR: A+

    Initially, the second quarter continued the Lawrence Timmons Show.  He played a significant role in stopping the Eagles first possession of the quarter, getting into the backfield and pressuring Vick.  No. 7 would be sacked, ending Philly’s drive.

    Like the first quarter, the defense allowed the Eagles to drive but stiffened when it had to.   Vick fired to a wide open DeSean Jackson on a short cross, bringing the ball into Pittsburgh territory.  However, the unit forced a 3rd-and-12, and Jason Worilds finished off the Eagles' second drive with a sack.


    1ST QTR: A-

    They had trouble containing the edge, gave up third down conversions, and allowed the Eagles to drive... but came through when it counted!

    Is there any doubt that the heroes of the first quarter were Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Clark?  In a “bend but don’t break” quarter, the defense allowed the Philly offense to drive, but they came through with clutch plays when the Eagles got into scoring position!

    One week after failing to make a single stop in the second half, the Steelers stopped the Eagles on their opening drive.   Initially, there was concern, as the unit surrendered a key third down conversion to Jason Avant.

    However, the Steelers’ demeanor changed after the Eagles got past midfield.   Second down featured a deceptive blitz that resulted in pressure on Michael Vick, who narrowly avoided a sack by Lawrence Timmons.  Then, at long last, a third down stop saw an incomplete pass attempt to Jeremy Maclin.

    The defense’s second showing was more wild than the first!

    After getting pressure on Vick again (Lawrence Timmons), Lamarr Woodley had great containment on the edge, forcing the quarterback to throw an ill-advised floater down the sideline.   Next, Timmons flew to the edge to stop a 9-yard run by “Shady” McCOy.   One play later, Vick scrambled up the middle, but instead of sliding feet-first, he dove.  The ball popped loose, and it was initially ruled a fumble.   However,  he was called down by contact as his feet got tangled during the run. 

    Vick drove his team to the 3-yard line.  Then, on first and goal, Vick scrambled up the middle and dove for the goal line.  This time, Ryan Clark got his shoulder on the football, jarring it loose.  The Steelers recovered in the end zone, and Vick wouldn’t be saved by replay this time!

    On their third and final drive of the opening act, the Eagles suffered at the hands of Lawrence Timmons.  A rush attempt up the middle by VIck saw Timmons strip the ball from his grasp, and Larry Foote recovered!



Special Teams

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    The kickoff and punt coverage units prevented any long returns.  Drew Butler's punts, minus one following a penalty, had both distance and hang time.

    However, the real hero was Shuan Suisham, who continued a perfect season.  Going 3-for-3 is no easy feat in the "Heinz House of Horrors," where the league's best kickers tend to struggle.

    Suisham's game-winner was a proud moment!

    4TH QTR: A+

    Any other grade would just be rude!

    Though he was perfect on field goal attempts to-date in 2012, Shaun Suisham had yet to face a win-or-lose scenario.   With three seconds left, a .500 record and win over the cross-state rival Eagles depended on his perfection being continued.

    Suisham nailed the 34-yard field goal!  I couldn’t be more proud of how the scrutinized kicker has come through this season!

    3RD QTR: B-

    The Steelers had a 10-0 lead, momentum, and a chance to open the second half with the football.  Great field position would have gone a long way into burying the Eagles. 

    Chris Rainey’s kickoff return, an ill-advised and selfish decision, ended inside the 10-yard line.   It is very difficult for an NFL offense to march 90 yards, and the knack returners have had for attempting returns and not taking the automatic touchback baffles me!

    Rainey made up for the mistake on his next return, taking the ball to the 40-yard line and stealing back some momentum after the Eagles cut Pittsburgh’s lead.

    Two Drew Butler punted, one following a penalty, were fielded by the Eagles inside the 20-yard line. 

    2ND QTR: A

    Sometimes, on special teams, little news is good news.  This is particularly true in the Steel City, where subpar special teams have held back some very.... well, special teams.

    Antonio Brown wisely allowed a punt from Mat McBriar to bounce into the end zone, and the entire return team stayed clear of a low line-drive.

    Shaun Suisham’s field goal capped first half scoring.  This lifted Suisham to 6-for-6 on field goal attempts for the season.

    1ST QTR: B+

    The kickoff coverage unit showed great discipline, clogging all return lanes and tackling Brandon Boykin at the 15-yard line on an ill-advised return from deep in the end zone.

    The punt coverage team was just as effective… at first!   Backed up at his own 12-yard line, Drew Butler’s 48-yard booming kick had great hang time, allowing the Steelers to force Damaris Thomas to take the fair catch at the Eagles’ 39-yard line.

    Butler’s second showing was a lesson in frustration.  One of many Steelers penalties on the quarter negated his high hanger, which was fair caught at the 10-yard line.  Instead, Butler kicked again, and a shank went out of bounds at the Philly 25-yard line, a 36 yard effort.



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    4TH QTR: B

    The defense failed, but the offense came through. Neither unit enjoyed 60 minutes of great football, but each had enough positive plays to get the job done.

    For a home game, the mental errors and penalties for the home team were a bit unsettling, but the squad's ability to come through in the clutch against a tough team cannot be overlooked. 

    I'd love to know what the special teams coaches are feeding Shaun Suisham.

    3RD QTR: C

    You can't overlook the lost opportunity to put Philly behind by three scores.  Or, that the Eagles pulled to within three points.  But, it wasn't all bad.

    The defense responded to Philadelphia’s initial touchdown, getting intense pressure up the middle (something many fans have clamored for). 

    Likewise, though they stalled initially, credit has to be given to Todd Haley for going with the run (which helped immensely given the conditions) and having success to end the quarter.  Ending the period inside the red zone, the offense entered the fourth quarter with hopes of reclaiming their halftime edge.

    2ND QTR: A-

    The Steelers called a timeout with just over a minute to go in the half, approaching midfield with a third down upcoming.  Though this gave them an opportunity to discuss the key down, the time stoppage came early in the game clock, and I'm not certain the team wouldn't have been able to convert without burning their stoppage.

    Ultimately, this forced their hand on 3rd-and-goal at the 2-yard line, negating their option to attempt a run or deter the defense with the presence of an apparent run package.  With only 11 seconds remaining, the team couldn't risk the clock.

    However, this is nit-picking.  The fact is that the third down converstion that followed the time stoppage extended a scoring drive, the defense continued to get pressure and shut out Philly, and the offense finally corrected their mental errors from the first quarter.

    It was a great response after a pathetically slow start at Heinz Field; one has to imagine the coaches lit a fire under the team along the sideline.  Or, at least, I can't imagine the Haley-Tomlin combo walked away quietly after a sluggish offensive start.

    With so many turnovers and a shutout on the board at half, the premature pitch forks and torches were put away outside of Dick LeBeau's office.

    1ST QTR: F

    The defense has forced fumbled by Michael Vick, and the Eagles' passer has truly been his team's worst enemy early on.

    However, the penalties and mistakes on offense are too embarassing to ignore.  With a bye week to prepare, a home field to return to, and the fear of a 1-3 start as a prime motivator, the team was far too messy in the first quarter.

    That, at least in huge part, falls back on the coaches.