Steelers vs. Bengals: Final Report Card, Player Grades for Pittsburgh
We've gone final in Cincinnati with the Pittsburgh Steelers earning their first road victory of the 2012 season beating their division rival Bengals, 24-17. Pittsburgh's defense stepped up in a big way in the second half and held star receiver AJ Green to just one catch all game long. The Steelers found their running game as Jonathan Dwyer made waves on the ground, rushing for 122 yards on just 17 carries and closed out the game.
Let's take a look at the Steelers final grades for the contest in Cincinnati.
Quarterbacks -- A-
BEN ROETHLISBERGER -- A-
If you go by the numbers, Ben Roethlisberger's game vs. the Bengals wasn't exactly his most stellar outing. But Ben's game was about more than just numbers.
Roethlisberger did a great job of controlling the pace of the offense for the Steelers. He was very efficient, connecting on 27 of his 37 attempts, and made only one early mistake.
The interception in the endzone was a poor pass, and the fumble on the following drive should have been tucked. But Ben's ability to rebound in that quarter and keep his team alive early was what impressed me most. He led the Steelers offense and they followed.
In the fourth quarter, Ben took a back seat to the running game, but he made the big throws when he had to, including an out to Mike Wallace that gave the Steelers a first down and led to the final drive.
Roethlisberger finished the day with 278 yards, a touchdown and a pick. Not his best numbers day, but one of his best as a leader.
Running Backs -- B+
JONATHAN DWYER -- A
When given the opportunity, Jonathan Dwyer has answered the bell. The Steelers run-game had been pathetic coming into Sunday night's game and the team was without top backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
Dwyer made fans forget those names.
The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket bruised his way through the Bengals for 122 yards on just 17 carries. Dwyer routinely broke tackles at or just beyond the line of scrimmage and continued down the field.
Dwyer did not find the endzone in this one, but his 31 yard carry on the last drive did seal the Steelers first road victory of the season. It was the best single-game rushing performance by a Steeler back this season.
CHRIS RAINEY -- B
The rookie from Florida showed good burst out of the backfield against the Bengals and scored his first NFL touchdown on an 11-yard carry. Rainey also hauled in one pass for eight yards.
Rainey's biggest impact came in the return game, however. He started the game off with two beautiful kickoff returns, but had a few good ones called back due to penalties.
BARON BATCH -- F
Batch did a really poor job in a game that I personally expected him to shine. He had just 2 carries for 4 yards and dropped a pass from receiver Antonio Brown in which he could have walked into the end zone.
Batch was also called for a penalty on a special teams play.
If Batch can't take advantage of opportunities, he can't expect to see more playing time from the coaching staff.
Wide Receivers -- B-
ANTONIO BROWN -- A+
Brown had one of his best games of the 2012 season, catching 7 passes for 96 yards and running twice for another 13. The third-year receiver also threw a pass to Baron Batch that would have gone for a touchdown had Batch not dropped the ball.
What won't show up on the stat-sheet is how well Brown did in the return game. He had multiple punt returns that were called back due to penalties that would have given the Steelers great field positioning.
Brown is quickly becoming Ben Roethlisberger's most reliable weapon on the outside and should continue to see success like this. He dominated the Bengals secondary all night and found plenty of open lanes.
MIKE WALLACE -- D
I don't care that Mike Wallace led the team with 8 catches against the Bengals because his performance was awful. Wallace continued to struggle catching the ball and hit an all-time high with five drops.
That's right, FIVE!!!
Wallace dropped two balls that would have been big third down conversions and one in the endzone on a ball that got tipped and bounced off his chest. He also didn't really turn his receptions into much, averaging just 6.5 yards per catch.
Wallace better figure out what's going on with his hands and soon because now he's starting to hurt the team. Credit Roethlisberger for sticking with his receiver and continuing to throw to him but don't expect that to continue if the drops do.
Tight Ends -- A+
HEATH MILLER -- A+
Another game, another solid, unsung performance by Steelers tight end Heath Miller. Miller continued to be a valuable asset Sunday night as he caught 6 passes for 53 yards and scored the lone passing touchdown.
Miller was also the recipient of the ensuing two-point conversion.
But Miller's value wasn't just in the passing game and the tough yards he picked up. He was utilized so well as a blocker in this game, helping to open up holes for a rushing attack that had been struggling.
Miller continues to be one of the most undervalued weapons in the National Football League. He's starting to gain some national recognition, but I'm not sure the world will ever know how truly special a player this guy is.
Offensive Line -- B+
As a unit, this group did something very special tonight. Despite missing a Pro Bowler at center and one of their best starters at right tackle, the offensive line did a nice job of protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all night long.
But they weren't just effecient in the passing game.
When it came to running the ball, the offensive line opened up some major holes. This was probably Willie Colon's best game since making the move to guard and rookie tackle Mike Adams looked like he was getting more comfortable in the offense.
Tonight was a really good sign of the offensive line gelling together to form a "temporary" bond until the starters can return. If the line blocks like this all year, Pittsburgh should have no problems winning games.
Defensive Line -- C
It wasn't the best game for the Steelers front three, but in the end, they pulled it out. The Pittsburgh d-line got off to a really bad start but finished the game strong.
They struggled all night to control the line of scrimmage and finally took control towards the end of the game. The Steelers will want to see more out of this unit going forward.
ZIGGY HOOD -- B+
Ziggy Hood has taken a lot of flack over the first five games and rightfully so. The former first round pick has never really lived up to his talents. But Sunday night was by far his best game of the season.
Hood was a part of four tackles in the game but more importantly, he swatted down two of Andy Dalton's passes, both on third down.
It's time that Hood takes that step forward and develops into the player Steelers fans have hoped to see for some time now. Tonight was a good start, but it's only just that.
Linebackers -- B
LAMARR WOODLEY -- B+
Like the rest of the Steelers defense, Woodley struggled early on and was run over by Cedric Peerman on his touchdown. But Woodley did a nice job of rebounding and made some key plays in this victory.
He finished the game with three total tackles and, although he didn't record a sack, he got good pressure on Andy Dalton.
Woodley's biggest moment came towards the end of the second quarter when he intercepted Dalton and set the Steelers up in scoring range to go in for the tie. Woodley and the defense did a great job in the second half of getting to Dalton and forcing throws before he was ready to make them.
LAWRENCE TIMMONS -- B
Once again, it's Timmons who leads the Steelers in tackles, racking up 11 in Cincinnati.
Timmons was all over the field and made plays both in the backfield and down the field in the passing game. He did a good job of covering down tight end Jermaine Gresham, holding him to just three catches for a measly 19 yards.
Timmons has finally started to emerge as the player the Steelers thought they were drafting with the 15th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. If he keeps this up, he'll finish with a great season.
JAMES HARRISON -- D
As each week goes by, it's becoming more and more apparent that we'll probably never see the same James Harrison again.
Harrison recorded just one pressure in Sunday night's game and couldn't even break onto the stat sheet, failing to record a solo or assisted tackle.
Harrison doesn't look himself when he plays and NBC did a good job of showing his angle of attack compared to when he's healthy. It's off by about 20 degrees. With the season Jason Worilds is having, it's not out of the question to see Harrison start splitting time, at least until he's back to full strength.
Defensive Backs -- A
IKE TAYLOR -- A+
After being torched last week in Tennessee and flagged nearly a half dozen times, Taylor faced a lot of questions about his ability to still play the game at a high level.
He answered a lot of those questions on Sunday night.
Taylor shut down Cincinnati's star receiver AJ Green, holding him to just one catch for 8 yards. Granted, it was a touchdown catch, but I'll take that if it's all he gets.
No doubt Taylor deserves a game ball for his work on Green during this game. Shutting down a receiver like Green is never easy to do and neutralizing him directly led to the Steelers win.
RYAN CLARK -- A
Ryan Clark has easily been the Steelers most consistent defender in 2012. For the first five games of the year, he and Lawrence Timmons were probably the only two guys playing what could be considered "good" defense.
Nothing changed for Clark on Sunday in Cincinnati as the veteran free safety accounted for seven total tackles, five by himself.
Clark might just be stepping into the heart-and-soul role for this defense. He plays with the passion and intensity the Steelers love to see and he's been doing a great job of it.
KEENAN LEWIS -- A
Keenan Lewis was another Steeler defensive back who had a great night.
He didn't just play well in coverage, but he was the teams best corner against the run in Cincinnati. He made a few plays in the secondary, including tipping a pass away from AJ Green that would have would up a touchdown.
Lewis needs to keep this kind of play up. Pittsburgh has longed for a corner opposite Taylor for years and Lewis could fill that void.
Special Teams -- C+
What really gets the Steelers special teams unit in this game is the slew of penalties that were called against them. It seemed like just about every return Pittsburgh had, there'd be a yellow marker on the field to bring it back.
The Steelers went through a few kick coverages where Brandon Tate got the best of them, but overall they were pretty successful in keeping the Bengals at bay.
SHAUN SUISHAM -- A
Shaun Shuisham continued his stellar season by connecting on all three of his field goal attempts against the Bengals. Suisham hit two from 42 and one from 47, helping the Steelers to victory.
He also did a great job on kickoffs, pinning the ball deep in the Bengals endzone.
Coaching -- B
As far as coaching's concerned for the Steelers staff, there's still a lot to be desired.
Pittsburgh was again penalized far too often against the Bengals and it destroyed what could have been a fantastic night for the return game. Drops and mental mistakes plagued the offense and stalled drives.
I'm well aware that Mike Wallace is one of the league's most explosive players, but after five drops, I question Mike Tomlin's decision to leave him out there.
I believe that Tomlin has to make it clear to this team that this type of play isn't going to be tolerated anymore. They've gotten away with way too much and it has to stop.
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