Steelers vs. Browns: Final Grades for Pittsburgh

Dan Snyder@@dsnyder34Correspondent IDecember 30, 2012

Steelers vs. Browns: Final Grades for Pittsburgh

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    With what seemed like nothing to play for in what could have been a meaningless game, the Steelers came out on Sunday afternoon and showed the Cleveland Browns who the better football team was.

    The Steelers defense forced four turnovers on a banged-up Browns offense and Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown strikes in the win. Despite being out gained by over 100 yards offensively, Pittsburgh did what they had to do to win the game.

    The win over the Browns may not look like much on the surface, but it does keep a few streaks alive for the Steelers.

    For starters, their 8-8 record means that the Steelers still have not had a losing season since 2003. That also means that Roethlisberger has still never had a losing season under his belt as the starting quarterback of the team.

    Beating the Browns also means that the Steelers still have not been swept by their closest rivals since 1988, when Chuck Noll was still heading up the team.

    Let's take a look at the final edition of our game grades for the Steelers' 2012 season. 

Quarterbacks: B

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    It wasn't exactly the game everyone expected from a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, but at the end of the day, he got the job done. 

    Clearly, the offensive game plan was to stay balanced and even have a little more emphasis on the run. Ben threw the ball only 23 times and amassed just 134 yards through the air. But Roethlisberger did connect on three touchdown passes that pushed the Steelers to victory. 

    After three sub par games from the franchise QB, it was nice to see Ben get back on track, sort of. This offseason, there's going to have to be a few pow-wow sessions between him and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. 

    They'll have to be on the same page when next season comes around. 


    Ben Roethlisberger: B

Running Backs: B

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    It looked pretty obvious as this game unfolded that offensive coordinator Todd Haley wanted to establish the ground game against the Browns. 

    The Steelers did a pretty good job of that. 

    Led by Jonathan Dwyer, the Steelers ran for 91 yards on the ground. And technically, the Steelers running backs accounted for 99 yards on the afternoon with Antonio Brown rushing for -6 and Ben Roethlisberger for -2. 

    Dwyer looked the best out of all the backs, carrying 11 times for 52 yards. Isaac Redman added 26 yards on just six carries. Pittsburgh's backs also combined to tally six receptions for 38 yards in this game, led by fullback Will Johnson.  


    Jonathan Dwyer: A

    - Didn’t touch the ball at all in the 2nd and 4th quarters and still managed to be by far the best back in this one. 

    Isaac Redman: B

    - Did a very nice job in the limited role he was given. Great leg drive to gain extra yards. 

    Rashard Mendenhall: D

    - Not a great showing in what could be his final game in Pittsburgh (6 car, 19 yds)

Wide Receivers: C-

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    As the passing game dwindled against the Browns, so did the numbers of the Steelers receiving corps. Without Mike Wallace, some expected that Antonio Brown would step up in this game and prove that he could be a No. 1 guy. 

    But aside from his nine-yard touchdown reception, Brown had only one other catch that went for 13 yards. 

    Pittsburgh also looked as if they missed Wallace's down field abilities, creating no pass plays for 20 yards or more. In fact, the Steelers longest pass play went to Emmanuel Sanders who took if for 16 yards and a first down. 

    Roethlisberger did spread the ball around a lot against the Browns, hitting 10 different receivers on the game. But only four wide receivers caught passes, none hauling in more than two balls against a porous Cleveland secondary. 


    Antonio Brown: C-

    - Didn't really do anything horrible in this game, but with a lot expected of him, he didn't do a whole lot to excel. Has caught a TD in two straight games, however. 

    Plaxico Burress: B-

    - Burress and Roethlisberger may have found their stride in this final game, but who knows if Plax will be back next season. 

    Emmanuel Sanders: C-

    - Sanders led the Steelers in receiving on Sunday afternoon with a whopping 28 yards receiving. 

    Jerricho Cotchery: C+

    - Cotchery did a lot to keep drives alive in this game. He's been a reliable option all season long and could look for an expanded role in 2013. 

Tight Ends: D

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    Without Heat Miller in the lineup, it was an inauspicious afternoon for the Steelers tight ends. 

    Most were trying to get a look at rookie seventh-rounder David Paulson who was taking Miller's spot in the starting lineup. But the former Oregon Duck was held in check and finished the game with zero receptions on just one target. 

    Back-up Leonard Pope had a little bit better of a game, hauling in one pass for one yard. That one catch just happened to be a touchdown, Pope's second of the season. 

    It wasn't a good sign to see Paulson do next to nothing in his first real action, seeing as the Steelers may not get Miller back for the start of the 2013 season. Paulson has time to develop chemistry in the offense over the offseason, but I would have liked to see a little more out of him. 


    David Paulson: D

    - Paulson couldn't find the room to get open and was a big reason the Steelers passing game never really got going. 

Offensive Line: B+

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    You have to hand it to the Steelers offensive line. Through think and thin, injury after injury, this unit has pulled through for the most part this season. 

    Sunday afternoon was no different. 

    During the course of this game, the Steelers (who were already missing LG Willie Colon, RT Mike Adams, T Marcus Gilbert) lost rookie right tackle Kelvin Beachum and rookie right guard David DeCastro to injuries. Beachum's came on a clearly illegal blindside hit from Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor. 

    Still, the Steelers offensive line held strong and allowed the Browns only two sacks on the day. 

    Give a ton of credit to Maurkice Pouncey who was again bounced around from center to guard with the injuries on the front. He's heading to the Pro Bowl for his third straight year and a lot of people are questioning if he deserves it. Today, he played like it. 


    Maurkice Pouncey: A

    - Pouncey is the Steelers best offensive lineman and he showed it against Cleveland. He's the clear leader of the offensive front. 

Defensive Line: C+

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    The Steelers defensive line hasn't exactly been the best unit this season, but they got the job done on Sunday. 

    Cleveland ran for 138 yards on the day, but 35 of those yards came on a fake punt against the special teams and another 41 yards came on two broken run plays. 

    Now, the 41 yards still goes against the defense, but take away those yards and the defensive front gave up only 62 yards on the day. 

    Ziggy Hood looked a little better this week and Cameron Heyward got some much-needed extended playing time. Unfortunately, that came at the hands of losing Brett Keisel early in the game to a knee injury that he did not return from. 


    Ziggy Hood: C+

    - Teams continue to run at him, but he's shown growth over the last two weeks and did recover a fumble. 

    Cameron Heyward: B+

    - Heyward played very well in this game, recording 4 tackles and 0.5 sacks against the Browns. 

Linebackers: A-

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    They may have not had an excellent pass rush all afternoon, but with the game on the line, middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons took this game over. 

    On the final two possessions the Browns had on Sunday, Timmons sacked Thad Lewis and Josh Johnson on consecutive plays, forcing a fumble on the latter and effectively ending the game and season. 

    Timmons added another six tackles to go along with his two sacks. 

    Outside linebacker James Harrison was all over the field against Cleveland, tallying a team high 11 tackles and a sack. LaMarr Woodley had five tackles while Larry Foote added nine and a pass deflection. 

    The Steelers linebacking corps has traditionally been the backbone of the defense and Timmons sure did his part this season to keep it that way. Although they didn't have the numbers you'd like to see, Harrison and Woodley looked better and better as they got healthier this season. 


    Lawrence Timmons: A+

    - Timmons was again electric, adding to the questions of why he won't be headed to Hawaii in February. 

    James Harrison: A

    - Harrison has gotten better and better as the season has worn on. 

    LaMarr Woodley: C+

    - Got his first QB pressure since the Giants game and just hasn't really been healthy all season long. It's truly affected his play. 

Defensive Backs: B

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    Like the offensive line, the Steelers secondary has been in complete injury chaos all season long. Already starting this game with No. 1 corner Ike Taylor and backup Curtis Brown on IR, the team added to that list by losing Keenan Lewis early on with a knee injury. 

    Yet, the Steelers pressed on defensively and held the Browns to just 204 yards through the air. 

    Troy Polamalu baited the young Thad Lewis for his first interception of the season that ended a promising Cleveland drive and Cortez Allen stripped and recovered a Travis Benjamin fumble that led to the final score of the game. 

    Pittsburgh has a lot to think about when it comes to their secondary this offseason, but they look like they actually have some depth for the first time in a while. With Taylor, Allen and Lewis, they've got three guys who can really play. 


    Cortez Allen: B+

    - Allen has now forced three turnovers in the last two games. He added 8 tackles on Sunday. 

    Troy Polamalu: B+

    - Like Harrison, Polamalu has gotten better ever game he's been healthy. Adding to the interception, Troy posted three tackles and two pass deflections. 

    Ryan Clark: B

    - Clark had a typical game for him. He tallied 9 tackles and even brought down one in the backfield. 

    Josh Victorian: C+

    - Victorian hasn't played too well in the time he's seen this season, but he has shown good development and got some much needed experience. 

Special Teams: B

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    The Steelers 2012 special teams unit has been one of the worst in decades. But on Sunday against Cleveland, they showed some signs of hope. 

    Punter Drew Butler was active early against the Browns and kicked well. He averaged over 40 yards per punt on the afternoon and kicked mostly from deep in his own territory. 

    The biggest flaw as a fake punt the Browns converted that eventually led to a tying Thad Lewis touchdown. Ross Ventrone went 35-yards on a run to give the Browns new life and it nearly brought them back into this game. 

    Kicker Shaun Suisham got back on track by nailing his only field goal attempt of the night after missing two last week against the Bengals


    Shaun Suisham: A

    - Suisham closed out a good season by hitting one field goal and all three extra point attempts. 

    Drew Butler: B-

    - The rookie had his highs and lows this season, but looks to have a pretty bright future on this team. 

Coaching: B-

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    I've been as hard as anyone on head coach Mike Tomlin this season, but on Sunday afternoon, he seemed to pull it all together. 

    The offense showed signs of improvement and with an entire offseason together, I think Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger can get the ship righted. But that will have to come with help from the head coach. 

    Defensively, they may have given up a lot of yards to a bunch of young, unproven guys, but at the end of the day, they still gave up only 10 points and forced four turnovers. 

    Mike Tomlin and his staff have a long offseason ahead of them to get things righted where the team went wrong in 2012. That includes making hard decisions on player personnel and coaching personnel alike. 


    Mike Tomlin: B

    - Tomlin didn't do a whole lot wrong in this game. Outside of a few personnel decisions, he called a pretty clean game. 

    Todd Haley: C-

    - Haley needs to spend the offseason finding the direction of his offense. It's been scattered and inconsistent all season to say the least.