It is time to once again hand out some grades. This week, the Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to England to take on the Minnesota Vikings and came up just short, falling 34-27 when a final drive stalled.
Individually, this game was one of contrasts. Some performances were quite noteworthy, while others were forgettable. However, it's the bye week, so the Steelers have a nice break to make changes and build on this game.
*All stats provided by NFL.com
Ben Roethlisberger had a masterful game.
In spite of all the problems along his offensive line and the lack of commitment to the run game, Roethlisberger just keeps performing at an elite level. To complete over 70 percent of his passes for 383 yards under the circumstances is a testament to his greatness.
The only downside to Roethlisberger’s game was the two turnovers. But even those could have been attributed to a wide receiver who broke off his route and an offensive line that couldn’t protect.
Le’Veon Bell: A
Le'Veon Bell’s debut with the Steelers was outstanding. It was clear he was comfortable with the offense and has the type of skills to make the most of a subpar offensive line. Bell finished with 57 yards on 16 carries, and most importantly, had two rushing touchdowns.
The rest of the running backs were of little consequence, and any impact they might have had was overshadowed by the rookie Bell's performance.
Antonio Brown: B+
It would have been impossible for Brown to top his performance from last week. The Vikings did a nice job locking down the deep ball and forced Brown to work the short and underneath routes more. The stats were less gaudy, but 12 catches for 88 yards is still a great game. Every week, you can see Brown easing into that WR1 role on this team.
Jerricho Cotchery: B+
Cotchery rebounded big this week with five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings defense gave Cotchery voids in the coverage and he took advantage of them. After some average performances earlier in the year, this one was must improved.
Markus Wheaton and Emmanuel Sanders: B
Sanders and Wheaton did a very good job in their complementary roles Sunday. It was very exciting in particular to see Wheaton on the field, getting targets and making catches. He and Sanders both have an extra gear that is hard to deny.
Heath Miller: B+
It was clear this week Miller was much more comfortable in the offense. His run-blocking was excellent and six more catches illustrate his importance in this passing offense. Miller used his physical stature and veteran smarts to continue to win.
As Miller gets more confident that his knee is healthy, it should be expected that his production will continue to go up. His recovery has been remarkable, and it is clear his addition is a huge plus to this team.
Offensive Line Mike Adams: F
Adams was once again abused by a more athletic player. The Steelers might have a high draft pick wrapped up in him, but at some point, for the sake of this team, he is going to have to be replaced.
Marcus Gilbert: F
The same goes for Gilbert. He is simply too big, too slow and not strong enough to be effective. The fact that he is still in the starting lineup is more a function of the lack of depth on this team than any redeeming qualities he may have.
Fernando Velasco: B
Velasco had another solid game. He isn’t as athletic as Maurkice Pouncey, but he’s stronger up front and does his job. More than once on Sunday night, he was able to get outside and engage a smaller player in space and finish the block.
David DeCastro: B
I have to believe that if DeCastro wasn’t playing next to someone as inept as Gilbert, he would be able to showcase his skills even more. As it stands, he is limited in what he is asked to do; however, he rarely loses on an assignment.
Ziggy Hood: B-
Brett Keisel: B+
Steve McLendon: C
Grading out the individual performances of this unit is challenging, because the Steelers used a great deal of four-down linemen, putting players like Keisel and Hood on the inside rather than at their normal defensive end spot. This also put McLendon on the bench for long stretches of the game.
Overall, the unit had some lapses, but in many cases in run support, they did their job. The biggest minus was they didn’t generate any pressure on Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel. During the bye week, this group needs to find some cohesion, and the coaches need to get a handle on a rotation for the line.
LaMarr Woodley: C-
It wasn’t enough that Woodley failed to generate any real pressure on the quarterback (minus one strip the Vikings recovered), but his personal foul penalty late in the game kept the Vikings offense on the field in a key situation.
Lawrence Timmons: B-
Timmons had a nice game, but it was well off what he typically does. Ideally, Timmons is the man stopping the run, but even he struggled to clear out blockers and had his problems dealing with the power and speed of Adrian Peterson.
Vince Williams: B
Williams had a really good game. Of all the rookies the Steelers have used this year, he has been the most pleasant surprise. He was flying to the football all night, finished with five solo tackles and, most importantly, showed a real understanding of the defense. The future is very bright for this young man.
Ike Taylor: C
William Gay: C
Cortez Allen: D+
It was a woeful night for the Steelers defensive backs. Not because Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel had a huge game; he only finished with 248 yards passing. The problem was that the secondary allowed far too many big plays and did a poor job tackling.
No individual performances stood out, so for this, they essentially get lumped together for grading. However, Allen in particular looked rusty. The Vikings went at him, and whether it was his ankle still bothering him or just blowing the cobwebs out, he didn’t look like himself.
Ryan Clark: C
Clark has become a compiler of stats. His box score always looks nice, but once again, he had very little impact on the game. This team needs a safety back there who can impact the game via turnovers, not just a few clean-up tackles.
Polamalu was lined up in the box for the bulk of the snaps on Sunday and did a nice job in being disruptive. On many plays, he didn’t make the tackle, but he disrupted the play to allow others to make a tackle. I can’t grade him better than a "B" simply because he was part of a mass of Steelers who missed tackles on long plays.
Zoltan Mesko: D
Mesko had been punting well this season, but on Sunday, things went wrong. Mesko had four punts for an average of 35.8 yards per kick. Special teams have been solid this year, but this was a bad day for the punter.
Shaun Suisham: A-
Suisham had another very good game. He hit both of his short field-goal attempts and all three of his extra-point tries.