Steelers vs. Browns: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Pittsburgh
When a team is put into hostile territory, and the seriousness of the game is elevated, it is about so much more than just a play or two. The Pittsburgh Steelers went into Cleveland and on a cold and windy day and beat the Browns in every facet of the game, finishing them off with a flurry, 27-11.
During the current 5-2 run the Steelers are on, the wins typically come on the back of either the offense or the defense, but Sunday's win was a complete effort in all three phases.
Pittsburgh came out and played like a team, with each unit supporting the other. Minus one individual effort, these groups played some impressive football.
So, let's hand out some grades!
All stats provided by ESPN.com.
Having a great game isn't about having huge statistics. For quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Sunday's win was all about efficiency.
The Steelers had an uncanny display in balance, with 34 pass attempts and 34 rushes. Roethlisberger finished with only 217 yards on 22 completions, but he had two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The game plan was to use the short passing game as an extension of the run game, trying to account for the weather. Roethlisberger took this plan and executed nearly flawlessly. Roethlisberger knew he would be under duress on Sunday and would have to be smart with the football. And Roethlisberger delivered with an error-free game.
On Sunday, rookie running back Le'Veon Bell got a full work load on a cold, snowy day. Bell finished the game with 80 yards on 23 carries, against a Browns defense built to stop the run.
No, it was not a tremendous number in the box score, but on a day when passing yards were going to be hard to come by and his offensive line would be challenged, Bell showed a lot of grit and determination.
Wide Recievers/Tight Ends
It is starting to sound like a broken record talking about how talented wide receiver Antonio Brown is playing this year. However, Sunday was another week when Brown used the scheme and his athleticism to impact the outcome of the game.
Brown finished the game with 92 yards on six catches and had a tremendous 41-yard touchdown reception where the football was underthrown and only worked because of the individual effort by Brown.
It seems that every week a different receiver steps into the role of that second target for Roethlisberger. This week, that duty fell on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who did a very good job after struggling in previous weeks. Sanders had six catches on only seven targets and 52 yards.
Sanders reeled in a very nice short touchdown in the game as well on an excellent play design and execution. Sanders displayed the speed and explosion that had been missing over the last few games.
It is a point of debate as to whether or not tight end Heath Miller is playing at 100 percent or if he'll ever be back to that level again. Nevertheless, within the Steelers scheme, Miller is still a valuable and reliable possession player.
On Sunday, Miller hauled in five catches for 41 yards, which fits right in with what the Steelers wanted to do with their controlled passing game. Miller can still make the tough catch and deliver a blow to get a few extra yards.
This group gets a big gold star for their performance on Sunday. The offensive line has been a much-maligned group, but on Sunday they put it all together.
It will be interesting to go back and study the game more closely to see how all the moving parts worked individually, but the net result was tremendous.
If there is no other reason to give this group a high score, zero sacks allowed would do it on their own. In fact, over the course of the entire game, Roethlisberger was only hit twice and had to do very little to extend plays with his legs while avoiding pressure.
In the run game, things were less optimistic but still very much positive. The Browns have a very good defense, so expectations had to be tempered. Nonetheless, the Steelers line did a solid job in keeping the Browns moving and while the box score won't show huge numbers, the line did enough to allow the Steelers to stick with the run and achieve balance on offense.
Another week, and another big game out of Heyward. While he only finished with two tackles, Heyward had a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and a fumble recovery. It's rare that a 3-4 defensive end can be so disruptive, so Heyward has really been a pleasant surprise.
When nose tackle Steve McLendon went down with an injury on Sunday, the Steelers immediately started shuffling their defensive front to account for the inclusion of defensive end Al Woods. Woods is an interesting player, because he can play inside and outside, so he offers some versatility.
What Woods did was show the power that the Browns clearly weren't ready for. Woods was putting Browns linemen on skates and ended up with four tackles, two sacks and two more hits on the Cleveland quarterbacks.
Some players are rhythm players. The more reps they see, the better they play. That was linebacker Jason Worilds on Sunday. As the game progressed, he continued to get better and better.
The Browns had no real answer for Worilds on the outside, whether he chose a bull rush straight up the middle or on a speed rush on the outside. Worilds finessed the game with five total tackles and six hits on the Browns quarterbacks.
Timmons had a quiet game by his standards, mostly due to the amount of coverage he was asked to play. The Browns didn't look his way often in the passing game and didn't get enough run game going for Timmons to rack up the numbers we've come to expect. Still a nice all-around game.
It was nice seeing linebacker Vince Williams on the field Sunday flying around to the football. However, he, like Timmons, was limited by the game plan of the Browns. Williams still finished with five tackles, but overall was pretty quiet.
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones continues to struggle. Jones was plugged in as a full-time starter on Sunday, but he struggled to produce yet again. His problems are a combination of factors, some of which, like his size, will just take time to deal with. However, his technique needs a full off season to improve, so it's hard to expect a huge improvement the remainder of this season.
This was a week that cornerback Ike Taylor wants to forget. Taylor is a confident player and looks forward to covering the opposing team's best wide receiver. However, on Sunday, Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon got the best of Taylor in a big way. Taylor couldn't account for his speed, and even when coverage was good, he missed tackles that he normally makes.
One of the stars of the defensive secondary on Sunday was cornerback William Gay. Gay finished the game with three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. However, the dagger for the Browns was the fourth-quarter interception that Gay returned for a touchdown.
On any other week, safety Troy Polamalu would easily be the star of the game on Sunday. It's quite an accomplishment to get two big forced fumbles in a single game, but even with four tackles and a sack to go along with it, he still takes a backseat in what was a tremendous individual effort.
Shaun Suisham, Kicker
Just another day at the office for kicker Shaun Suisham. Even with swirling winds, Suisham connected on all three of his extra-point tries. He also hit all three of his field-goal tries, including a 47-yard attempt with a nasty wind to contend with.
Mat McBriar, Punter
McBriar got plenty of work with six punts on the day. And while his average wasn't great, he was able to pin the Browns inside the 20-yard line on four of those kicks. He was shown up by Roethlisberger, who landed a 28-yard pooch punt at the 1-yard line.