The Pittsburgh Steelers held off the Green Bay Packers on the road 38-31 on a cold and snowy Sunday afternoon in December. With the win, the Steelers live to fight another day with the playoffs on the line.
A big part of the Steelers win was an invigorated rushing attack and some very timely plays on defense. Overall, there was very little to dislike about the performances of the Steelers.
The one player who is usually dependable above all others is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. On a day where Roethlisbeger was a little off his game, the rest of the team really stepped up.
It's time to hand out some grades.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com.
It is a real testament to this team when they can win a shootout like Sunday's game when its best player does not have his best game. However, that's exactly how it went for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger was a little bit off for most of the night. He let a few easy throws sail on him and underthrew receivers on more than one occasion. Even with two touchdown passes and one more rushing, it just wasn't a sharp game. Roethlisberger completed fewer than 58 percent of his throws for only 167 yards.
Obviously, weather played a role, and the run game kept the pressure off Roethlisberger, but regardless, compared to what we have seen, this wasn't his best. Another example is the interception where it was easy to see that Roethlisberger had committed at the snap as to where he was going and never saw Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk.
Ben Roethlisberger: B
If you haven't gotten on board with the notion of rookie running back Le'Veon Bell as a feature back, then maybe Sunday's performance was enough to change your mind.
Bell put together a 26-carry, 124-yard performance. The first 100-yard game since running back Isaac Redman did it way back in November 2011.
One significant highlight of Bell's performance on Sunday was in his vision. As good as Bell has been this season, most of his best runs have come when he stretches plays to the outside. Bell is listed at 244 pounds, but he's probably closer to 230 pounds, which lets him get away with that.
On Sunday, though, he found those inside creases that have always been there, but he missed previously. Bell took an extra beat, let the play develop and was able to gash the Packers defense on the inside where his power and speed got him to the second level in a hurry.
The only thing that kept Bell from an "A" on Sunday was the unfortunate fumble he had in the third quarter. This was Bell's first fumble of the season on 268 touches.
Le'Veon Bell: A-
On an afternoon when the Pittsburgh passing game was off the mark, only one player stood out. Surprise, it was wide receiver Antonio Brown. The best wide receiver in the NFL no one talks about carried the passing game. Brown had six catches on Sunday for 105 yards bringing his season totals to 101 catches for 1,412 yards.
The yardage numbers are already the best for a Steelers receiver in a single season and is within 11 catches of the single-season record for receptions. On Sunday, Brown accounted for better than 37 percent of the team's receptions and nearly 63 percent of the team's total yards.
Beyond Brown, there was very little of note among the pass-catchers. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Matt Spaeth both caught touchdowns, but other than that, the performance of the group was highly unremarkable.
Antonio Brown: A
It is difficult to get down on this group for its performance on Sunday. The Steelers have been maligned most of the season for their failings in the run game. On Sunday, the group stepped up and really put in the work when it had to.
The game plan was clear. With bad weather and suspect footing, getting the run game going was key. The Steelers called 28 designed runs, netting 138 yards and a 4.9-yard average. This is far and away the best performance of the year for a group that has struggled all season.
In the passing game, the news was also quite good. Offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum had a lapse that allowed linebacker Clay Matthews to turn the corner on the single sack allowed. Other than that, the Steelers front gave Roethlisbeger ample time to survey the field with very little duress.
The shortcomings of the offensive line on Sunday had as much to do with the plays called as anything else. When offensive coordinator Todd Haley keeps things simple with quick-hitting run plays, Bell is successful. However, on several occasions, the run called was slow developing and exposed the lack of athleticism of this group.
Kelvin Beachum: C+
Ramon Foster: B
Cody Wallace: B+
David DeCastro: A
Marcus Gilbert: B
Sunday's game really illustrated a key problem with the Pittsburgh defense. The Packers came out looking to run right at the Steelers defense, and they had some significant success.
The biggest problem with this is the play of defensive tackle Steve McLendon. The Green Bay front moved him off the ball with ease, and it was between the guards that Lacy was able to have his greatest success.
There was better news about the defensive ends. Cameron Heyward continues his trend of being the best defensive player on the team with six more tackles and a batted-down pass. Fellow defensive end Brett Keisel was quiet for most of the game, but it was his key fumble recovery late that helped seal the victory.
Steve McLendon: C
Cameron Heyward: A-
Brett Keisel: C+
It was a strange Sunday for the Steelers linebackers. First, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was a late inactive due to the flu the night before.
If you are wondering, Jarvis Jones is out because of the flu.— John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) December 22, 2013
This is on top of the Steelers putting outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley on injured reserve.
This meant the pass-rushing duties would fall on outside linebacker Jason Worilds along with inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
Both linebackers has solid games, partially due to so many plays making their way to them. Along with those two, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and Vince Williams played significant snaps.
Sylvester is a very average linebacker who had an above-average game. No, Sylvester didn't get any sacks but did a nice job in run support racking up five tackles.
A final note on Williams. While he might not be a three-down inside linebacker, he is a very active player who is limited in snaps due to the Steelers playing so much nickel. Having said that, Williams continues to flash the athleticism and energy that could make him a great linebacker down the road.
Lawrence Timmons: A
Jason Worilds: A-
Stevenson Sylvester: B-
Vince Williams: B-
The Packers put the heat on the Steelers secondary. Running back Eddie Lacy found his way there plenty on his carries, and the Packers also attempted 39 passes on Sunday.
Soft coverage for much of the game really made the Steelers secondary look average in the first half, but late in the game, some subtle adjustments really helped.
The signature play of the secondary came by way of cornerback Cortez Allen. In the third quarter, Allen made a great read on what looked like a hot read by Flynn. Allen jumped the route and made the interception and turned it into an interception.
Beyond Allen, the rest of the secondary was solid. Cornerback Ike Taylor made several excellent tackles, safety Ryan Clark had another 10-tackle game and safety Troy Polamalu had the key strip that led to the winning touchdown.
Oh, and another important player in the secondary on Sunday was safety Shamarko Thomas. His importance was not for what he did in the secondary, but Thomas also had the touchdown-saving tackle on the long kick return at the end of game. If not for Thomas, cornerback Micah Hyde might have scored and totally changed the outcome of the game.
Cortez Allen: A-
Troy Polamalu: A-
Ryan Clark: A-
Ike Taylor: B
William Gay: B
Shamarko Thomas: B
Since this only pertains to the kicker and punter, it's all excellent news. Kicker Shaun Suisham continues being unstoppable. Suisham hit his single field-goal try and all five of his extra-point attempts.
Punter Mat McBriar had a big day. Not only did he get in five punts, three of which he put inside the 20-yard line, but he also completed one pass on a fake punt for 30 yards.
Shaun Suisham: A
Mat McBriar: A