It looked to be another week of domination for the Pittsburgh Steelers after Rashard Mendenhall set them up to go ahead by three scores following a 68-yard run.
A blowout was not meant to be as the Steelers failed to score a touchdown and despite picking up over 300 yards in the first half, were out-of-sync in the second en route to a close 17-13 victory.
The win over Jacksonville was not about style points, but instead coming out with a 4-2 record. They let the Jaguars hang around with poor offensive play in the second half and nearly blew their lead.
Regardless of the final score, Pittsburgh will come out happy with the win and take a lot of positives from the game. However, there were several key areas that are cause for concern, particularly with the second half offensive play-calling and quarterback play.
Here is the positional grade report for the Steelers' victory over the Jaguars.
We all saw two different Ben Roethlisbergers on Sunday.
First, there was the Roethlisberger who went 8-of-9 passing with a touchdown. He was using Hines Ward and Heath Miller and mixing in short passes with deep passes.
Then there was the Roethlisberger who finished the game 4-of-14, including overthrowing Antonio Brown on what should have been a touchdown and Emmanuel Sanders twice.
This Roethlisberger also fumbled the ball once while taking one of what would be three sacks for the Jaguars.
What changed? Rather than stick to what was working, the Steelers built a big lead and then moved to a deep passing game.
A deep passing game and a gusty day in Pittsburgh is not a good combination. This was a mix between Roethlisberger missing open throws and a poor offensive scheme by Bruce Arians (more on that later).
Season GPA: 2.50
Welcome back Rashard Mendenhall!
After missing last week’s game, Mendenhall returned to action in a big way with 146 yards on 23 carries as well as a score.
Mendenhall also ran the ball with authority, moving forward as opposed to side to side, though he did fall back into the “dancing” pattern later in the game.
Mike Tomlin was able to get Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer involved as well.
Redman had a couple of nice runs and finished with 22 yards and Dwyer had eight yards on a couple of carries.
As a team, Pittsburgh rushed for 185 yards and for the second straight week was impressive.
Season GPA: 2.2
Hines Ward caught three passes for 47 yards and did a great job at getting yards after the catch. His yard total moved him into 19th place on the NFL’s all-time receiving list with 11,939 yards.
Ward nearly had a touchdown, but the play was well defended.
Mike Wallace only had two receptions, but one was another long touchdown reception. This time it was from 28 yards. His other catch was a 48-yard reception.
Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown only had two receptions, but they were overthrown several times on plays in which they were open for touchdowns or big gains.
Sanders did appear to have one miscommunication with Roethlisberger in which he did not turn his head in time for a quick pass.
Season GPA: 2.96
Heath Miller appeared to be on his way for a big game before the offense went away from him.
He was getting open on the Jaguars’ defense and finished the day with four receptions. More passes to Miller probably would have resulted in more scores, though, as he was able to move the chains with his catches.
David Johnson made a couple of nice blocks on the day, but at other times was shed by Paul Posluszny, who had a monster day for Jacksonville’s defense.
Season GPA: 3.02
Max Starks was not the same savior that he was last week, allowing pressure on Roethlisberger. However, he along with the rest of the line had a solid outing.
The offensive line got plenty of push for the ground game and gave Roethlisberger protection for most of the day. While they did break down late in the game, part of that was on Roethlisberger and the play calling.
Both Maurkice Pouncey and Jonathan Scott were called for penalties on back-to-back plays when the Steelers had the ball in Jacksonville’s zone.
Season GPA: 1.50
Maurice Jones-Drew, despite being Jacksonville’s only weapon, had 96 yards on 22 carries and the Jaguars compiled a 133 yards as a team on the ground.
That number is impressive considering the Steelers did not feel threatened by rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The defense did allow runs of 19 and 14 yards, but not all was bad.
Jones-Drew was held in check for much of the first half and Brett Keisel had a very good day.
Keisel had six tackles, three for a loss, and had two sacks on the day. He also had a batted pass that was nearly intercepted by Ziggy Hood.
Hood was kept off the stat sheet and could take a lesson from Keisel on getting his arms up in passing lanes.
Season GPA: 2.12
LaMarr Woodley has taken over for the absence of James Harrison.
He had two more sacks today and made a total of eight tackles. Woodley pretty much dominated his side of the line.
James Farrior had a good day as well with 11 tackles and a sack. He also drew a holding call on another play in which he likely would have picked up another sack.
Farrior had a nice deflected pass too, but not all was perfect as he was run over by Jones Drew on one play.
Larry Foote was not very active on the day and Lawrence Timmons disappeared from the stat sheet.
The Steelers will anxiously await the return of Harrison as Timmons is not producing at left outside linebacker.
Jacksonville was running right at him for part of the day and Timmons was being eaten up by the offensive line.
Season GPA: 1.98
Troy Polamalu once again came to play and nearly had an interception. He has been so close all too many times this season, but has yet to make the play.
He had five tackles on the day including a play in which he jumped the line to get a hold of Gabbert and another that stopped Jones-Drew for no gain.
On this particular play, Polamalu’s head was hit by Jones-Drew’s thigh and he left the game with concussion-like symptoms.
William Gay and Keenan Lewis both had solid games while Ike Taylor was beat twice. The first was an overthrow by Gabbert while the second was for Jacksonville’s lone touchdown of the day.
Season GPA: 2.73
There was nothing out of the usual from the return game or the coverage units as Antonio Brown had few opportunities to return punts and had one kick return for 34 yards, but that was not the story.
Instead it was Shaun Suisham missing a 46-yard field goal in the open end zone and Daniel Sepulveda averaging only 42.7 yards per punt.
The wind made it very difficult on the kicking and punting game.
Ryan Mundy also took a dumb penalty for roughing the punter that gave Jacksonville a big first down. They would score their only touchdown on this drive.
Season GPA: 2.32
The first-half game plan was pretty well executed with the Steelers outgaining the Jaguars 315-68, but things did not go so well in the second half.
Jacksonville was able to outscore the Steelers 10-0 while running the ball effectively as the Steelers offense shut down.
With Gabbert only completing 12-of-26 pass attempts, it was pretty inexcusable for the Steelers to allow so many yards on the ground, even if they were against one of the best backs in the league.
The bigger concern, though, was the offense.
Arians had mixed up the play-calling very well early in the game as the Steelers built a 17-0 lead.
However, things changed as they began to call more deep passes. Granted a number of the receivers were open on these plays, but on such a windy day, it was difficult for Roethlisberger to connect on them.
In fact, the offense went dormant the instant they nearly optioned to go exclusively to the deep game.
Last week and the first half on Sunday, the Steelers were at their best when they were running the ball and using a short-to-midrange passing attack to set up the deep ball.
They put up seven touchdowns with that plan. So the logical solution was to go away from it.
In typical Arians and Roethlisberger fashion, they tried to force the big play rather than take the smart plays that moved the offense up and down the field with ease.
Season GPA: 1.94
Pittsburgh’s offensive line took another hit as Doug Legurksy injured his toe and was replaced with Trai Essex.
They will need to get a line healthy so they can work more than one week together and gel.
The same could be said about the defensive line as Chris Hoke was also injured. He was replaced by Steve McLendon.
On the defensive side of the ball, the pass rush is beginning to appear and the pass defense as a whole has played well. However, the run defense is not up to par.
The Steelers need to seal up those cracks and find a way to get Timmons involved while on the outside.
Pittsburgh’s offense needs to stick to what is successful and not always look for the home run ball. They have a ton of weapons and they need to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers, not just throw it deep.
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