Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card Week 8: Grading Each Unit vs. Patriots
The Steelers gutted out a tough important win over AFC heavyweight New England on Sunday. That 25-17 win represents the first Pittsburgh victory over Tom Brady since 2004 and one of the best games of Ben Roethlisberger's career.
But how do they grade out?
Here's a look at the team report card as we go unit by unit.
Offensive Skill Positions
Ben Roethlisberger gets an A for this game. The plus was removed by his interception and a couple of pointless late sacks, but there's no taking the shine off of his performance Sunday afternoon.
Roethlisberger completed 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards and two scores. Now, to be fair, Roethlisberger is seldom the main reason the Steelers lose to New England, but this week he was the main reason they were victorious.
The Steelers offensive game plan was to take the Patriots' game and use it against them. Roethlisberger played the role of Tom Brady, dissecting the defense and spreading the ball out to all of his receivers.
Running Backs: B
This was hidden under a pile of passes, but the Steelers were effective runners on Sunday. Rashard Mendenhall carried only 13 times, but had 70 yards and seldom was stopped at the line. Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore also made use of their carries. No flash here, but this was very effective work.
Without Hines Ward, the Steelers used Heath Miller as the possession guy. He had the best game of the season. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were scary-good on the eve of Halloween, each finding ways to get open.
Mike Wallace wasn't his usual self, but found ways to make the game interesting by getting away from tacklers any time he made a catch. He took some hard hits and was gutsy about it.
This unit, along with the quarterback, won the game by controlling the clock on each drive.
Pass Blocking: A
Hard to argue with the effort here.
Ramon Foster took a hard hit, was obviously hurt and refused to come off the field. Marcus Gilbert got hurt too but was back almost immediately. The offensive line manhandled that awful New England pass rush.
But Ben Roethlisberger absorbed sacks, you say? They weren't the fault of the line, which stepped up and dominated a lesser defense.
The Pittsburgh offensive line might be finally coming together. If it has, I'm not sure who stops this passing game. That's a scary thought, given the team's skill players.
Run Blocking: B
Not much to argue here. The Steelers rushed for an aggregate 98 yards with two players breaking 18-yard gains. That means that they ran well. They didn't run often and didn't need to.
The holes were open when they did put the ball on the ground. Rashard Mendenhall was able to get good openings and get through them without contact. I thought the team did especially good work in short-yardage runs where they got great push on the Patriots' big front guys.
It was kind of a ho-hum effort here, but still effective.
Defensive Line: A
Wow. They got some great push today. Ziggy Hood was a beast, as was Brett Keisel, on the ends. They opened a lot of opportunities for the linebackers and played a huge role in the team's effectiveness against the usually effective Patriots.
Keisel is the player of the game from this unit. He had a sack and forced a fumble that turned into a safety. He was getting penetration almost every snap and was manhandling the Patriots' left side.
Lamarr Woodley alone deserves an A+, but we're grading units. The linebackers have been decimated by injury and ended up with three players either coming in from backup status or playing out of position. Only Larry Foote was still in place.
Still, they had two sacks (both by Woodley) and eliminated a New England running game that had been effective almost all season. They also got up in Brady's face a lot and he started to feel pressure that wasn't necessarily there by the third quarter. That's unnatural for him, but par for the course when a quarterback faces this defense.
Overall Grade: A+
We're going to grade these guys as a whole unit. No matter how you slice it, they passed (pun intended) with flying colors.
Troy Polamalu was good in this game late, making a key play to prevent any chance of the Patriots coming back with under 30 seconds to play. He also nearly took Wes Welker's head off on a big tackle that prevented the receiver from advancing and getting a first down.
The coverage was tight all game and Brady was held under 200 yards passing. He did toss two scores, but he had to work harder than ever to get anything going.
If you're looking for another big statistic, here it is: the Patriots were 3 of 10 on third down.
The much-maligned William Gay had a great game and made some big plays to kill some early New England drives. That was impressive work for a guy who got burned the last time these two teams faced off.
There just isn't much to pick at here. The Steelers were out of their element playing man, but they played it like they'd been doing it for years and used a new look to totally destroy the New England offensive plan.
Overall Grade: B-
It's hard to argue with what they accomplished.
Chris Carter saw his first real game action. Talk about a baptism by fire. Carter, however, played well and even got some nice pressure on some plays late in the game. He isn't Lamarr Woodley, but he can play in this league.
Stevenson Sylvester didn't get on the stat sheet, but he didn't make any mistakes either. That's not bad for a first career start. I'm not going to knock anything about what he did. He's going to be a good player and is a future starter for this team.
Ryan Mundy made one huge mistake, but also made some key plays while coming in and out at various points.
In short, anyone who was asked to come into this game was ready for the challenge. You didn't hear a name getting called for a mistake. That's a great thing, but is even better when you consider the number of players that were playing for the first time or were coming in off the bench.
Overall Grade: A
I thought about the plus, but there's one glaring issue here: the red-zone efficiency. I blame that on Bruce Arians, who still doesn't have a good plan inside the 20.
Outside of that, this might have been the best coached game in the NFL this year.
The Steelers went up against a team they've beaten only twice in the last decade and did the unthinkable: They beat the Patriots by being the Patriots.
I guess imitation is the sincerest (and most effective) form of flattery. The Patriots would probably rather not be imitated so well ever again.
The Steelers won this game by going outside the box. They abandoned what they usually do and attacked everything their opponent liked to do. They pressed the receivers in man instead of playing their favorite zone schemes. They threw short and often and left the run to be an afterthought. They did everything right and pushed the right button almost ever chance they got.
Mike Tomlin and his staff left the field looking like the cerebral geniuses. Bill Belichick was visibly flustered by what Pittsburgh did. I've never seen him that frustrated before. That's quite the accomplishment.
Well played, Pittsburgh.