Pittsburgh Steelers: Positional Grade Report for Victory over the Patriots
The Pittsburgh Steelers exorcised their demons in a big way in front of a playoff-like atmosphere at Heinz Field on Sunday in a 25-17 victory over the New England Patriots.
Though the final score does not indicate how dominant they were, the Steelers came away very pleased with their efforts against the Patriots and Tom Brady, who had their number.
Pittsburgh out gained New England 427 to 213 and controlled the clock for 39:22. If not for a Ben Roethlisberger interception and a questionable defensive holding call, this game would have been won by a wider margin.
The Steelers won the game by taking a page out of the Patriots playbook. Roethlisberger used the short passing game to move the ball down the field and control the clock while the defense simply did an effective job at controlling one of the NFL’s best offenses.
Just a few weeks ago when the Steelers appeared to be reeling, many did not think they could compete, let alone defeat the Patriots. Now with the win the Steelers appear to be the top threat in the AFC.
Here is a look at the grade report for Sunday’s big win over New England.
Quarterback Grade: A-
Roethlisberger looked more like Brady in completing 36-of-50 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns.
Early on he abused New England’s defense by using nine different receivers, including Heath Miller over the middle of the field and then beat them with his “Young Money” trio of receivers: Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
Pittsburgh had Roethlisberger shoulder the load to exploit the Patriots 32nd ranked pass defense and the game plan worked to near perfection.
The Steelers scored on their opening drive with a Roethlisberger pass to Mewelde Moore and he later hooked up with Brown for his second touchdown pass.
Roethlisberger’s loan slip up was on the team’s third possession when he under threw an open receiver which was intercepted. This would set up the Patriots’ first touchdown.
Beyond this, Roethlisberger did his best and outdueled one of the league’s premiere quarterbacks.
Season GPA: 2.83
Running Backs Grade: A-
There were a lot of question marks surrounding Rashard Mendenhall after a lackluster start to his 2011 season and early on those were not erased.
He was tentative at hitting the holes and was going no where. As the game progressed, though, Mendenhall picked up the pace and would eventually finish with 70 yards on 13 carries and 22 yards on three receptions.
Mendenhall was not a focus of the offensive game plan but got the job done when called upon.
Isaac Redman was held in check for the first time this season as he only had seven carries for 11 yards as well as a five yard reception.
Mewelde Moore had one carry for 16 yards and caught two balls for 29 yards, including a touchdown.
Season GPA: 2.45
Wide Receivers Grade: A
Hines Ward missed the game with an ankle injury, though that did not prove to be much of a problem.
While Ward’s presence was missed in the red zone, where they were 2-for-5, the young receivers more than made up for his absence.
Wallace continues to develop as an all-around receiver as he caught all seven of the passes thrown his way for 70 yards. This was important that he was still involved as New England made a successful effort to keep the Steelers from connecting on the deep ball.
Meanwhile, Antonio Brown led all receivers with nine receptions for 67 yards and a score. He has become a go-to target over the past couple of weeks.
Emmanuel Sanders had a costly holding penalty on what was a big Miller reception, but he would make up for it with a first down catch later on that drive. He had five receptions for 70 yards.
Even Jericho Cotchery got in the mix with a nice 10-yard grab on his only target.
On the day, the receivers caught 22 of the 31 passes thrown their way.
Season GPA: 3.09
Tight Ends Grade: A
Miller was huge early in the game with four receptions on the opening possession as he was completely dominating the inside of the Patriots defense.
After the catch Miller would drag defenders for extra yardage en route to a seven catch day for 85 yards.
David Johnson made a big catch late in the game when the Steelers were trying to burn the clock.
Season GPA: 3.06
Offensive Line Grade: A-
Roethlisberger was sacked five times on the day, but at least one of those sacks was a result of him holding onto the ball too long and two others, at the end of the game, were more of a result from poor play calling.
For a day in which Roethlisberger threw 50 passes, the line did a very good job giving him the protection he needed to make plays.
Maurkice Pouncey was very effective against the big defensive tackles in the middle of the Patriots’ defense and Chris Kemoeatu did not take any dumb penalties.
Marcus Gilbert continues to assert himself well, though he was flagged for a false start.
The line did an adequate job run blocking as well as the Steelers ran for 98 yards on 23 rushes.
Season GPA: 1.78
Defensive Line Grade: A
This was a game in which the defensive line needed to come up big and they did.
Though the Patriots can run the ball with pretty good effectiveness given their tendency to throw the ball, Pittsburgh’s defense held New England to only 3.6 yards per carry on 12 rushing attempts.
Ziggy Hood and Casey Hampton only had one tackle each but helped free up space for the linebackers to make plays while Brett Keisel once again had a big day.
Keisel had a huge batted down pass and had the game sealing forced fumble/sack which resulted in a safety. He continues to be one of the top defensive players on the team and it should not go unnoticed.
Season GPA: 2.47
Linebackers Grade: A
LaMarr Woodley got at least 1.5 sacks for the fourth consecutive week as he sacked Brady twice on the day before leaving with a hamstring injury.
The pressure Woodley was able to generate on Brady was huge at disrupting the Patriots’ quick passing game.
Lawrence Timmons had a solid game, though it looked as though he may have let Rob Gronkowski run free at least one time. He had one nice stop on a backside pursuit and did a nice job in coverage.
Larry Foote was excellent in the middle with eight stops and was not beat for any big plays.
Even Stevenson Sylvester, in his first start, while not on the final stat sheet was not a major weakness for the defense. Neither was rookie Chris Carter who entered the game for the injured Woodley.
Season GPA: 2.40
Defensive Backs Grade: A
Pittsburgh’s defense held Brady to 198 yards passing and that truly does not indicate how well they played as a unit.
Ike Taylor was excellent with six tackles, one for a loss and a pass defense. He did not get beat for anything deep and was quick to make the tackle.
Keenan Lewis also did an excellent job on his receivers. In fact, he is rarely noticed on a weekly basis, which is a good thing, a very good thing. His play has been one of the major reasons that Pittsburgh’s pass defense has been so good.
The same could be said for William Gay, who did get called for a rather weak holding call which set up a New England score.
Gay was abused last year by Gronkowski, but was not able to be exploited this year.
Gronkowski did find open spaces in the defense as he finished with seven receptions for 94 yards while Wes Welker was held to only 39 yards on six receptions. He was virtually a non-factor.
The Steelers also got very good games from Ryan Clark, who had a great stop near the goal line, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Mundy.
This unit earned their status as one of the top pass defenses in the league this week.
Season GPA: 2.89
Special Teams Grade: A-
Antonio Brown was solid in the kick return game with a 27-yard average and averaged six yards on two punt returns.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s coverage units were excellent holding Danny Woodhead to only 18.5 yards per kick return and Welker to only one punt return yard.
Daniel Sepulveda punted only once and it was only for 31 yards, but had tremendous hang time to prevent a significant return.
Shaun Suisham had this unit’s only blemish with a missed field goal which could have given the Steelers some more breathing room.
Season GPA: 2.49
Coaching Grade: A-
They outgained and out possessed New England by a margin of about 2:1 and if not for a turnover and some red-zone woes, would have completely destroyed them on the scoreboard as well.
The offensive game plan was what fans have been calling for for a long time. The quick, short passing game which used Miller over the middle and the speed of the receivers worked to near perfection.
Pittsburgh was able to possess the ball without running it and moved it down the field with ease until they got to the red zone. The Steelers finished only 2-for-5 there.
However, Pittsburgh did convert on 10-of-16 third downs while holding New England to only 3-of-10 third down conversions.
Defensively, the game plan was well-executed as Brady was unable to dominate as he usually does. They took the Patriots out of their element and brought Brady down three times.
When Brady wasn’t being pressured, the receivers were pretty well blanketed. Only Gronkowski averaged over 10 yards per reception.
The only major negatives of the day were the play calls on a third-and-long which allowed Roethlisberger to throw the ball—it was intercepted. A draw play and a punt would have been a safer, and smarter, call.
The two pass plays called at the end of the game were also unnecessary and could have been costly.
Beyond that, Pittsburgh outperformed New England in every phase of the game. What made it more impressive is that the Patriots had the bye week to get ready for the Steelers.
Season GPA: 2.33
Study Up: What Must Improve
The Steelers finally get a rematch with the Ravens after suffering a 35-7 opening week drubbing.
In that game, Pittsburgh’s offensive line was in shambles and Roethlisberger was a turnover machine.
The Steelers have now turned that around and the line is slowly coming together while Roethlisberger is playing his best football of the season.
As the Ravens come to town on Sunday, the Steelers must do a better job converting inside of the red zone. They are settling too many times for field goals.
Most importantly, they need to get some key players healthy, particularly Woodley who left Sunday’s game with an injury.
Beyond that, the Steelers will more than be ready to regain complete control over the AFC North.
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