It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to get it done, Saturday, topping the Cincinnati Bengals 18-16 in the Wild Card matchup at Paul Brown Stadium in a nasty rainstorm.
While the Steelers did pull off the win against A.J, McCarron and the Bengals, the story coming out of this game was the utter embarrassment and lack of professionalism that the Bengals displayed as the Steelers drove down the field for the winning field goal with 18 seconds left.
However, that’s for another time and place. This article is all about grading the Steelers by position in their performances in Saturday’s win.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 229 yards and one score in a driving rainstorm, but the main issue from this game is the shoulder injury that Roethlisberger suffered early in the fourth quarter on a sack by Vontaze Burfict.
At first it looked like a Tony Romo-like shoulder injury that could have knocked Roethlisberger out of the playoffs for good, but the veteran QB was able to shake off the injury on the final drive of the game, dinking and dunking the Steelers offense down the field and into field goal range for Chris Boswell.
It wasn’t a great night for Roethlisberger, but he was able to do just enough for the Steelers to win the game with poor weather conditions.
Landry Jones attempted just five passes in relief of Roethlisberger, completing just two passes for 11 yards and throwing a costly interception to Burfict deep in Steelers territory that could — and likely should have — sealed the win for the Bengals.
Running Backs: A
Based on the circumstances coming into the game of not having the services of DeAngelo Williams, the running game of the Steelers offense was the biggest question mark.
Fortunately, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman stepped up in a big way, rushing for 123 yards on 28 carries, providing the Steelers with an added dimension offensively, forcing the Bengals to respect the run game.
Toussaint was also a major threat out of the backfield as a receiving, hauling in four passes for 60 yards, including a long of 27 yards.
Not bad for a guy who was on the practice squad a few weeks ago.
Wide Receivers: B
Despite leaving the game with what looked like a serious concussion on a dirty hit from Burfict on the final drive of the game, Antonio Brown once again led the Steelers in receptions and yards, hauling in seven passes for 119 yards against the Bengals.
The biggest play Brown had was a 60-yard catch-and-run that put the Steelers in scoring position on their touchdown drive in the third quarter that put the Steelers up 15-0.
Outside of Brown, Martavis Bryant stepped up and answered Roethlisberger’s challenge, making a spectacular catch in the back of the end zone for the score, pinning the ball to his butt before doing a front flip of sorts to maintain possession of the ball.
He even added a 44-yard run that set up a Boswell field goal.
Markus Wheaton added two catches for 23 yards, including a huge 24-yard catch over the middle in which he took a big shot from Shawn Williams. Unfortunately, Wheaton did fumble the ball away on his other catch.
Tight End: B+
The receiving numbers aren’t pretty for the Steelers tight ends, but they did a majority of their damage as blockers in the running game.
Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and Jesse James did outstanding jobs blocking for Toussaint and Todman on the ground, providing support for the offensive line, allowing the running backs to gash the Bengals.
Offensive Line: B-
This unit dominated up front at times in the running game, allowing the Steelers to rush for 167 yards on 29 carries, good for an average of 58 yards-per-carry.
In the passing game, the offensive line allowed four sacks for a loss of 38 yards, but they weren’t beaten often in one-on-one battles. A majority of the sacks came on blitzes in which there were too many players to block, compared to the number of blockers the Steelers had.
This unit will need to be much better this week against Denver, but they turned in a strong performance that was worthy of a win.
Defensive Line: B
They won’t jump out at you on the stat sheet, but the front three of the Steelers came up big against the Bengals, playing a huge part in holding the Bengals to just 3.8 yards-per-carry.
Cameron Heyward added a sack in the game while also forcing a fumble on McCarron.
Stephon Tuitt led the way up front with three tackles and was once again his disruptive self.
Steve McLendon wasn’t used enough to make a serious impact, but he did record one tackle and played well when he was on the field.
Each and every week Ryan Shazier continues to play at an All-Pro level.
Saturday against Cincinnati was no different.
Shazier recorded a game-high 13 tackles (nine solo) to go along with two forced fumbles, none of which was bigger than the forced fumble on Jeremy Hill late in the fourth quarter.
Along with Shazier, Jarvis Jones had a very strong game recording four tackles and coming up with a big strip sack of McCarron that Cam Thomas recovered.
James Harrison added four tackles and a sack, while Lawrence Timmons (four tackles), Arthur Moats (five tackles) and Bud Dupree (three tackles, one TFL) had strong games for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh’s secondary did give up a costly touchdown to A.J. Green in the fourth quarter, giving the Bengals a one-point lead thanks to a missed tackle by Mike Mitchell near the goal line, but for the most part in this game the secondary stood tall.
Antwon Blake hauled in an early interception and nearly came up with a stunning second pick, while William Gay(five tackles), Will Allen (three tackles) and Robert Golden (one PBU) came up with big plays throughout the night to help the Steelers pick up the Wild Card win.
Special Teams: A
In the pouring rain Chris Boswell was lights out, nailing all four of his field goal attempts, including his 35-yard field goal late, to give the Steelers the win.
As the fourth kicker this season due to injuries and poor play, the Steelers might have found a cheaper long-term solution at placekicker moving forward.
Jordan Berry struggled to punt the ball in the wind and rain, averaging just over 40 yard-per-punt. Fortunately he was able to pin three of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line.