Sunday’s road trip to Miami Gardens to take on the Miami Dolphins was largely an embarrassment for the Pittsburgh Steelers as it was a classic trap game in the Mike Tomlin era.
The 30-15 loss in which the Steelers were physically dominated was very disheartening, and with the Ben Roethlisberger injury news it just compounds a bad day.
Like I do every week, I’ll take a crack at grading each position group on Sunday’s performance.
QB — C-
Roethlisberger got off to a dreadful start in Miami and ultimately had to leave the game late in the first half due to a left knee injury, which ended up being a partially torn meniscus that will likely keep him out past the bye week.
Although the veteran did return to the game the high-powered Pittsburgh passing attack was largely missing throughout the game as Roethlisberger averaged just 5.6 yards per attempt while throwing two terrible interceptions against the Dolphins.
Landry Jones attempted just one pass in the game and it was an ugly third down attempt that he threw off of his back foot and floated near the sideline that a Miami defender nearly made an interception on.
Things could get even uglier next week.
RB — B+
Despite the terrible performance all around by the Steelers, Le’Veon Bell was the best player on the field once again Pittsburgh as Bell had a good day running the ball (53 yards on 10 carries) despite not getting enough touches on the ground in a weird game plan to attack the league’s worst run defense coming into the matchup.
While the passing attack struggled to push the ball down the field, Bell had a solid day underneath, hauling in six passes for 55 yards on the day.
Bell looked like his usual steady self, but I just didn’t care for the lack of use throughout the game. Sixteen touches isn’t enough for the best dual-threat option.
Along with Bell, DeAngelo Williams added 10 yards on three carries but overall the Steelers didn’t stick to the run consistently enough against a poor Miami front against the run.
WR — C+
With the Dolphins largely double-teaming Antonio Brown throughout the game, the Steelers desperately needed guys like Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton and Sammie Coates to step up in a big way in the passing game, but unfortunately for Pittsburgh that simply didn’t happen until late in the fourth quarter with the game largely in doubt.
Although Hamilton made a great catch late in the game for a touchdown down the left sideline, he was mostly quiet hauling in two passes for 36 yards on his only two targets. Rogers got going late and came up big on Pittsburgh’s second scoring drive, but he finished with just four receptions for 35 yards.
Coates didn’t record a reception in the win and saw just one target — a deep ball in the third quarter — when the Steelers were up against their own goal line.
All of that led to the rough day for Brown, who had another quiet week hauling in just four passes for 39 yards on eight targets. There were plenty of targets available for him, but very little space to operate with, especially with the Dolphins seemingly pinning him to the sideline.
The bright spot from the receiving group was the 60-yard highlight-reel worthy end around from Darrius Heyward-Bey that went for the first score of the game. The consummate pro deserved a play like that, so it was nice to see him bust out.
TE — D
Jesse James might have had his worst game of his career so far as a Steeler. James was absolutely overmatched as a blocker against the Miami front seven and had a big holding penalty and allowed a sack to Jason Jones.
As a pass catcher James hauled in just two passes for 13 yards and had a mental mistake late in the game that Roethlisberger laid into him about following a poor route and failure to get his head around quickly enough.
Xavier Grimble saw just three targets in a game in which the Steelers struggled to move the ball through the air.
OL — F
This was by far the worst game the Steelers’ offensive line has had this season, so I feel that the grade is very fitting.
The offensive line allowed Roethlisberger to be hit six times in the loss, allowed far too many free defenders to get into the backfield with ease, one of which led directly to Roethlisberger’s knee injury.
Alejandro Villanueva is really struggling this season, as is David DeCastro, who has been nowhere close to his dominant self in the run game.Chris Hubbard showed what he truly is: a low-level swing tackle.
DL — F
Without Cameron Heyward in the lineup the Steelers were simply handed a butt-whooping up front by the Dolphins offensive line, which churned out 222 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the 15-point win.
Allowing Jay Ajayi to rush for 204 yards is quite embarrassing; I don’t think I’ve seen a running back rush for 200 yards against the Steelers on his own in my lifetime. That right there says a lot about the performance on Sunday.
There was no push in the run game and very little pressure in the passing game.
Stephon Tuitt is a very good defensive end, but this game proved he can’t hold it down on his own up front; that’s not an indictment of him either. Heyward can’t get healthy soon enough.
LB — D
One week after a dominant performance against the Jets, the linebacking unit came up small on the road against the Dolphins.
While Vince Williams and Lawrence Timmons combined for 11 tackles, the duo was out of position quite a bit against the run and really struggled to make the plays once they were there by failing to wrap up.
Rookie Tyler Matakevich was a bright spot for the most part, recording nine second-half tackles on defense, including six on one drive alone, finding himself around the ball a ton on Sunday. However, he had a hand in one of MarQuies Gray’s big plays on a Ryan Tannehill scramble as he lost site of the tight end near the sideline.
At outside linebacker the group of four was largely silent as pass rushers as just Anthony Chickillo was the only linebacker to record a QB hit on the day. The pass rush continues to be a problem, which causes the secondary to look poor in the process.
DB — C
There was plenty of moving parts in the secondary this week as this was the fourth time in four games that a different setup of personnel took to the field for the Steelers, so it’s difficult for me to drop the hammer on the secondary in this loss.
That being said though, William Gay was beat deep by Gray for a 53-yard play on a busted coverage, and the Steelers forced just eight incompletions from one of the worst quarterback’s in the league coming into the matchup.
That’s simply not good enough and won’t get it done any week in this league.
Side note: can Mike Mitchell stop taking stupid personal foul penalties? It’s getting old, fast.
Special Teams — B
Jordan Berry had his worst game of an otherwise terrific season, while Chris Boswell’s two non-onside kickoffs were taken for touchbacks, keeping a dangerous Miami return game pinned down.
The Steelers also didn’t let Jakeem Grant get going as a punt returner as the coverage unit was strong on the day.
The big play of the day was Daniel McCullers’ blocked field goal in the first half that had a chance to be a game-altering play on special teams, but the offense sputtered and ultimately rendered the play a moot point. However, that doesn’t take away how great of a play it is, and it’s time to take notice of a weapon the Steelers have at their disposal as a mammoth field goal blocker.