Sunday’s game against the New York Jets at Heinz Field had a little bit of everything for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who rolled to a 31-13 win to move to 4-1 on the season.
Behind a great passing game, a heavy dose of Le’Veon Bell and a tough defense, the Steelers sent out the bumblebee jersey in style one final time.
Like I do every week, I’ll take a crack at handing out grades from the win.
QB — A+
Once again, Ben Roethlisberger was masterful when the Steelers offense absolutely needed him to be. Since the loss at Philadelphia, Roethlisberger has been nearly perfect, throwing nine touchdowns with zero interceptions while completing 75 percent of his passes (56-for-74) for 680 yards. I’m really not sure what more you could ask for.
Against the Jets, Roethlisberger quickly attacked a poor New York secondary, and thanks to an outstanding performance by his offensive linemen up front (more on that later), he had plenty of time to work the ball around to all of his playmakers.
It’s becoming apparent very quickly that Roethlisberger is neck-and-neck with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan for NFL MVP through five weeks.
RB — A
Honestly, it’s so nice to have Le’Veon Bell back in the fold for the Steelers. When things get tough in the trenches running the ball, Bell provides another added weapon in the passing game as evidenced by his nine receptions for 88 yards in the win.
On the ground Bell rushed for 66 yards on 20 carries, showcasing his vision, patience and power throughout the game. If anyone around the league forgot that Bell is the best dual-threat running back in the NFL, this game reminded everyone just how great he is at the top of his powers.
Outside of Bell, DeAngelo Williams didn’t get much work against the Jets, carrying the ball just one time. At some point down the stretch I expect Williams to get an increase to keep Bell fresh, but we’ll see.
WR — B+
Antonio Brown is always going to get his, and against the Jets he did just that hauling in nine passes for 78 yards and a big touchdown when the game was just a four-point game at 17-13.
Along with Brown, Sammie Coates — despite a number of difficult drops — simply went off. The second-year receiver hauled in six passes for 139 yards and two scores, including a big 72-yard strike from Roethlisberger on Pittsburgh’s first possession of the game.
You can get on Coates all you want for some drops, but when a guy puts up 6/139/2 as a second-year receiver that many consider a one-trick pony (I don’t), you’re doing something really well. He’s only going to get better.
Markus Wheaton was the only other receiver to haul in a pass in the win, corralling two for 19 yards. It’s become evident where he stands in this offense moving forward.
TE — B
All Jesse James does is catch touchdowns.
While that’s not all he should be known for, James just has a knack for working open in the red zone, providing Roethlisberger with a big target to look for in money situations.
Outside of his touchdown catch, James tag-teamed with Bell to work over the middle of the Jets’ pass defense in between the hash marks to consistently move the chains on Sunday.
Xavier Grimble hauled in two passes for 13 yards as well, providing the Steelers with an intriguing 1-2 punch with James at tight end.
OL — A
Wow. Wow. Wow.
What a performance from a banged up unit against a tough front four for the Jets. With no Marcus Gilbert, a less-than 100 percent Ramon Foster and a struggling combination of Alejandro Villanueva and David DeCastro, the Steelers’ offensive line simply flipped the switch in Week 5 and dominated the New York front four.
Pouncey, DeCastro and Foster got a solid push in the run game, while Villanueva held his own on the edge in pass protection, but the guy that stole the show was Chris Hubbard, who stepped in for Gilbert to make his first career NFL start.
Hubbard more than held his own against guys like Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, Jordan Jenkins and Muhammad Wilkerson. Well done.
DL — B-
Not a dominant performance by the Pittsburgh defensive line against the Jets by any stretch, but it was good enough to get the job done defensively.
Stephon Tuitt was in the backfield quite a lot against the Jets, but guys like Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Ricardo Mathews had quiet games.
However, the biggest story line from this game is the injury to Heyward, who will be out at least 2-3 weeks with a hamstring injury. The Steelers won’t be able to fully replace a player of Heyward’s caliber, but with guys like Matthews and Hargrave, they’ll have capable bodies to give snaps along the defensive line.
LB — A
I’m really starting to believe that Vince Williams can be an every-down linebacker in the NFL at this point.
For the second straight week the veteran inside linebacker dominated once again, hauling down Jets ball carries nine times on the day to lead the Steelers defense. Williams also recorded a sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick in the win.
Along with Williams, Lawrence Timmons had a strong day as well, recording eight tackles, half a sack and two tackles for a loss.
What I really liked from this game by the linebacking corps was the play of the outside linebackers, led by Jarvis Jones.
Jones was a terror against the run, setting the edge consistently against the Jets, while Arthur Moats, James Harrison and Anthony Chickillo consistently put heat on Fitzpatrick, including Chickillo’s first career NFL sack.
DB — B
Taking on one of the better passing attacks in the league (in terms of yardage), the Steelers secondary held its own against the New York pass game, holding Fitzpatrick to just 244 yards on the day.
Ross Cockrell had a good day against Brandon Marshall despite Marshall’s big individual day. The game-breaking wide receiver didn’t have a catch over 20 yards and did haul in one touchdown, but it should have been an interception by Cockrell, who had the ball go right through his hands in perfect coverage.
Cockrell finished with four tackles and three pass deflections in the win.
Outside of Cockrell, Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis had very strong days in the secondary, combining for 13 tackles in the win while setting the tone in the middle of the field throughout the day.
Artie Burns had a quiet day but was strong as a tackler, while William Gay was quiet as well, but simply took Quincy Enunwa essentially out of the game.
Special Teams — A-
Chris Boswell continues to be as solid as they come in the NFL, drilling a 47-yard field goal and all four extra points on the day, while Jordan Berry averaged nearly 47 yards per punt against the Jets.
The only knock against Berry in the game was the failed fake field goal that saw him get chased down on the boundary by Rontez Miles.
In the return game, Brown nearly busted off a big punt return for a touchdown before getting hauled down by Calvin Pryor. On the day, Brown averaged 25.5 yards per return.
As I said earlier, it was a very good day all around for the Steelers against the Jets. With a trip to Miami to take on the dreadful Miami Dolphins, it’s nice to see the Steelers riding high this week as one of the top teams in the NFL.