Sunday’s game in blustery Cleveland against the Cleveland Browns went quite well for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who snapped a four-game losing streak against the AFC North cellar dwellers, 24-9.
Physically, Pittsburgh had its way with the Browns on both sides of the ball in bad conditions, leading to a much-needed win for the black and gold on the road.
Like I do every week, I’ll take a shot at grading Pittsburgh’s performance by position groups.
QB — B-
Look, I know conditions in Cleveland were terrible (29 MPH winds with snow), but Ben Roethlisberger was very bland throughout the game, including in the red zone where the Steelers stalled out in three of four attempts, leading to just one touchdowns and three field goals. Sure, the Steelers scored in all four trips, but with an offense that has Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Roethlisberger, scoring just one touchdown inside the opponent’s 20-yard line is unacceptable.
On the day, Roethlisberger averaged just 4.6 yards per attempt. Again, I understand that conditions were terrible, but Roethlisberger was just average — for his standards. That being said, he did what he needed to do for the most part on the day in a Pittsburgh win.
RB — A+
Another week, another tremendous game from Bell. Sunday’s performance reminded me of the Tennessee game on the road a few years ago in which Bell was unstoppable.
That’s what it felt like on Sunday afternoon.
Bell rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, adding another 55 yards on eight receptions against the Browns. While the numbers look great, the grade largely comes from his ability to make defenders miss, the number of broken tackles he forced and the absurd cuts he continues to pull off week after week.
He’s the best running back in football — forget about Ezekiel Elliott — and over the last two weeks he’s reasserted that claim.
The only concern I have with Bell is the fact that he’s fumbled in two straight weeks. Fortunately for Bell, neither fumble was lost, resulting in a turnover.
WR — C
In similar fashion to Roethlisberger’s grade above, Pittsburgh’s wide receivers were mostly quiet on the day as Brown led the way once again with eight catches for 76 yards on ten targets.
Outside of AB, Eli Rogers had four catches for 20 yards, while Cobi Hamilton added just two catches for 11 yards against Cleveland.
I do believe that those minuscule numbers has to do with the bad weather conditions in Cleveland, as well as the tremendous success the Steelers had on the ground during the game, but in the red zone these receivers really struggled to get open.
Where are you, Sammie Coates?
TE — C
Jesse James was the only tight end to haul in a pass in the win (1 catch, 5 yards) as Ladarius Green dropped what looked to be a sure touchdown in traffic in the end zone.
David Johnson made a great catch on the two-point conversion at the very end of the first half, but the area where the tight ends had the biggest impact was as run blockers, allowing Bell to have a huge day against Cleveland’s improved front seven.
OL — A
Have yourself a day, offensive line! Now that’s what is to be expected from this unit up front.
Across the board all five starters had really strong days on the ground, opening up massive holes for Bell at times. However, where the Steelers’ offensive line really struggled was in pass protection as the Browns four hits on Roethlisberger while chasing him out of the pocket on a number of other drop backs.
Regardless, it was great to see the offensive line get going on the ground in a game that the Steelers absolutely needed to win. That’s very promising moving forward with the scheduling lining up as it is.
DL — A
No Cameron Heyward, no problem for Pittsburgh’s defensive line.
Ricardo Matthews filled in admirably for the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh defense, while Javon Hargrave recorded his first career sack and later recovered a fumble in the end zone for his first career touchdown, turning in easily his best performance in the black and gold during his rookie season.
Stephon Tuitt had a highlight reel hit on Josh McCown and largely lived in the Cleveland backfield on the day, recording 2.5 sacks, while Daniel McCullers had a really nice play along the goal line, snuffing out a Isaiah Crowell run.
LB — A+
Sunday’s performance from Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons in the middle of the field is exactly what the Steelers dreamed of when Shazier was a first round pick a few years ago.
The inside duo combined for 15 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits and one pass breakup in the win. Timmons laid the wood early and often against the Browns, leaving offensive players in his wake.
On the edge, James Harrison passed Jason Gildon for most career sacks as a Steeler with a second half sack, while Arthur Moats added 1.5 sacks in the win, neither of which was a ‘gimme’ sack that he’s been used to this season.
Overall, the Steelers’ linebacking corps stepped up in a massive way on the road against the Browns, leading to a dominating defensive performance.
DB — B
Artie Burns, despite the high number of missed tackles I have charted for him this year, is really coming on strong as of late. The rookie cornerback continues to get left on an island against the opponent’s No. 1 receiver and largely seems to handle the situation quite well.
Against Cleveland, Burns hauled in his second interception in three weeks in the first quarter, making a great play on a deep ball down the right sideline. As his coverage skills continue to improve, so too does his tackling on the edge. Burns continues to showcase his physicality on the boundary, which he seems to have found as a member of this franchise.
Along with Burns, I felt that Ross Cockrell and William Gay had good showings against Cleveland, as did Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis.
Mitchell really came up big with some punishing hits across the middle, setting the tone for the rest of the defense.
Special Teams — C
This grade largely falls as far as it did because I was very displeased with Antonio Brown the punt returner. Like I said earlier, I know that conditions were less than ideal on the shores of Lake Erie and I’m sure that the ball was swirling around on punts, but Brown let far too many punts hit the ground, putting the Steelers at a disadvantage deep in their own territory far to many times on the day.
Outside of that I felt that Jordan Berry and Chris Boswell were terrific in the kicking game. Berry averaged 50 yards per punt on just three tries, while Boswell drilled all three field goal attempts and his lone extra point on the day, providing the Steelers with consistency on special teams.