Sunday’s regular season finale between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field was meaningless for both teams with very little to play for (other than the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft for the Browns), but it was nice to see the Steelers — behind a backup-led offense at the skill positions — pull off the overtime win to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record.
With that said, it’s time to grade the Steelers by position groups from the regular season finale.
QB — B
Look, I know that most of Steeler Nation thinks that Landry Jones is a terrible quarterback, and that’s fine. Whatever helps you sleep at night.
However, it’s time to realize that Jones is a respectable backup in this league that can answer the call should he be pressed into duty.
Granted, Sunday’s performance got off to a rocky start due to some poor throws and below-average pocket awareness. But once Jones settled into the flow of the game he was pretty good for the most part.
His throws to Darrius Heyward-Bey, DeMarcus Ayers, Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton in the fourth quarter were accurate and on time, but he was bailed out in the first half by a great forced fumble by DHB following a high throw to Rogers that was picked off by Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who nearly returned it for a touchdown.
Throwing for 277 yards and three touchdowns without the support of a ground game for much of the game is no easy feat. Jones didn’t set the world on fire, but he put on a solid performance for the Steelers.
RB — C
DeAngelo Williams got his first taste of action in quite some time, scoring a touchdown to tie the game, but outside of some key runs in the third quarter to get the Steelers back into the game the veteran running back was mostly bottled up behind a lackluster performance by the offensive line on the ground.
Williams finished with just 67 yards on 23 carries, including a long of 17 yards. With that said, Williams had some success through the air, adding 27 yards and a score on three receptions, including a 17-yard catch and run late in the first half to get the Steelers on the board.
Fitzgerald Toussaint had more success on the ground, albeit in limited action, rushing for 14 yards on three carries, adding another 24 yards on two receptions.
WR — B+
No Antonio Brown, no problem for the Steelers’ emerging receiving corps.
As a member of #TeamCobi all season long, I was really impressed with Hamilton’s performance on Sunday. Hamilton had a strong game as one of the top options through the air, finishing with three receptions for 54 yards and the game-winning touchdown on a diving catch that was a dime from Jones into the back left corner of the end zone.
Along with Hamilton, Rogers and Ayers had tons of success over the middle of the field. Ayers scored his first career touchdown on an 11-yard crossing route, finishing with career-high five receptions for 44 yards.
Rogers did his best Brown impersonation, finishing with six catches for 61 yards in the win.
Heyward-Bey added a big contested 46-yard catch on a deep ball from Jones to set up a Steelers touchdown.
TE — D
Not much to write about here as Jesse James had just two receptions for 16 yards and dropped a touchdown in the end zone.
David Johnson and Xavier Grimble didn’t see a target on the day and the tight end group struggled as a whole in the blocking department.
OL — C-
Struggles in the running game and in pass protection — four sacks against the Browns are more than the Steelers allowed in the six-game winning streak prior to Sunday’s game — results in a below-average grade.
A lot of those struggles had to do with Maurkice Pouncey sitting out, pushing BJ Finney into the starting lineup. Finney is a good guard option, but he had a tough time at center calling out protections and identifying blitzes throughout the game.
Penalties also played a part as Alejandro Villanueva was called for a holding penalty, while multiple pre-snap violations were flagged.
There’s nothing major to be concerned about here though. Pouncey is fine and will have this unit back to normal in the first round of the playoffs.
DL — D
Ricardo Matthews left the game early with an ankle injury and didn’t return, which really hindered the thin defensive line.
Johnny Maxey had some flashes against the run and rushing the passer, but too often he was pushed off the line of scrimmage, allowing the Cleveland running game to get going.
Same with Javon Hargrave and LT Walton, who both struggled to get off of blocks at times in the win.
Daniel McCullers recorded his first career sack in the win, giving this unit a bright spot, but playing a hand in allowing 231 rushing yards (7.0 yards per carry) to Cleveland is a slight concern.
Good thing Stephon Tuitt will return against Miami.
LB — C
More missed tackles and some poor positioning on big runs played a major factor into this grade.
Ryan Shazier did record a big interception in the red zone while finishing with eight tackles, but he missed some big tackles on the day. He needs to get that cleaned up.
Same with Lawrence Timmons, who had a tough time bringing down physical running backs Isaiah Crowell and George Atkinson III, which is an issue with Jay Ajayi and Damien Williams coming to town next week.
Bud Dupree had a strong game on the edge, finishing with seven tackles and a sack, while Jarvis Jones flashed some on tape, recording three tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and a batted pass in his first action in a few weeks.
DB — C-
There’s no way Robert Griffin III (whom I still believe in as a starting QB in this league) should have carved up this improving unit the way that he did.
Maybe that has to do with this game meaning nothing and players buying into that like Shazier called them out for following the game, but the secondary was lax in coverage and allowed some big plays through the air.
Sean Davis (nine tackles, one sack), Mike Mitchell (eight tackles) and Artie Burns (eight tackles, one pass breakup) combined for 25 tackles in the win, but struggled in coverage at times.
William Gay (five tackles) started strong but faded down the stretch, while Ross Cockrell got bullied at times early in the game by bigger Cleveland players, including Seth DeValve’s touchdown to start the game in which he just ran through Cockrell, who isn’t very physical in the secondary.
That being said, when the intensity ramps up later this week, expect this unit to come up big once again.
Special Teams — B-
Jordan Berry had a strong game punting the ball often from deep in his own territory, averaging 46 yards per punt on eight attempts on Sunday.
The coverage units were strong for the most part, but the return units struggled with penalties and decision-making.
Hamilton had a tough time handling a kickoff in the second half, putting the Steelers in poor field position to start a drive while there were multiple infractions called against the return units, pushing the Steelers further back throughout the game.