If that thrilling 20-16 come-from-behind win by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road didn’t cause you to have health problems throughout, then I’m not sure you’re a living, breathing human.
Pittsburgh came out slow offensively and got smacked in the mouth defensively on the ground, resulting in an eventual 16-0 hole, but the defense buckled down in the second half and dominated the line of scrimmage, while Ben Roethlisberger shook off a trio of interceptions to lead three scoring drives in the second half to pull off the win.
It certainly wasn’t pretty by any stretch for the means, but a win is a win. It all counts the same, and all that matters is that the Steelers found a way to win to improve to 7-2-1.
Let’s take a look at some positional grades.
QB — C-
It wasn’t great early on for Roethlisberger, who had just 7 passing yards late in the first half with an interception.
But the veteran gunslinger shrugged off two more interceptions and a couple of dropped passes to piece together three scoring drives in the second half, including the game-winning 1-yard touchdown run, leading the Steelers to an improbable win.
Early in the game, Roethlisberger was missing high and forcing the ball to Antonio Brown, resulting in Jalen Ramsey coming away with two interceptions on the afternoon. Fortunately for the Steelers though, Roethlisberger shrugged off that slow start to dominate down the stretch, hitting JuJu Smith-Schuster and Brown for big gains on the game-winning drive.
There’s no quarterback in the league that can Jekyll and Hyde the way Roethlisberger does within one game. Fortunately for the Steelers, good Ben showed up when it mattered most, resulting in a much-needed win.
RB — D
It was a very rough, rough game for James Conner.
After putting up at least 150 yards from scrimmage in each game during the winning streak heading into the matchup with the Jaguars, Conner really struggled on the ground and through the air, finishing with just 25 rushing yards on nine carries, and six catches for 24 yards.
Conner had two monumental drops in the win. His first drop came on fourth down resulting in a turnover on downs, and his second drop came on what would have been a touchdown after he beat Telvin Smith down the left sideline with Roethlisberger buying time in the pocket.
Jacksonville did a really nice job utilizing its team speed defensively to shut down Conner on the ground, pursuing well sideline to sideline. Conner did run hard when given the opportunity, but he wasn’t able to make defenders miss, and really didn’t have much breathing room throughout the game.
WR — B-
Brown and Smith-Schuster both went over 100 yards receiving on the afternoon, but much like the rest off the offense, the duo struggled to get much of anything going until late in the second half.
Brown had the big 78-yard touchdown catch to spark the Steelers. He read Tashaun Gipson come up into man coverage on his curl when the Jags were in zone, allowing him to slip behind the secondary for the big score. Brown also added a huge catch down the seam on Ramsey on the game-winning drive, setting the Steelers up near the goal line. Aside from that though, Brown struggled to create consistent separation against Ramsey and AJ Bouye on the day. He came through when the Steelers needed him to though.
The same goes for Smith-Schuster. JuJu was largely absent from the Steelers offense prior to the late comeback. He had a big drop over the middle of the field in the first half, but responded to make some terrific combative catches over Ramsey and Bouye, leading the Steelers’ offense down the field. He’s a special player, and he turned it on late.
Ryan Switzer caught all three of his targets for 28 yards, but the one play that didn’t go his way initially was game saving. DJ Hayden nearly pulled his helmet off in the end zone before picking off Roethlisberger for what would have been the game-saving turnover. Hayden only did it because Switzer smoked him in the back of the end zone. Arguably the biggest play by Switzer though was his 10-yard catch midway through the fourth quarter that saw him go to the ground for the catch, but immediately pop up and gain an additional 6 yards for a first down.
James Washington was on the field quite a bit on Sunday and had a terrific sliding 11-yard catch along the right sideline in the first half. Washington continues to struggle to carve out a real role as a pass catcher, but he’s still a threat for defenses.
TE — B-
Vance McDonald and touchdown catches in the back of the end zone are starting to become works of art. McDonald’s 11-yard touchdown catch over Smith and Gipson in the back of the end zone made it a one-score game.
McDonald got going late, much like the rest of the offense. Once Roethlisberger was able to click with McDonald, the Steelers really opened things up and started to move the ball.
Jesse James was non-existent as a receiving threat. The fourth-year tight end didn’t see a single target on the day, but did have a role in Yannick Ngakoue drawing a personal foul for slapping James after a play in the first half.
Xavier Grimble had one catch for three yards, meaning the tight ends didn’t have as much of an impact as expected heading into Sunday’s game.
OL — C-
After a number of weeks dominating the opposition, the Steelers’ offensive line came back to earth a bit, allowing two sacks and six quarterback hits, while also rushing for just 2.4 yards per carry.
Matt Feiler really struggled throughout the game against Ngakoue on the edge, allowing one sack, while Alejandro Villanueva had a rough time with Ngakoue and Calais Campbell at times.
Inside, David DeCastro had a false start penalty and struggled to get much push on the ground as a run blocker, while Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster really couldn’t get moving on the few power runs the Steelers ran in the win.
But like the rest of the offense, the Steelers’ OL turned it on late, protecting Roethlisberger well enough to lead to the comeback.
DL — B
Yes, the Jaguars rushed for 4.2 yards per carry, but Pittsburgh’s defensive line – led by Javon Hargrave and Cam Heyward – shut down the Jaguars in the second half, dominating a banged up Jacksonville offensive line.
Hargrave had two huge sacks on Blake Bortles and really should have had a third after he cleanly beat Tyler Shatley again. Hargrave was excellent in nickel, coming in as the second pass rushing defensive lineman opposite Cam Heyward.
Heyward turned it on late too, ending the game with a sack and two tackles for loss on his way to five total tackles. He was nearly unblockable by the end of the game, helping Pittsburgh bottled up Jacksonville’s passive offense that just wanted to run the ball while clinging to a lead.
Daniel McCullers played well against the run in base, while Tyson Alualu was all over the place against his former team, recording seven tackles.
The defensive line certainly got pushed around early in the game, but I think a lot of that had to do with the defense being on the field for nearly a full quarter early in the second quarter as the offense couldn’t get going. Once the Steelers started to move the ball offensively, the defense was able to settle down and get stops. It started up front.
By the way, the Steelers held Leonard Fournette to 3.4 yards per carry.
LB — C+
Vince Williams played really well in his third go-around against the Jaguars. The veteran inside linebacker was hard to block all afternoon, leading the Steelers with 10 tackles and recorded another sack. He was very disruptive as a blitzer against the run and pass.
Williams did get sucked in on Fournette’s big 26-yard catch and run early in the second half, but for the majority of the game played at a high level.
Jon Bostic had a tough time early in the game against the run, missing a few tackles while also letting linemen reach him at the second level, but he cleaned it up as the game progressed and finished with six run stops.
LJ Fort seemed to really struggle to make stops in space on Sunday. He finished with just two tackles, but I recall at least two missed tackles in space. He’s on the field in sub package and needs to come in with proper form in space or he has to come off the field.
Outside, TJ Watt had an excellent game, finishing with six tackles and two sacks. He was really hard to block off the edge on Sunday, giving Jeremy Parnell fits with his speed and athleticism.
Bud Dupree didn’t record a sack in the win, but he was a menace off the edge against Ereck Flowers for much of the game, drawing a big holding penalty in a tough spot against the Jags. Dupree was in the backfield quite a bit, and I thought he played the run well, finishing with three tackles.
DB — A
For the second time in three matchups against Jacksonville, the Steelers held Bortles to a pedestrian-like passing yards output. Bortles finished with just 104 yards passing, while no Jacksonville receiver (not including running backs) had more than 19 yards on the afternoon.
Joe Haden was called for a phantom illegal contact call in the first quarter, but outside of that the secondary was pretty darn good on a day in which they really didn’t have much to fear.
The one player who really seemed to struggle was Sean Davis in the tackling department. Not only did he fail to come down with a gift-wrapped interception, he also struggled to consistently get the ball carrier on the ground on the afternoon, at least from first watch.
Davis did have eight tackles to finish second on the team, and he came downhill well against the run. He just needs to clean up some misses from this game.
Terrell Edmunds continues to play well, finishing with four stops, and even drilled Bortles on a blitz just after the quarterback got rid of the ball to avoid a sack.
Coty Sensabaugh finished with seven tackles as the Jags tested him through the air at times. Jordan Dangerfield got some run on defense to help against the run and finished with two tackles in the second half.
Mike Hilton and Morgan Burnett were quiet on the afternoon, but the Steelers didn’t really need Hilton to do much on Sunday, since pressure was getting home on 4-man rushes.
It’s important to note though that we can’t take much away from this game in terms of the pass defense because the Jaguars are so incompetent when it comes to throwing the ball. That said though, it was a really good performance by the secondary.
Special Teams — C
The most penalized unit in the league was at it again on Sunday. Danny Smith needs to get this cleaned up or he’ll be out of a job after the season. Enough is enough.
Aside from the penalties, I thought Jordan Berry really punted the ball well until his final punt. He finished the game averaging 51 yards a punt and really helped the Steelers stay in the game early by pinning the Jags deep twice in the first half.
Chris Boswell wasn’t asked to do much aside from drilling his two extra point tries. That being said , it’s nice to see him nail both since he’s struggled at times this season in that department.
Tackling needs to improve on special teams too. There’s no excuse for letting Dede Westbrook return a punt 25 yards in this one. I’m curious to see how many misses were on that return, but I do know the missed tackles report later this week will be ugly.