Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks at home that dropped the Pittsburgh Steelers to 0-2 on the season really came down to 3 plays. Every football game comes down to a handful of plays to swing the decision one way or another. Unfortunately, those 3 plays, along with a handful of mistakes and poor coaching, played a factor in the Steelers dropping a second straight game to open the 2019 season.
Daniel McCullers, Donte Moncrief, and the officials are in dire straights right now. That trio, along with defensive coordinator Keith Butler should probably go into hiding until next Sunday, because that’s a tough way to lose a football game.
Let’s try and get through these grades.
QB — B
Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow injury is obviously a punch to the gut, but hoo boy did Mason Rudolph look really good in the second half.
Prior to Rudolph’s heroics in the second half, Roethlisberger again looked off, misfiring on a few short passes while looking hesitant to push the football down the field. Maybe the elbow injury was why the Steelers’ offense looked so stagnant and conservative in the first half.
In the second half, Rudolph came out firing right way. Aside from an interception that bounced off of Donte Moncrief’s hands and facemask, Rudolph looked very poised and in charge, moving the Steelers up and down the field.
He did underthrow that flea flicker to JuJu Smith-Schuster that probably should have gone for 6 points, but he had a great play-action fake on Vance McDonald’s second touchdown, and really seemed to command the offense in the fourth quarter, getting the offense into rhythm.
RB — C-
I would have loved to see the Steelers run the ball a bit more, but success rates were a disaster in the first half with the Seahawks sensing Roethlisberger wasn’t right, rotating defenders down into the box to shut down James Conner, and game circumstances in the second half forced the Steelers to air it out.
That said, I thought there were flashes of a strong run game from Conner and Jaylen Samuels. The offensive line seemed to get into a rhythm early in the second half running the football.
That doesn’t even mention Benny Snell busting off a 23-yard run on 3rd and 1, showing some wiggle and explosion as well.
Here’s hoping Conner’s knee injury isn’t that serious because I saw signs of him turning a corner early in the season, getting back to what he was able to do last season.
As receivers, Conner and Samuels weren’t as successful as Week 1, but they served as reliable checkdown options for Rudolph in the second half.
WR — C-
Aside from Smith-Schuster’s terrific 45-yard catch on a flea flicker in the second half, this wide receiver group struggled to make anything happen on the day.
Smith-Schuster heated up in the second half, working well on crossing routes with Rudolph, but Diontae Johnson struggled to create separation again and dropped his first target of the game. He did make a terrific catch through contact in the fourth quarter though, so that’s something to build on.
I thought James Washington flashed some strong hands in his limited action, finishing with 2 catches for 23 yards. He plucked one out of the air across the middle away from his body on a crossing route. I wish he’d get more run.
Moncrief should probably sit for a few weeks and clean up the yips, or the Steelers should just cut their losses and move on all together. He simply can’t catch the football at all right now, which is what he’s paid to do. And then to duck out of the locker room quickly after the loss? Bush league.
Aside from Moncrief, what exactly is Ryan Switzer at this point? He runs 1-2 yard routes, catches the football, and can’t make anyone miss. There’s no way he is a better option than Eli Rogers. The Steelers should probably correct that mistake as quickly as possible too.
I would have liked to see Johnny Holton haul in that early deep ball from Roethlisberger, but the throw was off, and Pittsburgh never really went back to him. He has to be more than just a special teams guy at this point with the struggles of Moncrief and Switzer.
TE — B+
There’s the McDonald we all know!
Finally, Randy Fichtner leaned heavily on McDonald on Sunday, and the veteran tight end responded with 7 catches for 38 yards and 2 touchdowns, showing he can be a real force in the red zone moving forward.
The yards weren’t there obviously, but he caught every target and was a security blanket for Rudolph in the second half.
Xavier Grimble couldn’t bring in his lone target, but I liked what I saw from him as a blocker, especially on Conner’s touchdown run, helping fold in the left side of Seattle’s defensive front.
OL — B
This was a much better showing for the Steelers’ starting offensive line in Week 2.
Pittsburgh’s top unit allowed just 1 sack and 2 quarterback hits, with the sack and both hits coming on plays where Roethlisberger held onto the ball a bit too long in the first half.
Alejandro Villanueva bounced back in a big way and helped contain Jadeveon Clowney, while Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey looked much better after a tough showing in New England.
Zach Banner received worked as a third tight end in the loss. He was called for holding, but was on the field on Conner’s touchdown run as the Steelers ran right behind him. They clearly believe in this guy, so he’ll be an interesting development to follow.
DL — A
DJ Fluker never wants to see Stephon Tuitt again.
Tuitt had a monster game Sunday against the Seahawks, recording 2.5 sacks and 3 quarterback hits, including back-to-back sacks on consecutive snaps in the first quarter.
Along with Tuitt, I thought Cam Heyward had a strong game as well, helping combine with TJ Watt for the Steelers’ first sack of the game, drawing the double team, letting Watt loop around free on the stunt for the free run at Russell Wilson.
Javon Hargrave quietly played well inside, tying up blockers against the run.
Unfortunately, McCullers had one of the biggest mistakes of the game, although I can’t really see what he did wrong rewatching the game a few times. More on that in special teams.
LB — C-
Mark Barron had a really strong game. He was all over the place in the first half, but the Seahawks adjusted in the second half and neutralized him, while Butler failed to adjust back.
Devin Bush had a rough game in his second career NFL game. Wilson and Will Dissly picked on him twice in pass coverage, leading to 2 touchdowns. He’ll be fine, but he looked confused in pass coverage and was a step slow.
I loved what I saw from Watt once again. He’s a terrific football player and plays with his hair on fire every snap. He forced a huge fumble on Chris Carson that led to points for the Steelers, and was fantastic throughout the day as a pass rusher.
Bud Dupree had a huge error on Wilson late in the game, failing to get the quarterback to the ground while spying on 3rd and a mile. Dupree played the run well, but was mostly absent as a pass rusher. Sounds familiar.
Anthony Chickillo…well, here’s hoping he never plays another defensive snap again. He can’t get off blocks, stinks in space, and whiffed in a big way on Rashaad Penny’s 37-yard touchdown. I could make an argument that Chickillo’s miss was the turning point in the game. He had a clear shot on Penny but ducked his head and looked silly with his miss. He’s terrible; I’m sorry.
DB — C+
I thought Steven Nelson was the Steelers’ best defensive back on the day and one of the best defenders on the field on the day for both teams. The Seahawks tried to bully him with DK Metcalf, but Nelson was great against him, allowing just one back-shoulder throw.
Joe Haden looked healthy and played well for the most part, but there are just no splash plays from anyone in this secondary and it’s frustrating.
Sean Davis was late rotating on Dissly’s second touchdown and showed his clear frustration after the hit, and he missed a few tackles in the loss before leaving with another shoulder injury. Fun.
Terrell Edmunds was much maligned on twitter after the loss for the PI call against him and the Metcalf touchdown over him, but I thought the second-year safety had a strong game. He was good in run support against the Seahawks, flew downhill on short throws, and really played with confidence.
He did miss a tackle on Carson that led to a first down, but that PI call was terrible. He didn’t do anything wrong. Then, he was in great position against Metcalf on the TD. He was in his hip pocket and got a hand up to try and play the football; the only negative of the play was he was slow to get his head around. Tough to kill a guy for a bogus PI call and an absurdly good throw from Wilson that beat him.
Side note: on the PI, does Kam Kelly know how to play the football? Sheesh.
I also thought Mike Hilton was pretty good on the day as well. He was a problem coming off the edge throughout the game and forced the late fumble on Carson that Bush returned to the 3-yard line.
Special Teams — B-
The good news is Chris Boswell looks good so far.
The Boz converted both field goal attempts on the day with ease, and also had a great kickoff that bounced inside the 5-yard line and forced Penny to play the football late, pinning Seattle deep on a kickoff.
Jordan Berry seemed to have a lot of success punting the football on the day, downing 2 inside the 20-yard line. My one gripe with him is his tendency to outkick his coverage at times, which happened on Tyler Lockett’s 10-yard return.
The coverage units weren’t great either. The Steelers’ kick coverage team missed at least 3 tackles on one of Penny’s kick returns, and the punt coverage team appeared slow on a few punts to get down the field.
The return game continues to be a mess, and it looks like Switzer lost his punt return job to Johnson. If that’s the case, you can say goodbye to Switzer.
I still really don’t know what McCullers did on his personal foul on Seattle’s first field goal, extending the drive that led to Dissly’s first touchdown. That was a huge game changer.