Well, it certainly wasn’t pretty early on Monday night, but a win is a win, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will take them any way that they come.
Things started out very poorly for the Steelers on Monday Night Football against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field as the winless Dolphins jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph looked as bad as a quarterback can.
Credit to the Steelers though as the black and gold flipped the script under Mike Tomlin and scored 27 unanswered points to run away with a two-score win.
James Conner looked incredible Monday night, forcing a number of missed tackles while busting off some explosive plays. Rudolph settled in after a terrible first quarter and played a good game overall, while JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson looked like quite the formidable pairing moving forward.
Defensively, after two rough drives early in the game that led to Miami touchdowns, Pittsburgh’s defense really settled in and dominated the Dolphins’ offense, forcing four turnovers, including two interceptions by Minkah Fitzpatrick in his revenge game.
Like I said earlier, a win is a win. The grades might not be pretty or agreeable overall, but I’ll take the checkmark in the win column over everything else.
QB — C+
As I said earlier, Rudolph was absolutely horrendous in the first quarter, which helped put the Steelers in a quick 14-0 hole. He looked shell shocked in the pocket, had happy feet, and was feeling pressure that simply wasn’t there. On top of that, he simply wasn’t reading the field well. He was certainly jittery.
However, he showed some serious poise and maturity after that, settling in to guide the Steelers’ offense up and down the field. I liked the way he fired the ball over the middle throughout the game, and generally seemed unflappable after the first quarter.
Despite finishing with a good stat line, I felt Rudolph left a few throws on the field, namely deep shots to Johnson and James Washington, as well as a throw to Ryan Switzer up the seam that he didn’t pull the trigger on.
All that said, I’m very pleased with what I saw from Rudolph overall after his disastrous start. Maybe his performance Monday night is a sign of things to come as the second-year signal caller begins to develop into the QB the Steelers hope he is.
RB — A-
Man, Conner had an awesome night. Can’t really say much more than that.
He showed off his power and his big-play ability, ripping off a number of explosive runs against the hapless Dolphins.
The only negative is that Conner is banged up again, this time with Tomlin said after the game is an AC joint sprain. On his 93.7 Fan show Tuesday, Conner said he’d likely be a game-time decision Sunday against the Colts. The guy just can’t catch a break. It’s not like it’s soft-tissue injuries for Conner; it’s always stuff that he can’t control and manage. I feel for the guy.
Behind Conner, I thought Benny Snell Jr. flashed some real power on short runs against the Dolphins, fighting through a couple tackles before exiting with an injury as well.
WR — B+
I was really pleased with what I saw from Smith-Schuster and Johnson against the Dolphins, as both blew up in a big way. Smith-Schuster made some incredible contested catches on the night, including his touchdown catch over Chris Lammons to break Randy Moss’ NFL record for 100-yard receiving games before the age of 23.
Johnson created a ton of separation on the night, twisting and turning cornerbacks throughout the night. His 45-yard touchdown before the half was gift, but one everyone will take.
Washington had just one catch for 21 yards on the night, but Rudolph missed him on at least two passes on the night, maybe three. He also had a pass bounce right off his hands that should have been an interception for the Dolphins, but thanks to instant replay it was overturned. That said, Washington looked like Hines Ward out there as a blocker, absolutely bodying Dolphins defenders left and right. Washington had at least two pancakes on the night. You have to love it.
TE — B+
Vance McDonald and Nick Vannett continue to prove to be quite the pair as blocking tight ends so far. That said, they’re not getting enough work in the passing game.
Sure, the duo combined for four catches for 34 yards on the night, but neither is really being asked to stretch the field vertically up the seam. McDonald and Vannett are getting a lot of work on short dumps and crossing routes. I’d like to see their roles expanded in the passing game.
In the run game though, these guys are playing so well. McDonald is serving as pulling tight end often, while Vannett consistently seals the edge for boundary runs. It’s fun to watch.
OL — B-
Despite helping the Steelers rush for 158 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries while allowing just two sacks against the Dolphins, I was a bit concerned with the number of penalties this group took on Monday night.
Maurkice Pouncey had a rough game in the middle, getting walked back into the pocket a handful of times, while also getting called for two holding penalties that set the Steelers back.
Zach Banner was also called for a holding penalty, while Ramon Foster was bizarrely called for pass interference on a screen to Snell that wiped out a first down. It was just a bit too sloppy for me.
However, I was really impressed with the work David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva, and Foster did in the run game. DeCastro was an absolute wrecking ball on the night, while Feiler and Villanueva controlled the edges throughout the game. Foster left with a concussion, which pushed BJ Finney into the game. Finney was very good in relief, pulling with power consistently.
DL — A-
No Stephon Tuitt, seemingly no problem.
Cam Heyward elevated his game in a big way in the first showing since Tuitt was lost for the season with a torn pectoral. Heyward really couldn’t be blocked on the night. He recorded a huge sack late in the game forcing a turnover on downs, nearly broke up a screen pass single-handedly, and was stout against the run all night long.
Javon Hargrave played a strong game as well, drawing a ton of attention inside, which let Pittsburgh’s linebackers flow freely.
Tyson Alualu picked up right where he left off on Sunday night in Los Angeles two weeks ago, getting after the passer consistently on Monday night against the Dolphins, finishing with two tackles and a quarterback hit.
LB — A
Yes, Mark Barron and Devin Bush combined for two ugly missed tackles on Allen Hurns’ touchdown, but after that the linebackers really flipped the switch.
Bush was all over the place once again, finishing with seven tackles, while Barron was right behind with five tackles. The duo helped shut down a Dolphins rushing attack that seemed to get on track in recent weeks.
Vince Williams inexplicably slid into a reserve role with a healthy Barron back, but that didn’t slow down Vincenzo, as he was a force blitzing, finishing with two quarterback hits.
Outside, TJ Watt has developed into an unstoppable force and a bona fide superstar for the Steelers. Watt was everywhere Monday night, recording two sacks, three quarterback hits, and forced a fumble in the win. He’s incredible.
The Bud Dupree breakout season continues in his contract year. Dupree played with his hair on fire Monday night and had a thunderous hit on Miami running back Mark Walton early in the game that seemed to get the Steelers’ defense going. The fifth-year linebacker finished with five tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit.
DB — B
Joe Haden had a really rough night trying to defend Preston Williams. The Dolphins attacked the veteran cornerback over and over and over again, which ultimately led to Haden finishing with a team-high seven tackles.
I do have some concern with Haden, who has allowed a 122.5 quarterback rating on 27 targets this season. Not great, Bob!
Outside of Haden, I thought Fitzpatrick played a great game for the Steelers. He was a sound tackler and continues to show incredible ball skills.
Steven Nelson had a woeful missed tackle on Hurns’ touchdown, but the free agent signee continues to be a lockdown corner opposite Haden. Teams just aren’t testing him anymore because he’s not allowing separation.
Terrell Edmunds quietly had a strong game, finishing with four stops, while Mike Hilton continues to make play after play, forcing a fumble on Walton that Nelson recovered.
Special Teams — B-
Chris Boswell missed his first field goal try of the year, but he’s still as solid as they come in the league in 2019. Boswell’s miss came from 54 yards, so I’ll give him a pass. He’s been darn good this year.
Punter Jordan Berry continues to absolutely crush the football; I just wish his coverage unit would get down the field faster and not allow an average of nearly 12 yards per return like they did on Monday night. In fact, let’s not have Berry trying to make tackles on punt coverage too.