A win is a win, and you better believe Steeler Nation will take them any way that they come.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ fourth win of the season came in ugly fashion Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, but the 26-24 decision over the visiting Indianapolis Colts counts all the same, keeping the Steelers in the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture.
Offensively, the Steelers left much to be desired, aside from the performance by the Trey Edmunds and James Washington, while the defense shook off some early struggles and clamped down in the second half, helping push the Steelers across the finish line.
In the end, Adam Vinatieri, who has been bad all season, badly shanked a field goal try for the win, allowing the Steelers to escape in a game that could have gone either way. The win is nice, but there’s still much to improve, especially on the offensive side of the ball, before the Steelers welcome the high-powered Los Angeles Rams into the Steel City in Week 10.
Let’s check out some game grades in this one.
QB — C-
First off, Mason Rudolph’s interception in the first quarter was in no way, shape, or form his fault. That ball hit JuJu Smith-Schuster square in the hands. That’s a ball the All-Pro caliber receiver has to catch, plain and simple.
Now that that’s said, Rudolph was woefully inadequate throughout this game. He looked skittish in the pocket once again, held onto the ball far too long, had poor pocket and field awareness, and really seemed hesitant to pull the trigger at times. Now, I do believe Randy Fitchner and Co. certainly did him no favors with some of the play calls and route concepts in this one too. Both can be true, and both likely are. I need to see the All-22 tape, but this was a below average game for Rudolph.
Yes, he made some good throws, namely the first throw of the game to Smith-Schuster on an RPO on a slant, the deep shot down the field to Washington for 40 yards, and the work-through-progression touchdown to Vance McDonald.
Aside from that, it was a lot of silly, needless checkdowns to Jaylen Samuels that really didn’t do much for the Steelers after the first two drives of the game, and there was a lot of hesitation throughout.
All this doesn’t mean I’m out on Rudolph; it was just a rough game for the second-year man, especially with the Colts effectively taking away his No. 1 guy in Smith-Schuster.
RB — C
Edmunds alone probably would have garnered a B+ thanks to his 45-yard sprint on power in the first quarter that sparked the Steelers, as well as a few of his 5-6 yard runs that punished some Colts defenders. That said, Edmunds struggled in short yardage at times, missing an opportunity to follow David DeCastro around left tackle near the goal line for a touchdown.
Samuels just isn’t a good running back, folks. He’s a great pass-catching threat out of the backfield and a decent change-of-pace guy. I’d really like him as a solid third-down back, but he’s flat-out not a workhorse. It’s silly to entertain him being better than James Conner.
Much like the Oakland game last year, Samuels was inadequate on the ground, which really hindered the Steelers’ rushing attack. Eight carries for 10 yards, 21 total touches for 83 yards. Flat-out not good enough.
You can say he was coming off of knee surgery and playing his first game, but he practiced fully all week last week and looked like the normal Jaylen Samuels in this one. His fumble in the fourth quarter was brutal too. If we’re going to crush Conner for fumble issues, we better crush Samuels too. Jaylen is fortunate that the fumble didn’t cost the Steelers the game like Conner’s have in the past.
WR — B-
Smith-Schuster’s drop that led to the interception by Kenny Moore was absolutely brutal. It’s a play he has to make. After that, Smith-Schuster didn’t see much work as the Colts took him away.
Washington had the best game of his career, making a pair of contested catches, while also snagging a poorly-thrown ball behind him with one hand while going over the middle. Add in his blocking abilities yet again and it seems like things are starting to click for the former second-round pick.
Diontae Johnson had just one catch for 3 yards, but he did a nice job staying engaged throughout, drawing a pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter that pushed the Steelers into field goal range.
TE — B+
I am still not thrilled with the way the Steelers are using McDonald and Nick Vannett in the passing game, but it worked on Sunday as McDonald hauled in five passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. He’s not breaking tackles much, and he’s not stretching the field, but he’s providing a consistent option in the short areas for Rudolph to drop the football off to.
As blockers, the pair didn’t really have much success like they did last week, but they held their own at times and helped the Steelers move the football, especially when Edmunds was called on.
OL — A-
Once again, the Steelers’ offensive line is doing a great job protecting the quarterback. Much like last week, Rudolph ran himself into a sack, this time in the end zone. It felt like he had nearly five full seconds with the football in the pocket before Justin Houston beat Alejandro Villanueva for the strip sack that ended up in a safety.
I thought as a unit this group did a great job protecting Rudolph again. Any time pressure was created, it was due to Rudolph holding onto the football too long, which has to do with his slow processing abilities.
This group really dominated up front all game long when the Steelers called a pass play.
On the ground, not much was there consistently, outside of Edmunds’ 45-yard run thanks to a key Maurkice Pouncey block. The veteran looked much better in this one.
Through two watches, I thought BJ Finney played well in both phases, while DeCastro just continues to play at a really high level. It would have been nice to see Edmunds follow DeCastro in the first quarter around left tackle for the touchdown.
Matt Feiler continues to be as consistent as they come at right tackle.
DL — B
I know the Colts had a ton of success running the football, especially in the first half, but I felt the Steelers’ defensive line had a really nice day against a strong Colts offensive line.
Cam Heyward won the battle against Quenton Nelson, consistently walking the All-Pro guard backwards, while Javon Hargrave manhandled right guard Mark Glowinski for the much of the game, drawing two penalties in the win.
1-on-1, this group is so hard to block, and the two individuals showed that in a big way on Sunday.
LB — B-
Bud Dupree and TJ Watt have formed quite the pair. I hope the Steelers do whatever it takes to keep it together into the future.
Dupree is having the best year of his career and has proven to be nearly unblockable. He dominated in the run game on Sunday, and really gave Anthony Castonzo fits off the edge, 2 sacks, 3 quarterback hits and arguably the play of the game on third and 1, stuffing Marlon Mack in the backfield for a loss, setting up Vinatieri’s miss.
Watt dominated on the opposite side against Braden Smith, drawing two holding penalties while recording 1.5 sacks and 3 quarterback hits. Nobody can handle Watt 1-on-1.
Inside, Devin Bush really struggled to cover the tight end on Sunday, giving up an easy touchdown on a jerk route to Jack Doyle over the middle, before giving up another reception in the second half to Doyle.
Along with Bush, Mark Barron struggled in coverage too, getting beat for a first down by Eric Ebron. I though Barron was really effective as a blitzer though, while also playing strong against the run.
I still love what I’m seeing from Vince Williams though. I wish he was the lead guy next to Bush.
DB — B+
Steven Nelson had his worst game of his Steelers’ career, full stop.
Nelson’s effort on Parris Campbell’s catch in the second quarter that nearly went for a score was abysmal, while he also struggled in coverage down the stretch with the stupid pass interference call and the poorly-played sideline throw to Zach Pascal that put the Colts in field goal range.
Joe Haden really shut me up this week. He played lights out football and looks just fine, outside of Pascal’s first catch of the game. He was physical, broke up a number of passes with hits to the receiver, and really played with some swagger. That was fun to watch.
Mike Hilton continues to be a terror in the slot. He sacked Brian Hoyer, broke up a pass and was consistently around the football.
Terrell Edmunds had his best game of the year. He was a sound tackler, made a play on the football to break up the 2-point conversion to Doyle, and was flying all over the place.
Then there’s Minkah Fitzpatrick. What a player. I’d trade the No. 1 overall pick for him if I had to. The way he baited Hoyer into that throw that led to the 96-yard pick-6 was something else. We haven’t seen that type of play from a DB since Troy Polamalu.
Special Teams — B+
My only gripe with special teams after Sunday’s game was the poor kickoff coverage and the abysmal blocking on kick returns once again.
Campbell and Pascal had field days against the Steelers in the return game, with Campbell ripping off a 38-yarder. Jordan Dangerfield did force a fumble on Campbell though, which was great to see. What wasn’t great to see was Dangerfield getting called for holding on the next Colts kickoff, setting the Steelers back inside their own 15.
Chris Boswell is absolute money right now. That 51-yarder before the half would have been good from 60, that’s how high up the net it hit.
It was great to see Heyward block that field goal in the first half from Vinatieri. Those big, meaty paws came in handy there. It was also great to see Trey Edmunds make a big hit on Chester Rogers after the Steelers’ safety on a Rudolph sack made it a 20-18 game. Edmunds had the big stick and Ola Adeniyi popped the football out for the turnover. Awesome.