Positional Grades: Steelers vs. Bengals

Never, ever say it can’t get any worse, because it always can.

Sunday’s performance at Heinz Field showed that it certainly can get worse for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who fell to the Cincinnati Bengals 24-10 on a day in which the offense was an absolute mess, dropping seven passes, allowing four sacks of Ben Roethlisberger and countless other quarterback hits, threw a check down on a 4th and Goal from the 10 yard line, and turned the football over twice, falling to 1-2 on the season.

For all the talent the defense was missing on the day, the hodgepodge unit held up about as well as one could expect, aside from the disastrous 75-yard scoring drive in 27 seconds on three plays after the Steelers tied the game at 7-7. Thought the sack-record ended at 75 straight games, this one doesn’t feel like it was entirely on a depleted defense.

A rough, rough week is coming in Pittsburgh.

Let’s get to some grades.

QB — D-

Aside from the late drive in the fourth quarter in which he was throwing some seeds all over the field (except over the middle of the field) Roethlisberger was downright dreadful, falling just short of an F here.

Roethlisberger continues to misfire all over the place early in the season, whether that’s not being on the same page with guys like Chase Claypool, or missing deep shots to James Washington. Add in his ugly second interception to Logan Wilson and it was an incredibly rough day overall for the veteran quarterback in the second straight loss at home.

Throughout the game his arm looked shot, but then in the hurry-up offense, he looks like Ben of old. It’s incredibly frustrating and confusing, and I’m just now sure how it gets better, if at all.

RB — B-

Through three games, Sunday was easily Najee Harris’s best performance for the Steelers, especially as he received more work out of the backfield as a receiver. Harris hauled in a game-high 14 receptions for 102 yards, consistently making plays with the football in his hands. However, he did have three drops, including two on the final drive of the game for the Steelers, so it wasn’t all great for him.

He was a consistent weapon though, and that’s what this offense needs, especially in space.

On the ground, Harris finished with just 40 yards on 14 carries and had a handful of big runs wiped out by penalties along the offensive line (more on that later). He fought his tail off on the day and really took a beating, so I can’t really place any type of blame on him.

We’ll see what the All-22 shows on the ground with Harris, but it still feels like he’s hesitant overall to hit the holes with speed and make plays throughout the game.

WR — C

Chase Claypool had a pretty strong day overall despite dealing with cramps, finishing with nine catches for 96 yards, taking advantage of some soft coverage with the Bengals up big and the Steelers needing to throw to try and come back. He really ran some great routes on the day and made some plays after the catch, but the second-year receiver and his veteran quarterback still aren’t on the same page, as evidenced by his terrific double move in the red zone that Roethlisberger threw well outside while Claypool was wide open inside.

James Washington did a great job getting vertical on the day, creating separation on both downfield shots; Roethlisberger just couldn’t connect with him. The second and final miss to Washington deep down the left sideline in the fourth quarter was the final nail in the coffin.

JuJu Smith-Schuster was good early, moving the chains and making his physical presence known early. He was knocked from the game with a rib injury though, forcing Ray-Ray McCloud into the slot role. McCloud was fine, hauling in three passes for 33 yards, including a leaping grab of 24 yards along the left sideline, but he had the ball ripped out over the middle by Von Bell and was lucky to recover it himself.

I liked seeing Cody White get some run too. He’s a good blocker and is tough after the catch. More of him, please.

TE — C+

It’s very clear that Pat Freiermuth is the TE1 in Pittsburgh at this point. Freiermuth continues to outsnap Eric Ebron at this point, and continues to perform. Freiermuth hauled in his first career touchdown on a shovel pass in the redzone and also made a key catch on third down earlier in the same drive to move the chains.

Freiermuth was a bit rough as a blocker overall, but he’s still a weapon in the passing game.

Ebron just can’t get going. He had a big drop in traffic and is a complete no-show in the run game. Behind those two, Zach Gentry allowed a sack of Ben Roethlisberger against Cameron Sample, a matchup you never want to put your third tight end in.

OL — F

This group is as bad as it gets.

All five starters were called for penalties on the day, marking the first time I’ve had to write that in my time with Steelers Depot.

Kevin Dotson was supposed to be the above average piece on the offensive line, but he’s looked below average at this point through three games. Dan Moore Jr. is fine at left tackle, but he’s not really moving the needle overall. At right tackle, Chukwuma Okorafor showed more aggression on a post-play skirmish that I’ve seen from him in four years in the run game.

Inside, Trai Turner really struggled in pass protection and was a step slow climbing to the second level in the run game, while Kendrick Green was once again on the ground a lot prior to leaving with an injury.

DL — D+

I know this group was incredibly shorthanded, but they were simply not good against the run and really didn’t create much of a pass rush at all on Sunday.

Cameron Heyward moved all over the defensive front in search of mismatches, but he was almost exclusively double teamed and even triple teamed on some reps. Hard to make a play when it’s like that, though he did finish with five tackles.

I thought Chris Wormley was fine overall, finishing with four tackles overall, but he didn’t create much of a pass rush and was washed out against the run in the second half.

Isaiahh Loudermilk, Isaiah Buggs, and Henry Mondeaux were just blah. Buggs was fine early against the run, but he fell off as the game progressed.

LB — C

No real impact plays against the run, inexperienced outside linebackers trying to set the edge, and a general lack of plays from the two veterans inside led to an extremely average day for the Steelers’ linebackers.

Melvin Ingram was strong early on in his pass rush, but after his missed tackle on Tyler Boyd that led directly to the Bengals’ score, Ingram fell off. He was called for a bogus roughing the passer penalty and didn’t general much rush after that being getting banged up.

Jamir Jones really struggled against the run and was slow to squeeze down on backside runs, leading to big cutback lanes for Joe Mixon, which led to Derrick Tuszka getting snaps defensively, finishing with two tackles.

DB – C-

I really liked what I saw from Arthur Maulet on the day. He was physical in the slot and was a sound tackler. Same goes for Terrell Edmunds, who was physical downhill against the run, strong in coverage and picked off a pass off of a tipped ball, creating some splash for the Steelers.

After that though, it was poor for the Steelers’ secondary.

Joe Haden was in trail technique much of the day and was rather poor, struggling to run with Ja’Marr Chase and Auden Tate, while James Pierre was taken to task by Chase on deep shots. Minkah Fitzpatrick really struggled with angles on the day and was rather rough in the middle of the field in coverage at times, leading to some big pays for the Bengals.

Special Teams — B-

When Chris Boswell misses chip shots at Heinz Field, you know its not your day as a team.

Boswell missed a short one on Sunday, splitting his two field goal tries on the day.

Punter Pressley Harvin continues to punt the football well, though he did come up with a short 27-yard punt from the Bengals’ side of the field, his three other kicks traveled 46, 50 and 40 yards.

Kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud didn’t do much on the lone kickoff he returned, but he did add a 14-yard punt return. Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber flipped the field all day long though, pinning the Steelers inside their own 20 yard line three times, one of which was aided by a penalty on the Steelers’ return team.

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