Positional Grades: Steelers vs. Seahawks

Wasn’t that…exciting?

I’m not sure how to even describe what just unfolded at Heinz Field, other than it felt like a miserable experience throughout as a lot of bad football was on display between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football until Trent Jordan Watt put an end to it with back-to-back dominant plays, leading to a 23-20 Steelers’ win in overtime on a 37-yard field goal by Chris Boswell to send the Steelers into the bye week with a 3-3 record.

Emotions are running high, so let’s try and break this game down, shall we? Let’s get to some grades.

QB — B

Though he had to throw the football 40 times, Ben Roethlisberger did just enough and mostly avoided the crucial mistakes he’s made in recent weeks to help the Steelers’ offense have real balance and the ability to posses the football and drive down the field, resulting in a much-needed win.

It was a night in which the Steelers had to throw to set up the run, rather than the inverse of that, and it worked out for the most part. Roethlisberger looked very sharp in the first half helping the Steelers jump out to a 14-0 halftime lead on alumni weekend, but the second half was a lot of up-and-down football.

Roethlisberger had a bad fumble on an aborted pump fake, nearly threw two interceptions to Seattle’s D.J. Reed and Jamal Adams — the latter of which was a rocket right off of Adams’ face, and missed a couple of throws downfield to Chase Claypool that could have gone for big gains.

Overall though, he was a solid game manager, which is perfectly fine at this juncture of his career. He even mixed in a few terrific strikes to Diontae Johnson throughout the night, showing that he can still make some big-time throws when needed.

RB — B+

Najee Harris continues to be a special player for the Steelers’ offense. Coming off of a career game against the Denver Broncos, Harris didn’t quite reach those lofty numbers against the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football, but he ran the ball at a successful clip throughout the night and was a real weapon in the passing game once again.

Harris moved all over the formation, hauled in six passes for 46 yards and opened the scoring on the night with a pretty 5-yard speed out for the score on a Seattle defensive end, which was a clear mismatch to exploit. He also had unreal effort on a third and long late in the game to make a defender miss and pick up as many yards as possible, setting up a Boswell field goal for crucial points in a tight game.

Backup Kalen Ballage showed some real juice in this one on two touches, going for 15 yards on the ground while breaking a few tackles and dishing out punishment at the end of his 11-yard run in the fourth quarter.

WR — C

Diontae Johnson continues to put the league on notice overall, but on Sunday night he was the lone receiver to have any sort of impact against the Seahawks’ short-handed secondary. Johnson found himself open early and often against Seattle, finishing the night with nine catches for 71 yards, moving the chains throughout the night. The third-year budding star also had a pivotal 25-yard run on a well-designed and well-timed end around.

However, Johnson did have a crucial drop late in the game on a comeback route that hit his hands while he was falling to the turf.

Chase Claypool was a real disappointment on the night. He finished with just two catches for 17 yards and had two awful penalties in big spots that were essentially drive-killing, including his offensive pass interference penalty downfield in the fourth quarter. The Steelers need to put him in the slot with JuJu Smith-Schuster gone for the year. Enough already.

Ray-Ray McCloud was fine, hauling in two passes for 18 yards, but throwing to him in overtime on third down is about as bad as it gets.

And where was James Washington? Did his groin injury flare up again? Very strange usage on the night.

TE — B+

The Pat Freiermuth breakout game everyone has been waiting for occurred Sunday night, even if he didn’t find the end zone.

Freiermuth was utilized heavily in the passing game, finishing with seven catches for 58 yards in the win, moving the chains consistently for the Steelers’ offense. He also had a couple of key blocks in the game in the run game, including on Johnson’s big 25-yard run on the end-around, walling off his defender to create a lane for the speedy receiver.

He looks like a special talent. Hopefully he starts to get more work.

Eric Ebron had his best game of the season overall, finishing with two catches for 10 yards, one of which was a key third-down conversion. Ebron also recorded the first rushing touchdown for a tight end in franchise history. He was mostly fine as a blocker, though the bar isn’t high. A good game overall for 85 though.

OL — C

It was a rather rough night for rookie left tackle Dan Moore Jr. against the Seattle Seahawks.

Moore Jr. really struggled with Darrell Taylor’s speed and bend as the second-year pass rusher hit multiple ghost rushes on Moore Jr. That’s quite the learning curve the rookie had to deal with before exiting the game with a back injury.

Inside, I thought Kevin Dotson was much better once again, helping open up some rushing lanes and holding his own in pass protection. For the Steelers’ offensive line to really come together, the second-year pro is the key piece to that development.

Center Kendrick Green had a strong game as well, mixing it up in the trenches with some big-bodied defensive linemen for the Seahawks, more than holding his own. Right guard Trai Turner opened the game with an ugly false start and struggled to stay on his blocks throughout the game. He allowed a few pressures as well, which is par for the course with him at this point.

Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was again solid, potentially giving himself a chance to hold off Zach Banner for another week. Veteran Joe Haeg did a really nice job coming in cold for Moore Jr. due to injury, holding down the left side of the offensive line down the stretch.

This group is starting to figure it out in the run game, though the first half was rather ugly overall.

In total, the Steelers’ offensive line allowed just one sack, one quarterback hit and seven hurries on 40 dropbacks from Roethlisberger. That’s a good night in pass protection.

DL — D

This grade is not a reflection of Cam Heyward whatsoever, who was an absolute monster once again, tying Joey Porter in sacks in franchise history on the night. He was a force throughout, but the Seahawks did a nice job running away from him and tying him up with extra blockers in pass protection, doing what they could to negate him.

It didn’t matter though as Heyward finished with nine tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one quarterback hit in the win.

After him though, guys like Isaiah Buggs, Henry Mondeaux and Chris Wormley were downright terrible on the night. All three couldn’t get off blocks, got pushed around in the run game and really had no impact whatsoever. Wormley did record half a sack, but that was more effort play than anything.

Buggs opened the game with a big tackle for loss but that was it for him on the night, which was really disappointing.

I did like what I saw from rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk though. He was stout against the run and really brought a physical element to the defensive line opposite Heyward. This group really needs to get it figured out against the run though, because what they’re doing right now simply isn’t cutting it.

LB — C+

If this grade were specifically for T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, it’d be as close to an A+ that you can get. Alas, it also encompasses the inside linebackers, who were rather dreadful Sunday night, especially against the run.

Watt was a true game wrecker, finishing with seven tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, three pass deflections and two quarterback hits. His strip-sack of Geno Smith sealed the win in the end. Opposite him, Alex Highsmith looks fully healthy and had his best performance of the year, recording 1.5 sacks in the win, finishing with seven tackles and four quarterback hits in the win.

Inside it was a mess. Devin Bush and Joe Schobert had rough nights against the run, allowing linemen to climb to the second level and get hats on them in the run game, wiping them out. Combined, the duo recorded just eight tackles (Bush with six). That said, Bush did recover the fumble in overtime, though he did try and run the wrong way at first.

Robert Spillane wasn’t any better against the run on some snaps. This group is struggling against the run at the moment overall.

DB — C-

Holding DK Metcalf and Tyler Locket to eight total catches for 93 yards and no touchdowns feels like a major win.

It certainly is for a young secondary overall, but this group was really rough on the night.

Cam Sutton, Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds were woeful in the tackling department. There’s something to be said about rookie seventh-rounder Tre Norwood, who had major question marks about his tackling coming out of college, being your best defender and tackler on the night, but that’s where the Steelers are.

Norwood was phenomenal all game long and looks to have truly settled into a real role in Pittsburgh.

Haden has to be better in the tackling department. He’s a veteran and shouldn’t be this bad getting guys on the ground. Edmunds had his worst game in quite a while in that department as well, which was pretty concerning.

While Metcalf and Lockett didn’t beat them, the secondary allowed tight end Gerald Everett to get loose for a 40-yard catch-and-run thanks to a couple of missed tackles, and allowed running back Travis Homer to convert a third down on a 27-yard catch-and-run in which he forced three defenders to miss near the sticks.

Clean it up.

Special Teams — B+

Nice night for the special teams units overall, especially the kicking game, which received praise from Mike Tomlin after the win.

Boswell drilled the game-winning kick in overtime and finished 3-for-3 on the night, while rookie punter Pressley Harvin III had a really good game overall, shaking off one shank to finish with a 47.9 yard average, downing the Seahawks inside the 20 yard line four times on the night.

Ray-Ray McCloud had a really good game returning kicks, recording a 37-yard kickoff return and a 14-yard punt return, while the coverage units were solid overall, though Seattle’s DeeJay Dallas returned a kick 38 yards on the night.


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