Positional Grades: Steelers vs. Bears

At this point in the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers will take a win any way it comes, even if its as ugly as Monday night’s 29-27 win over the Chicago Bears at Heinz Field on Monday Night Football was.

In a game in which the Steelers jumped out to a 14-0 lead and looked to be in control against a rookie quarterback and a woeful offense at Heinz Field, things came apart in the second half once again before a 40-yard field goal by Chris Boswell bailed the Steelers out, picking up the two-point win at home to move to 5-3 on the season.

The fourth straight win is great and all on paper, but there’s plenty to be concerned about coming out of the win, including the limited play of Ben Roethlisberger, the offensive line getting absolutely dominated throughout the entire game, and the secondary’s collapse late, allowing Justin Fields and the Bears to ultimately take a one-point lead with a little over two minutes left in the game, not to mention the special teams issues throughout the game for the second straight week.

Let’s get to some grades.

QB — C-

Yes, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t turn the football over for the fourth straight game, throwing for 205 yards and two touchdowns to rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, but he hasn’t been good overall, and that was the case once again on Monday night.

Roethlisberger had at least three throws that should have been intercepted, missed a key throw to Diontae Johnson in the fourth quarter that would have put the Steelers in field goal range, and was pretty poor on wide receiver screens, often throwing late and behind the receiver. He certainly made throws late when it mattered most, but the Steelers did not get good play out of Roethlisberger overall.

It certainly didn’t help that the offensive line was destroyed up front in pass protection and in the run game (more on that later), but the Steelers have to start getting a bit more out of Roethlisberger if they want to go on a run this season. He’s not going to get the luck of the bounce all season long either.

RB — B-

Without Najee Harris, I have no idea where the Steelers’ offense would be at this point in the season.

Harris was good once again, though the raw numbers won’t show it. Harris ran successfully early and often and started the game with a bang, scoring from 10 yards out on the Steelers’ first possession of the game to get the black and gold going. The terrific Steelers’ rookie didn’t have much running room on the night after that as the Steelers’ offensive line struggled to get any sort of push in short-yardage situations, but Harris bailed the Steelers out late with a Le’Veon Bell-like 13-yard run, giving the Steelers some breathing room offensively.

As a pass catcher, Harris hauled in three passes for 16 yards, including one catch on the Steelers’ game-winning drive to get the offense moving in a positive direction.

He’s just a terrific player that is so good in his role right now.

The Steelers tried to give Harris a breather at times on Monday night, working in Kalen Ballage and Benny Snell Jr. throughout the game.

Snell ran twice for six yards, while Ballage added one catch for two yards in the win. It was certainly a surprise to see Anthony McFarland inactive, so when you’re getting that type of limited production behind Harris, you have to go back to McFarland next week against the Detroit Lions.

WR — B

Diontae Johnson continues to develop into a true No. 1 receiver for the Steelers. Against the Bears, Johnson hauled in five passes for 56 yards, adding a contested catch in the process and helped set the Steelers up for the win with a another long catch-and-run on a slant from Roethlisberger, this time racing 22 yards to get into field goal range. Johnson also added an 11-yard run on an end-around in the win.

Chase Claypool left the game with an injury, but prior to the exit he was just fine, hauling in three passes for 30 yards and added two carries for 13 yards. He is starting to win in contested-catch situations, which is huge for the Steelers, and is starting to become a real weapon on the ground once again.

James Washington had a decent game as the No. 3, hauling in an underthrown 42-yard pass from Roethlisberger down the middle of the field and added two carries for 13 yards. That’s about his impact at this point.

Ray-Ray McCloud had a nice 12-yard catch-and-run on the Steelers’ final drive and had one nice block as a lead blocker on a Harris run, but he’s just so limited offensively.

TE — A-

Have yourself a game, Pat Freiermuth.

The rookie tight end is developing into a star right before our eyes. Against the Bears Freiermuth hauled in five passes for 43 yards and two touchdowns, his second of which he mossed Bears’ cornerback Kindle Vildor down the right sideline. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Roethlisberger targeted Freiermuth late in the fourth quarter when the Steelers needed it the most offensively.

As a blocker, Freiermuth was excellent in space, especially on the end arounds, winning in space against defensive backs while clearing rushing lanes.

I didn’t quite notice Zach Gentry or Kevin Rader as blockers, though Rader made his first career catching the win, which went for two yards on a third and long.

OL — D

It’s a shame things developed the way that they did for the Steelers’ offensive line in this one. Pittsburgh’s front five got off to a fast start against the Bears, dominating on the first drive as Harris capped off the opening drive with a 10-yard touchdown off of two great blocks from left guard Kevin Dotson and center Kendrick Green. After that though, it was a significant struggle.

Dan Moore Jr. had a really rough game once again. He continues to struggle with his pass sets against speed rushers, misses with his punch and dips his head, which leads to losses consistently off the edge. Dotson and Green really struggled in short-yardage situations, not getting any sort of push whatsoever. Green was especially woeful in short yardage, getting dominated by Chicago’s Eddie Goldman time and time again.

Trai Turner was mostly fine on the night, but he did have a bad whiff on Roquan Smith in the fourth quarter, leading to a sack of Roethlisberger. I thought Chukwuma Okorafor was the Steelers’ best offensive lineman on the night, which wasn’t saying much overall.

DL — B

Cameron Heyward and Chris Wormley were really solid against the Chicago Bears, which should come as no surprise.

At this point in his career, Heyward continues to get better and better with age, which is incredibly puzzling. I’ll take it though. Heyward was dominant once again, finishing with three tackles, three quarterback hits and an interception off of a tipped pass. He was nearly unblockable all night.

Wormley quietly had a great night. He was able to win at the point of attack consistently and provided pressure against Justin Fields throughout the first half.

Aside from those two I didn’t really notice anyone else, especially after Isaiah Buggs went down with an injury and was limited the rest of the game.

LB — B-

T.J. Watt just never ceases to amaze. The star pass rusher finished with seven tackles, three sacks and a clutch batted pass late in the fourth quarter, helping the Steelers’ defense hang on in the win. Watt just finds a way to win off the edge no matter what, even when the Bears were chipping him nearly every snap in the second half.

Opposite Watt, I thought Alex Highsmith was quietly impactful throughout the game. The second-year pro finished with three tackles and two quarterback hits, though he had a huge gaffe on Darrell Mooney’s rushing touchdown on a read-option in which Highsmith sold out to try and track down David Montgomery on the fake, leaving the edge wide open for Mooney to pull the ball and race to the end zone untouched.

Taco Charlton looked serviceable in limited snaps once again, finishing with three run stops early on, allowing the Steelers to keep up the three-OLB rotation.

Inside, I thought Joe Schobert had a really good game, especially against the run. He was gap sound, fought through blockers and was a sound tackler. His stop on Montgomery on third down while fighting through Bears’ tight end Jesse James was nothing short of spectacular. In the win, Schobert finished with five tackles, pacing the Steelers’ inside linebackers.

Devin Bush was up and down once again, finishing with three tackles. He will get crushed for the Mooney touchdown, and rightfully so as he was completely fooled by the fake, but that was not entirely on him. Credit to Bush though, as he had a huge pass breakup in the fourth quarter in coverage, reading Fields eyes and jumping the route. He just failed to finish it off with an interception.

DB — D+

That was a rough fourth quarter for the secondary.

A couple of coverage busts and clear mismatches allowed the Bears to battle back, mostly picking on slot corner Arthur Maulet in one-on-one situations. The Steelers allowed Minkah Fitzpatrick to try and freelance a bit more in this one and it worked throughout, but the Bears adjusted and took advantage late.

In no world should Maulet be one-on-one in coverage against Allen Robinson or Mooney, but that’s what happened late, leading to two big plays for the Bears as Chicago took the lead. Where is Tre Norwood in those situations? It makes no sense. Maulet is good around the line of scrimmage, but not in coverage.

Terrell Edmunds had a rough game in coverage and struggled to tackle at times. Fields didn’t back down from him and went after him in coverage at times, connecting with tight end Cole Kmet twice for big plays.

I thought James Pierre and Joe Haden were really solid in this one, playing the Bears tight in coverage, limiting some big plays, while Fitzpatrick was fantastic throughout this one. That said, the final two drives of the game for the Bears were really concerning. It’s the same thing over and over again with the secondary.

Giving up five explosive plays through the air — including one double explosive play – just isn’t cutting it.

Special Teams – D- 

Another week, another rough game for the Steelers’ special teams units.

Yes, the Steelers forced a fumble of Chicago kick returner Jakeem Grant, but aside from that and Boswell’s game-winning field goal there was very little to be positive about from this unit.

Boswell missed an extra point, rookie punter Pressley Harvin III struggled mightily with consistency once again, though I wonder if that had to do with directional punting away from Grant, and McCloud coughed up a fumble on a punt return that he could have just fair caught and likely helped end the game.

Instead, the fumble went 39 yards the other way for a touchdown, putting the Bears right back in the game. That’s now three fumbles on the year for McCloud, who likely will — and should — be out of a job.

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