Positional Grades: Steelers vs. Bengals

If you’re like me, you are still trying to understand just exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers showcased on Sunday inside Paul Brown Stadium.

That was one of the worst beatdowns in recent memory that the Steelers have taken, rather than dished out.

The Cincinnati Bengals ran all over the Steelers’ defense, got whatever they wanted through the air and simply cruised to the 31-point win.

It’s safe to say that the report card for this one won’t be pretty.

QB — C-

Ben Roethlisberger’s two interceptions were critical in the loss Bengals, leading directly to 10 Cincinnati points.

The first interception to Chase Claypool appeared to be a miscommunication, which is something that continues to happen at a maddening rate, while the pick-six by former Steeler Mike Hilton was largely due to Roethlisberger being unable to follow through on the throw.

Regardless, neither football should have been thrown where it was, which snapped Roethlisberger’s 5-game streak of interceptionless football.

Despite the two interceptions, Roethlisberger had a nice day through the air to Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth, connecting nine times with Johnson for 95 yards and hitting Freiermuth with a touchdown, extending the veteran quarterback’s touchdown streak to 25 games.

All that said though, Roethlisberger had poor pocket awareness on Sunday, took a couple of sacks he shouldn’t have and fumbled the football once that the Steelers were fortunate to jump on.

RB — D+

What an ugly showing from the backfield once again.

For some reason, the Steeler waited until they were down 17-3 to try and get Najee Harris going on the ground. The rookie touched the ball just 11 times for a total of 37 yards before being pulled from the game to avoid senseless wear and tear. He did have a nice 12-yard gain on a checkdown in the third quarter that showed some fight.

Kalen Ballage, Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland were mostly useless on Sunday, though Ballage did rip off a 13-yard gain on the ground in garbage time.

Fact of the matter remains that that’s three straight weeks of very poor efforts on the ground. I’m not sure how it gets fixed.

WR — C

Johnson was again spectacular, making a terrific one-handed catch through contact, made a number of defenders miss in space after the catch and finished with 95 yards on nine catches, again showing that he can be a true No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL.

For as good as Johnson has been this season, Chase Claypool has been as maddening. Claypool had one of the most ridiculous three-play stretches of the season, hauling in a 41-yard ball downfield from Roethlisberger before then getting up and talking trash down 38 points. Then, on the next play Claypool was flagged for ripping the helmet off of Darius Phillips. On the final play of the three-play stretch, Claypool let one bounce off of his hands. He also can’t stay on his feet consistently enough to make plays down the field.

It’s becoming tiring at this point.

The Steelers really have no other options behind them. James Washington is a zero at this point. He had one catch for three yards on Sunday and was the target on the pick-six. Anthony Miller, fresh off the practice squad for the week, made a great one-handed catch on a crossing route for a gain of two yards, but that was it for him on the day.

TE — B

Freiermuth made an excellent catch on his touchdown to close out the scoring on Sunday, taking a hellacious shot between two defenders to hold onto Roethlisberger’s throw. The rookie finished with four catches for 40 yards and the Steelers’ lone touchdown on the day.

At least he showed up.

Zach Gentry also had a nice 10-yard catch and run in garbage time, showing some fight by lowering his shoulder and barreling through a Bengals’ defender in the process.

It’s nice to know there are some weapons in the passing game at the position.

OL — D-

These guys got bullied in the trenches once again, and it’s starting to become a great concern, all injuries aside.

Trai Turner had one of his worst performances of the year as he looked slow off the football and had heavy feet. Dan Moore Jr. really struggled with speed off the edge once again, allowing far too much pressure on Roethlisberger resulting in the Bengals recording three sacks in the win.

BJ Finney was very mediocre in place of JC Hassenauer, while Chukwuma Okorafor and Kendrick Green were mostly blah. The All-22 will tell the true tale, but this group continues to get beat up in the trenches, shutting things down rather quickly offensively.

DL — F

Cameron Heyward certainly tried his best, but he can’t carry a woeful group on his own.

Starting inside at nose tackle due to the surprising healthy scratch of Isaiah Buggs, Heyward really had no shot at stopping the run early and often. Though he finished with eight tackles and a sack in a valiant effort, the Bengals ran at will right at Henry Mondeaux and Chris Wormley. Wormley recorded a sack in the loss in the first half, but these guys simply aren’t getting off blocks and aren’t impacting the game up front.

LB — D-

Speaking of not getting off blocks: Devin Bush and Joe Schobert really struggled against the run once again. Bush was slow to get off of a block on Joe Mixon’s 25-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and ended up being benched for a brief spell, only to be inserted back into the game due to a game-ending knee injury to Robert Spillane.

Spillane wasn’t much better in the game as the Bengals continued to run downhill.

Schobert was really slow to get off blocks, often spinning the wrong way off of tackles and was simply a non-factor against the run. Schobert did record 11 tackles and led the Steelers, but he is simply not impacting the run defense like he should be.

Outside, the Bengals did a great job neutralizing T.J. Watt on the day, running right at him, taking away his ability to impact the game from a pass-rush perspective. Opposite Watt, Alex Highsmith was hit-or-miss. He failed to keep contain on Joe Burrow’s touchdown to open the game, though he did bounce back in a big away down the stretch, recording two tackles for loss.

I was pleased with Derrek Tuszka’s effort on Sunday, even in the blowout loss. He was able to set the edge a few times against the run and recorded a couple of pressures against Burrow.

DB — D

Just so bad all around, it’s truly hard to fathom.

The Bengals went right after James Pierre and the Steelers did absolutely nothing to adjust.

Playing off throughout the game, the Steelers were picked apart over the middle by Burrow and the high-flying attack. Tee Higgins bullied Pierre multiple times, and threaded the needle on the sidelines between Arthur Maulet and Tre Norwood a couple of times.

The only true saving grace for the secondary was the interception by Minkah Fitzpatrick and the nice pass breakup by Akhello Witherspoon on a third down play near the sticks.

Special Teams — B-

Chris Boswell did a nice job kicking the football, but after that it was rather ugly.

Rookie Pressley Harvin III did not do a great job punting the football, averaging 38 yards per punt. He did down two of his five punts inside the 20 yard line, but overall it was a relatively a rough day for the rookie.

I do have to say though that I liked what I saw from Anthony McFarland in the return game. He looked really solid, using his speed to turn the corner on all three of his returns, giving the Steelers a bit of a boost in that aspect.

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