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Positional Grades: Steelers vs. Ravens

When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens get together, something special is bound to happen.

Fortunately for the black and gold on Sunday inside Heinz Field, that special development went in favor of the Steelers as Pittsburgh pulled out a thrilling 20-19 win over the Ravens in the final seconds, keeping their playoff chances alive by the slimmest of margins.

Pittsburgh sacked 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson seven times and got a throwback performance from Ben Roethlisberger in what could be his final showing against the Ravens at Heinz Field in his career, resulting in the 1-point win.

Somehow, just when all feels lost with this year’s team, they pull you right back in.

Let’s get to some grades.

QB — A-

Man, that was by far the best performance of the season from Ben Roethlisberger, full stop. Roethlisberger was outstanding down the stretch as the Steelers were in their up-tempo offense, moving the football with ease against a Ravens’ defense that had held the Steelers in check throughout the game.

In fact, Roethlisberger was 9-for-10 in the fourth quarter for 129 yards and two touchdowns and a critical two-point conversion, finishing with a perfect quarterback rating in the final 15 minutes of action, recording his fifth game-winning drive of the season to boot, which leads the league.

Roethlisberger, just one day after a report leaked that he was informing forward and current teammates that this was his final season, went out and put on a clinic against the Ravens, making the right read time and time again, throwing with great accuracy and real zip on the football.

RB — B

Finally, the Steelers were able to run the football successful even when the defense knew what was coming.

Sure, it took until the fourth quarter, but Pittsburgh showed it could be physical, move people off the spot and run downhill against a stout Ravens’ front seven.

It helped to have bulldozers like Najee Harris and Benny Snell Jr. running downhill, punishing the Ravens’ defense down the stretch.

It was mostly tough sledding for Harris throughout the game, but he consistently fell forward, was able to make defenders miss and at least picked up positive yardage on nearly every run, finishing with 71 yards on 21 carries. Harris added another 36 yards on five catches, cracking 100 total yards once again.

Snell Jr. was a bit of a surprise to receive touches down the stretch, but he ran hard, was decisive getting downhill and really gave the Steelers a bit of a spark on the ground while allowing Harris to catch his breath.

That’s how the tandem should work.

WR — B+

Aside from a drop that could have truly proven costly, Diontae Johnson was absolutely incredible once again.

The guy runs some of the best routes in football, has consistent hands and is always making plays. His route on the game-winning touchdown was absolutely phenomenal, which is par for the course with Johnson. His ability to make plays after the catch too is really starting to stand out.

Aside from Johnson, the Steelers’ wide receiver corps was rather quiet. Yes, Chase Claypool had a 40-yard catch and run and a 12-yard catch, but he failed to come up with a deep shot that clanged off his right hand and continues to struggle to play to his strength, which is size and physicality.

Ray-Ray McCloud was robbed on a beautiful catch downfield early in the first half. It was clear he caught the football, yet somehow it was overturned. That’s the NFL and its officiating for you. After having that catch ruled a no catch, McCloud finished with just one catch for seven yards.

The group struggled late in the first half with the drop and also struggled to be on the same page as Roethlisberger, especially when it came to hot routes. They need to get that cleaned up overall.

TE — B

Pat Freiermuth is an absolute dump truck in the open field. After a slow start offensively, Freiermuth dumping a Ravens’ defender in the open field seemed to be the spark the offense needed. After that, Freiermuth helped moved the football down the field, finishing the game with three catches for 26 yards. He also served as a stout blocker in the run game, pulling left and right to help open up lanes and climb to the second level.

Zach Gentry also had a strong game as a blocker and made a key third-down catch on the game-winning drive, moving the chains with Roethlisberger under pressure. It’s not the most explosive two-tight end set in the league, but Freiermuth and Gentry sure are finding their stride together.

OL — B+

With all the words I will type here about this offensive line, it won’t do it justice. The group was really strong on Sunday one week after being downright disastrous against the Bengals.

Dan Moore Jr. was really impressive in the run game and held his own in pass protection after two tough weeks while hitting a rookie wall. He’s at his best in the run game where he can overpower defenders and really move them off the spot.

Left guard John Leglue was a pleasant surprise stepping in for starter BJ Finney, who exited the game early with a back injury. Leglue was key down the stretch, moving defenders off the spot in the run game, giving Harris and Snell Jr. lanes. For a guy who was on the practice squad just a week ago, he played his tail off and deserves a start on Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Kendrick Green was much better this week as well, using his physicality to help establish a rushing attack. He held up in pass protection as well, which was impressive to see. Right guard Trai Turner was rather rough overall. He looks incredibly slow and heavy footed as of late, none more so than on a screen pass to his side of the field in the first half. He didn’t even get out into space to help out.

Overall, the offensive line was stout, allowing just one sack — on a broken play in which Roethlisberger gave himself up — and just three quarterback hits. What a job by the men in the trenches.

DL — A-

Chris Wormley, have yourself a day!

Wormley, a former Raven who was traded to the Steelers just one season ago, recorded a career-high 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hits against Lamar Jackson, helping the Steelers hold the dynamic quarterback in check throughout Sunday’s game.

With Wormley dominating in the trenches, it opened up some one-on-one matchups for Cam Heyward, who had four tackles, one sack, and two tackles for loss in the win. That helps, especially against the run, as the Steelers’ defensive line held up against a terrific Ravens’ rushing attack.

Montravious Adams also played his tail off on Sunday, stepping into the lineup just a few days after being signed away from the Saints. Adams recorded two tackles, broke up a pass and really disrupted the interior of the offensive line, which plays a key part in the Steelers shutting down Baltimore’s rushing attack.

LB — B

There is no better player in the NFL than T.J. Watt.

Sunday’s performance against the Ravens should put to bed any type of discussion.

Watt recorded 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hits and a career-high 12 quarterback pressures, dominating the game from start to finish. He should be in the MVP discussion.

With Watt going off on one side, Alex Highsmith had a strong game on the other side. The sacks might not be there, but he recorded three tackles and two sacks, and was consistently creating a ton of pressure.

Inside, it still remains a bit rough, but there were encouraging signs from Devin Bush. His hit on Devonta Freeman late in the first half was huge as he clicked and closed downhill with force. I’d rather see him play 1,000 miles an hour downhill and make mistakes rather than playing cautiously and making mistakes. I liked what I saw from him overall when it came to play in coverage and working over the top to get to holes against the run. It’s sa minor improvement, but a necessary one that we needed to see.

Joe Schobert was really, really rough on Sunday, especially in space. He looked incredibly slow and was consistently beaten by guys like Freeman and Latavius Murray. The good news is, he can still play well downhill against the run and was much better this week compared to last week.

DB — B-

I was really impressed with Akhello Witherspoon on Sunday against the Ravens. He stepped right into the starting lineup in place of Joe Haden and played very well, finishing with five tackles and a key pass breakup on a ball that would have gone for a touchdown to Mark Andrews. He played with real confidence and came downhill with force at times, showing he deserves to get another long look at the position.

I liked what I saw from Cam Sutton at times as well, though he missed sacking Jackson in the backfield, allowing him to scramble and get rid of the football.

Minkah Fitzpatrick recorded his second interception of the season in his second straight week and was all over the field once again, leading the Steelers with nine tackles. He did miss a handful of tackles in space though, which remains a real concern, while Terrell Edmunds played well in the box, finishing with four run stops.

Special Teams — C-

What a rough day for Danny Smith’s specialists.

Kick coverage was really good overall as the Steelers held Devin Duvernay in check. Rookie Buddy Johnson made an impact right away too, recording a pair of special teams tackles.

The issues came in the kicking game. Chris Boswell missed a pivotal extra point after the Steelers’ offense showed life, and then booted the kickoff out of bounds after the Steelers took a 20-13 lead, giving the Ravens possession at the 40 yard line. It was disastrous.

Rookie punter Pressley Harvin III really went through the ebbs and flows in the game, ripping off an incredible 64-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the half yard line, but then followed up with a 26-yard shank. He continues to struggle with consistency, which is par for the course with him.

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