Positional Grades: Steelers vs. Buccaneers

After getting absolutely boat-raced and embarrassed on the road against the Buffalo Bills in Week 5, the Pittsburgh Steelers — somehow, some way — returned home to Acrisure Stadium in Week 6 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and found a way to snap a four-game losing streak, picking up a hard-fought 20-18 win Sunday over the Buccaneers.

Offensively, the Steelers scored a first-drive touchdown for the first time in a long time, and then rallied late after backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky came into the game for the injured Kenny Pickett, leading a scoring drive and then salting the game away with some impressive four-minute offense.

Chase Claypool seemingly put it all together on the day, turning in arguably his best performance of his career as a receiver, while the defense — missing nearly the entire starting secondary — found a way to keep things simple and make plays, holding Tom Brady and a potent Tampa Bay passing attack at bay.

Pittsburgh even got some spark from special teams, thanks to Steven Sims on an 89-yard kickoff return to open the second half and a 24-yard punt return in the third quarter.

What a win for the Steelers, and what a way to have this group prepared and ready to go for 60 minutes Sunday by Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff.

Let’s get to some grades.

QB — B

Stepping into the game for the injured Pickett, Trubisky looked like a completely different quarterback from the one he was for three and a half weeks in the black and gold.

Trubisky was money down the stretch, finishing 9-of-12 for 144 yards and a 6-yard strike to Claypool for a touchdown. He also threw a great ball to Claypool scrambling to his left, and really used his feet well on a read-option, picking up nine yards before sneaking it to move the chains, clinching the win.

He looked free and loose on Sunday, playing like he had nothing to lose, which he did. It was refreshing to see. Hats off to the veteran for being prepared and answering the bell.

As for Pickett, he had some flashes in the game, getting off to a fast start with completions to George Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Claypool, and he even used his legs well on two scrambles, picking up 16 yards. There was some communication concerns though, leading to his lone sack taken on the day, and he did take a big shot from Devin White, resulting in him leaving the game with a concussion.

RB — C

Playing without a steel plate in his cleat for the first time this season, Najee Harris looked a bit better than he did last week. That said, the run game still wasn’t good enough as Harris finished with 14 carries for 42 yards, while Jaylen Warren added two carries for two yards.

Harris had some nice runs, including a long of 14 yards, and he was able to break some tackles on the day, giving the Steelers at least some balance offensively early on. He also added a 7-yard receiving touchdown for Pickett’s first career touchdown pass on a play in which he was wide open in the flat.

Warren gets credit for converting on fourth and one on the Steelers first drive, but outside of that he was mostly non-existent. He blew a block on a failed Steven Sims jet sweep, and there were some communication issues on the Pickett sack he took between what looked like he and the right side of the Steelers’ offensive line.

WR — A-

No drops on the day, and a number of huge plays from the likes of Claypool, Pickens and Johnson.

Well done.

Claypool had arguably the best receiving performance of his career, finishing with seven catches for 96 yards and a score, showing great chemistry with Trubisky in the second half, making a number of clutch catches along with his 6-yard touchdown. It would be great to see that guy continue to put it all together and add an element to the Steelers offense.

Johnson, who caught a ton of heat over the last week for his struggles in Buffalo, answered the bell in a big way on Sunday, finishing with five catches for 28 yards, making a number of tough sideline catches. The numbers might not be that impressive, but he was a steady presence on the field Sunday and made all the plays he could. A good step in the right direction.

Pickens was a bit underutilized, but he came through when needed, making a key grab on a 3rd and 13 from Trubisky to convert and finished with three catches for 27 yards. Much like Johnson, the numbers might not be eye-popping, but the quality of grabs and the timing were huge.

TE — B-

Without Pat Freiermuth, this group wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game.

That said, rookie tight end Connor Heyward came through in a big way, hauling in a 45-yard catch and run from Trubisky on a free play with the Buccaneers having 12 guys on the field, sparking the Steelers offense, setting up Claypool’s touchdown catch. It’s the longest play of the season offensively for the Steelers and showed the football IQ Heyward has as he turned his head around quickly off the line knowing he was wide open, showing Trubisky his numbers.

Zach Gentry had just one catch for four yards, but he had a key block to spring Harris on his 14-yard run in the first half. I would like to see these tight ends be more of a factor as blockers though moving forward.

OL — C

Just two sacks allowed and only two quarterback hits given up on 30 total drop backs from the Steelers. Not a bad day’s work.

That said, the penalties and the miscommunications are a concern. Kevin Dotson had a day to forget, drawing at least three penalties (two holding calls) and was late to run back onto the field for a Chris Boswell field goal try in the first half. He came through late in the run game, moving some bodies and helping Trubisky convert on a quarterback sneak to seal the win, but he wasn’t good enough on the day and deserves to have the Steelers maybe considering a change there.

Chukwuma Okorafor also had a rough day, struggling with the Bucs defenders throughout the afternoon as they shot inside him and created a bunch of pressure and run stops. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s the lowest graded Steelers OL on the day, even behind Dotson.

Dan Moore Jr. had a decent day overall handling the Tampa Bay pass rushers well, while Mason Cole battled his tail off playing essentially on one foot. He was solid in the run game and, for the most part, had the offensive line set up well in protection. Same for James Daniels.

DL — A-

Larry Ogunjobi had quite the day for the Steelers. He dominated from start to finish, finishing with five tackles, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits. The Buccaneers simply couldn’t stop him, and his early TFL on Leonard Fournette in a goal to go situation was monumental for the Steelers, who held for three points in that sequence.

Cameron Heyward looked like himself again, dominating the Tampa Bay rookie left guard, finishing with three tackles, a sack, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hits. He was everywhere once again, and really gave the Steelers a boost with his ability to generate pressure consistently.

Chris Wormley had a massive run stop on third and short and played well throughout the day, as did Isaiahh Loudermilk, getting his first action of the season. It was great to see the defensive line be able to consistently win up front throughout the game, helping Pittsburgh’s defense win behind them while shorthanded.

LB — B-

Don’t look now, but Devin Bush and Myles Jack are playing some strong football.

Jack recorded eight tackles and had a key pass breakup in the red zone on a throw from Brady to Cameron Brate that would have gone for a touchdown. He flew downhill against the run and really laid some big hits on Tampa Bay players throughout the afternoon.

Same for Bush. He was good against the run, played well in coverage and saved the game with the pass breakup on the goal line on the 2-point conversion try that was intended for Chris Godwin. He still catches a lot of guff from fans and the media, but he’s playing sound football this season. Major improvement from last season, though the bar was low.

Outside, Alex Highsmith had a great strip sack on Brady that was ultimately recovered by Tampa Bay, but he showed off his impressive speed off the edge to win around the corner. Outside of that though, he was a bit quiet. Earlier in the game he had a pass breakup on a throw to Godwin to set up a third and long that the Steelers ultimately got off on.

Malik Reed recorded his first sack as a Steelers, dragging Brady down on third down in the red zone with some help from Heyward. He also batted a pass in the fourth quarter and had his best performance as a Steeler to date.

Robert Spillane played a decent game in sub package football as well inside, finishing with five tackles and a pass breakup. He was beat a few times, but for the most part was in good position and tackled relatively well.

DB — A

Holding Brady and the Buccaneers’ weapons to 243 yards and just one touchdown was an impressive job overall from a group missing as many key guys as they were.

Hats off to this group.

James Pierre had a really good game, seizing his opportunity to earn more playing time. He was good in coverage throughout the day and tackled well on the perimeter, finishing with three tackles while playing sticky in coverage, resulting in a number of incompletions when targeted.

Josh Jackson did a good job of tackling the catch when targeted on the day. He drew the assignment of Mike Evans throughout the day, but more than held his own as Evans caught just four passes for 42 yards. Quincy Wilson also saw some snaps and played well working downhill to support the run.

Arthur Maulet, one week after going off on some teammates, backed up his thoughts, turning in a Mike Hilton-like performance in the box. Maulet finished with three tackles and was consistently around the football, making tackles.

Terrell Edmunds had a whale of a game, leading the Steelers in tackles with 10 while recording a pivotal tackle for loss on Fournette in the red zone, knifing through for the stop. He was strong in coverage throughout the afternoon as well and was a welcome addition back into the lineup after missing last week with a concussion.

Tre Norwood deserves some props too. He finished with five tackles, made some plays in coverage and really tackled well overall. He did miss a tackle on Fournette on the fourth and short toss play to the right, but he flew downhill like a bat out of hell and laid the wood to Fournette. You love to see that from a guy who never did that in college.

Special Teams — B

Yes, Steven Sims was terrific on his two returns Sunday. That said, his first two kickoff returns were abysmal and had many questioning what exactly he was doing back there. Then he raced 89 yards through the heart of the Buccaneers’ kickoff coverage unit, and later weaved his way for 24 yards through Tampa Bay’s punt coverage team, providing major sparks to the Steelers.


Boswell hit on both field goal attempts on the afternoon, including bouncing one in from 55 yards out off the crossbar. He’s as money as they come.

Pressley Harvin III had a nice bounce back performance, averaging 44.2 yards per punt on five punts, downing two inside the 20 yard line while flipping the field a few times when called upon. Great to see him shake off a rough showing and perform well.

The grade is a bit low here though due to the penalties on the field goal tries from Tampa Bay. I’m sure they were by design as the Steelers were being aggressive hunting a block to try and help the defense out a bit on a day in which they were overmatched from a personnel standpoint. Still, they were penalties in the end.

Then, burning a timeout because Dotson couldn’t get onto the field fast enough after a mental error prior to Boswell’s 55-yarder was frustrating to watch. Have to be better there.

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