Gameday grades from Week 1: Steelers-Browns
The interception wasn't pinned squarely on Ben Roethlisberger, and he had only 11 other incompletions among his 36 throws. Roethlisberger's passer rating also was high (95.0), and if he averages the 263 yards he had Sunday throughout the year, that's a 4,200-yard season. But despite all that, Roethlisberger didn't pass the eye test nearly as well. He is held to a high standard, and leading an offense to 14 points against the Browns does not meet it.
Skill positions: C
Broken down, this is: Antonio Brown, A+. Jesse James, A. Everyone else, collectively, D. Martavis Bryant caught just two of six targets for just 14 yards, Vance McDonald did not catch his only target, Eli Rogers had just two catches and Le'Veon Bell appeared as out-of-sync as he ever has. Still, Brown was sensational. He caught all 11 targets — some on plays the vast majority of other receivers would not corral — and had 182 yards. James (two touchdowns) also had a strong game.
Offensive line: C+
Roethlisberger was sacked just once, but the Steelers' running game never gained any traction and, like everyone else on the offense, the line deserves some of the responsibility for an overall ho-hum outing. Maurkice Pouncey committed what could have been a costly penalty (holding on second-and-2 with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game) — but that was the lone flag on the offensive line Sunday.
Defensive line: A
Considering this group lost its $61 million man (Stephon Tuitt) just two snaps into the game and had to go 58 minutes with only four men, it was yeoman's work by Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton. Cleveland was held to 57 rushing yards and 237 total yards, and its running backs averaged 2.0 yards on 20 carries. Steelers defensive linemen combined for seven solo tackles, six assisted tackles and two sacks.
Each of the two starting outside linebackers had two sacks, and the linebackers deserve a portion of the credit for the aforementioned futile Browns running game. T.J. Watt added an interception to go along with the two sacks in his NFL debut, although he and Ryan Shazier had a 15-yard penalty. Missed tackles weren't necessarily an issue, but they weren't nonexistent, either.
The group cost the Steelers 56 yards in penalties, including two unnecessary roughness calls and one pass interference. And the defensive backs surely benefited from getting to face a rookie quarterback starting in his NFL debut, leading a young offense. But the Steelers generally limited the Browns' big plays, and the defense on whole was more than satisfactory.
Special teams: A
Without the punt-block touchdown five plays into the game, who knows if the Steelers even would have won Sunday? Anthony Chickillo fell on the ball in the end zone for the six points, and he credited special teams coordinator Danny Smith for the play design. The Steelers also managed to avoid allowing rookie returner Jabrill Peppers to hurt them, and Chris Boswell booted all four kickoffs into the end zone (three for touchbacks). One shanked Jordan Berry punt does little to diminish the unit's seven points.
Some fans are upset with the playcalling of Todd Haley, and pretty much everybody inside and out of the organization is upset with the 13 penalties for 144 yards. That's not 100 percent on the coaches, but it doesn't reflect well on them. Still, Smith's call for the blocked punt was key. And the defensive coaches deserve some kudos for piecing together a collection of some rookies, brand-new faces and others who hadn't practiced much during the preseason because of injury.
The Steelers will not apologize for winning a division game on the road — even if it is in Cleveland. But an offense that openly wants to be recognized as the NFL's best might need to apologize after it laid a 14-point, 290-yard egg. With many new pieces and other players fighting off rust for various reasons, perhaps there is an excuse for a less-than-inspiring effort. The Steelers probably can't get away with another when they are playing some of the league's better teams later on in the season.