Chris Adamski's gameday grades from Steelers' win over Lions
Ben Roethlisberger threw what can be characterized as a bad interception. He did make plenty of pretty, spot-on throws, though, too. He put a ball where JuJu Smith-Schuster could make a play – and he did that, running more than 70 yards for a Steelers-record 97-yard touchdown reception. Roethlisberger helped the Steelers go 7 for 14 on third down, which was much superior to the opponent (the Lions went 2 for 12).
Martavis who? Last week, when Bryant said JuJu Smith-Schuster was wasn't as good as him, most agreed. I'm not so sure they are anymore. While Bryant is in a season-long slump (and he was not in uniform Sunday as a result of those social-media words), Smith-Schuster had a breakout game. When Bryant said “… you all can have juju…” he better be careful what he wishes for – the Steelers might just choose to have Smith-Schuster as their No. 2 receiver. Outside of a late drop that could have been costly, Smith-Schuster was sensational in Detroit. Antonio Brown was steady (an offensive pass interference call that could have been very costly notwithstanding), and Jesse James and Justin Hunter combined for three first-down catches. Le'Veon Bell was OK, but not great. Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey each had a drop – a further reminder that the Steelers still do need Bryant, even if Smith-Schuster continues his star turn.
Offensive line: B-
Two games in a row without a sack of Roethlisberger. He was hit just three times Sunday. But Bell didn't have gaping holes all night (he was tackled five times for a loss). Then again, the Steelers were down to their third-string right tackle (Matt Feiler) in the second half after Chris Hubbard (himself filling in for Marcus Gilbert) went down.
Defensive line: A-
Tyson Alualu continues to show he was a sneaky-good offseason signing. Javon Hargrave was disruptive at times, Cameron Heyward was Cameron Heyward (two tackles for loss, a sack and an additional hit on Matthew Stafford) – and even L.T. Walton got in on the act when he batted down a pass. Yeoman's work for this group, one that again was playing without its highest-paid (and perhaps, best) player in Stephon Tuitt.
A mixed bag in some ways, because the group has to be held somewhat accountable for the Lions amassing so many passing yards (423 for Stafford) and being able to move the ball so freely between the 20s. There wasn't enough pressure put on Stafford by the outside ‘backers, and the group on whole deserves some of the blame for tight end Eric Ebron getting open so often. But … the linebackers also deserve kudos for their play deep in their own territory. While there were some missed tackles, there also were some outstanding ones.
It's certainly not a coincidence that this unit had its worst performance so far this season when facing what has been the best quarterback it has faced so far this season. But there were, quite frankly, way too many big plays – oftentimes, appearing to happen as a result of miscommunication or blown coverages. Detroit had eight passing plays of at least 23 yards; the Steelers entered having allowed only 13 such plays (the fewest in the NFL) in seven games. That all said, the secondary did make some plays deep in its own territory, and it should get some credit for some of Ebron's drops. As coach Mike Tomlin would say, “It was a winning effort.”
Special teams: B+
Chris Boswell made two mid-range field goals and boomed touchbacks on four of five kickoffs. Jordan Berry booted three punts inside the 20 (albeit one was returned outside of it) and the other punt was 53 yards. Two 10-plus-yard punt returns is the lone slight blemish today, but that's just nitpicking.
The Steelers largely avoided significantly-damaging penalties, and they this week overcame yet another off-field distraction to win on the road against a potential playoff team. Strategically, there were some cute wrinkles on both offense (re: Roosevelt Nix lined up as a wide receiver) and defense (re: three safeties in the game at once). The apparent blown coverages, at times, are a concern.
A strange game in that the Steelers emerge with an impressive win (on the road against a better-than-average opponent) and had some high highs (Smith-Schuster's 97-yard touchdown, two goal-line stands) but also some low lows (the aforementioned big passing plays allowed, bad interception thrown and poor defense between the 20s). But the end result is what it is, and the Steelers are sitting about as pretty as can be reasonably expected heading into their bye, which conveniently falls right at the season's midway point.