Grading the Steelers' 20-17 victory in Indianapolis
In a season in which Ben Roethlisberger has appeared a little bit “off,” there were more signs Sunday — none moreso than on the second play of the game (it was an interception). After that, Roethlisberger settled in and was (mostly) “above the line.” His zinger to Martavis Bryant on the two-point conversion was surgical. He was efficient and avoided mistakes (save from dropping a first-half shotgun snap). His passer rating after the interception was 110.0. That, easily, is good enough.
Antonio Brown had a short-armed drop. Nine of Le'Veon Bell's 26 carries went for 1 yard or less and only one went for more than 9 yards. The three tight ends combined for two catches (albeit one was a touchdown). But Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster each contributed a pair of impact plays, and so did Brown during the final minute (his 32-yard catch-and-run put the Steelers into range for the winning field goal). Even Eli Rogers had a clutch moment — a 2-yard shovel pass on 3rd-and-2 in the final minutes.
Offensive line: C
Roethlisberger was sacked for the first time in three games, and he was hit three times. Bell's stats weren't inspiring. And this was against a bad team. Overall, it wasn't an excessively poor effort, but the members of the unit will tell you they expect better, particularly in having the full starting five together for a full game for only the second time this season.
Defensive line: A
Stephon Tuitt made his return to action count. He had three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits, including his first sack. He also had a sack negated by penalty. Cameron Heyward likewise hit Jacoby Brissett twice. The Steelers used a heavier d-line rotation than they have in the past when those two were healthy, an indication of the trust Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton built while filling in. The Colts averaged just 2.4 yards on their 29 carries.
Missed tackles in the first half seemed like a distant memory by the time this game was over because of the way the defense dominated the final five possessions. The Colts managed just 19 net yards, two first downs and no points in that span. Vince Williams had a sack, and Ryan Shazier had four tackles, a pass break-up and an interception in the second half alone. Bud Dupree had a sack late in the first half.
Getting burned for 60-plus-yard touchdown passes twice in one game doesn't allow for a satisfactory evaluation — no matter how well most of the second half went or even if two starters (Joe Haden and Mike Mitchell) leaving because of injury. But while Brissett's passer rating sat at a sparkling 154.8 after his second touchdown pass in the opening moments of the second half, it was 2.8 the rest of the game. The Steelers held him to 3 of 9 passing for 20 yards and an interception with no touchdowns from that point on.
Special teams: B-
Another tough one to grade because it's inexcusable to miss a 37-yard field goal attempt (particularly in the fourth quarter of a tie game), and it's equally unacceptable to have an extra-point attempt blocked. Aside from that, the Steelers had a strong special-teams outing, including Jesse James' hustling tackle after that blocked extra point. Jordan Berry had perhaps his best game as a Steeler, netting 46.7 yards on six punts, including two downed inside the 12. Also, all four of Boswell's kickoffs were touchbacks.
Mike Tomlin doled out his punishment to Bryant but then welcomed him back with open arms. Though he must be held accountable for the Steelers appearing so flat in their post-bye outing, he deserves lauds for them playing so well in the second half The defensive game plan was stellar in the second half, especially considering two starters were out.
The first 33 minutes of game time, the Steelers would be lucky to earn a “D.” But for the final 27 minutes, it'd be hard not to give them an “A” (the two special teams gaffes notwithstanding). The Colts are not a good team, particularly without franchise QB Andrew Luck. But a 14-point comeback on the road is commendable, regardless of the circumstances — particularly when the defense was as dominant as it was.