Grading the Steelers in their 31-28 win over Packers
Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, albeit one wasn't entirely his fault. His late-game magic returned when he guided another winning drive. His connection with Antonio Brown never ceases to amaze — and Ben also made some crisp throws on plays to Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers. He had just 12 incompletions among 45 throws — and at least a third of them were drops. All in all, not bad.
The Steelers unveiled their Hall of Honor on Sunday — and then Brown went out and showed why he will some day be inducted. A remarkable performance in just about every way (two touchdowns, 10 catches overall on 12 targets, and one ridiculous toe-drag to help set up the winning field goal). Other than Brown, it was a mixed bag with a handful of drops but also some clutch catches. Le'Veon Bell accumulated 193 yards from scrimmage — but none of his touches went for more than 15 yards. He hasn't had a 15-plus-yard carry over his past five games covering more than 125 carries.
Offensive line: A-
Roethlisberger was sacked once and hit just one other time. The running game didn't break the big play — but it also avoided negative plays. Just two of Bell's 20 carries netted fewer than 2 yards; just one fewer than 1 yard. Chris Hubbard again played a clean game filling in at right tackle, and Jerald Hawkins made his NFL debut as an extra tight end. The offensive line was flagged just once (a Maurkice Pouncey holding penalty).
Defensive line: A
The chorus calling for Cam Heyward to make the Pro Bowl just got louder. He had two more sacks Sunday, and he nearly got another. L.T. Walton added another sack in limited action, and Stephon Tuitt had a strip sack negated by penalty in addition to a tackle for loss in the run game. The Packers averaged just 3.1 yards per carry — and eight of their carries netted 1 yard or fewer.
There were some missed tackles again, and that should be alarming. But T.J. Watt made some plays (a sack, a pass defense, another pass that had its path altered by the threat of a batted-down), and Ryan Shazier was customarily all over the field. What might be most impressive about this unit is how it is excelling in pass coverage. Still, the linebackers must share in the culpability of the big plays against this defense.
One big play is an isolated incident, two in one game raises eyebrows, and three in two games is alarming. But now that the Steelers have allowed no fewer than five 50-plus-yard touchdown passes against (plus another 39-yarder Sunday) over the past three games? That's a troubling trend, to say the least. True, there wasn't much else allowed (at least until the fourth quarter) — but against a backup quarterback who'd entered struggling mightily, it overall was a below-the-line effort.
Special teams: A
Chris Boswell's walk-off, career-long 53-yarder won the day. Martavis Bryant's surprise role as kick returner began it — giving the Steelers a season-long 38-yard return. Other than that, the Steelers return game was ordinary, as were Boswell's kickoffs. Jordan Berry's three punts all landed inside the 20, including two inside the 10 (the third, at a critical time, was a weak one that only made it 28 yards to the 18, though). Again, though, Boswell's kick overshadows all.
People will complain about the defensive scheme that allowed too many big-yardage plays or the play calling that couldn't produce many. But Keith Butler's mixing and disguising of coverages and blitzes was smooth, and the offense didn't really have trouble moving the ball (no three-and-outs, just three punts in 11 drives). Mike Tomlin was bold in speaking to NBC and addressing looking forward to playing the Patriots. That could have backfired and made him look silly. But in the end, it did not.
Six consecutive wins and leading the AFC, it feels like nitpicking to complain. But this was a two-touchdown favorite that twice needed to come from behind and later blew a lead. The favorite punching bag of Steelers fans (the secondary) again appears to be leaky, and it needs fixed before the postseason (and before the Week 15 game against New England). But the Steelers still keep stacking wins, and there's nothing wrong with that.