clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pro Football Focus’ grades along the front seven will have to be duplicated for the Steelers vs. Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense will have their hands full with the Patriots’ offense, and a lot of that comes down to the defensive front.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When the Pittsburgh Steelers face the New England Patriots in Week 14 at Heinz Field, the defense will have to do their jobs in slowing down Tom Brady and company. One way of doing this is to be able to get pressure without blitzing. This responsibility falls on the defensive front, players like: T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree and others.

If you can get to the quarterback, even just to move him off his spot, it will go a long way in helping the secondary do their jobs. This is the age old comparison of pass rushing equating to good coverage, and vice versa.

While the Steelers have moved on to Patriots prep, Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) grades for their Week 14 game vs. the Ravens certainly are interesting when it comes to the defensive front. Two players stood out to PFF among the others, and that is rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt. While Cameron Heyward and Bud Dupree had quiet games, the front seven will have to step up in a big way this Sunday at Heinz Field.

Check out the top graded players from Week 14, per PFF:


Edge T.J. Watt, 86.2 overall grade

TE Vance McDonald, 84.5 overall grade

DI Stephon Tuitt, 83.4 overall grade

RB Le’Veon Bell, 82.3 overall grade

WR Antonio Brown, 80.3 overall grade



Despite not finding the end zone for the first time in a month, Brown had highly productive game, with a season-high 213 receiving yards on 11 catches. He did, however, fumble the ball once and while it was fortunate for him that the ball ended up out of bounds, it did impact his grade.


The Steelers didn’t run the ball much, but Bell did his best to make the most of his runs despite a below-average night from the offensive line. He forced three missed tackles as a runner and found the end zone twice. In addition, he caught nine passes on 10 targets for 77 yards and a third touchdown.


It was Watt’s sack-fumble on the Ravens’ Joe Flacco which ended the game but he had been productive up to that point rushing the passer. Watt finished with a career high six total pressures and three stops in the run game. He’s had a productive rookie year for the Steelers, tallying 28 total pressures and notching 25 stops.


The fourth-year player out of Notre Dame has been an integral part of the Steelers defense and occasionally gets overlooked with the likes of Cameron Heyward on the defensive front. Tuitt has been a consistently good pass-rusher since entering the league and he added six more pressures Sunday, giving him 33 total on the season.


Again, the importance of Tuitt, Watt, Heyward and Hargrave cannot be understated in the upcoming matchup. Even against the Ravens, Joe Flacco was able to diagnose and adjust to Mike Hilton and safety blitzes, and the hot reads were wide open for easy gains. Keith Butler cannot be this predictable, but if the team isn’t getting pressure with their front, it is a moot point.

The Miami Dolphins gave a very good blueprint for slowing down the Patriots’ offense, and it isn’t complicated. Get pressure with your defensive front, tackle extremely well and create predictable situations by stopping the run.

The blueprint may be easy, but read the last paragraph again and think back to the last three games for the Steelers defense and it is anything but easy.