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Steelers Report Card: Grading Pittsburgh’s offense and defense in the third quarter of 2018

BTSC grades the Steelers’ offense in games nine through twelve of 2018.

Los Angeles Chargers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The first quarter of the Steelers’ 2018 season was rough, the second saw them go 4-0 to lift their record to 5-2-1. The third quarter started off perfect, but then two straight losses turned the tables 180 degrees. With that, I am tasked to break out the red pen and evaluate the season’s third quarter, I no longer do it from the penthouse, but somewhere back near the edge.

As I’ve stated all along, I’m not a football coach or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. Each week of the 2018 exhibition and regular season, I’ve graded the efforts of the Black-and-gold via “the eye test”. Grading games is an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless task. While the coaches’ grades, of course, are what count the most, the media and fans can’t help but evaluate as well. So you, the reader, get to vote as well. You even get to grade the grader in the comments section.

So let’s take a look at BTSC’s perceptions of the 2018 season’s third quarter:

Offense

The Steelers’ offense is still ranked fourth in the league with 410.75 ypg and 28.8 points per game (ppg) average through twelve contests. In 2017, they scored at a rate of 26.4 ppg. Ben Roethlisberger remains the league’s passing yards leader (3,945 yards), but he is also second in the NFL with 13 interceptions thrown. In Quarter 3, Ben has thrown six of those picks and the late one against Denver sealed the loss. He’s getting good receiver play and has looked brilliant at junctures, but his bad balls at the wrong time are disconcerting.

Ben’s offensive line has not been the issue. They are back to resembling the high-caliber unit of past years and are playing like an elite squad. Injuries have hampered Marcus Gilbert, but Matt Feiler and Chuks Okorafor have filled in tremendously at RT. The remaining four of Ramon Foster, Dave DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva and Maurkice Pouncey have been dominating oncoming defenders, protecting Ben (fourth with a mere 1.4 sacks allowed in 2018). and opening gaping holes for James Conner. Mike Munchak’s guys are close to being the class of the league.

James Conner’s third quarter of the season has seen his status as an elite back in the league slip. Though his average carries have dramatically decreased, going from 22.0 in Q2 to 12.5 in Q3. With eleven rushing TDs and another on a reception. No. 30’s 909 rushing yards on the ground ranks him fifth, but he has had crucial fumbles and his ankle sprain has him out for maybe a couple of games. Conner has done well, but he’s no longer outplaying his predecessor.

Antonio Brown is not having the receptions (81-9th) and yardage (1,028-11th) season that he’s accustomed to, but his twelve receiving TDs lead the NFL and is only one behind his career high in 2014. Double-teaming AB has forced balls to go in other directions, mostly to JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu (7th in the league) leads the team with 83 catches for 1,104 yards (8th). This gives the Steelers two elite WR1’s. The disconnect between Ben and AB has lessened with No. 84 seemingly accepting that Ben can’t continue to force the ball into him. But in Q3, Ben has seemed to have started that practice up again. The deep threat that Martavis Bryant provided hasn’t yet been replicated, as Justin Hunter and James Washington haven’t seized the WR3 role. Ryan Switzer has emerged in that role.

The TE duo of Jesse James (386 yards on 27 catches) and Vance McDonald (472 yards on 40 catches) has been very solid. As a unit, they’ve got a combined 67 grabs for 858 yards. But they haven’t been as potent in Q3, Vanimal is only 14 catches for 126 yards, while Jesse registered only 8 for 103.

Overall Offense Grade: C

The offense has failed to close out games. They get a lead and sit on it. They had a great game to start Q3 by thoroughly dominating Carolina, but that was their only complete game. The offense needs to play four quarters of complete football to not squander their division lead and the playoffs altogether.

Poll

What overall grade would you give the Steelers offense for Q3 of 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (1 vote)
  • 29%
    B
    (38 votes)
  • 42%
    C
    (56 votes)
  • 22%
    D
    (29 votes)
  • 5%
    F
    (7 votes)
131 votes total Vote Now

Offensive Valedictorian: Antonio Brown

Defense

In the first quarter of the 2018 season, the Steelers’ defense best ranking was 22nd. It was one of the worst starts on defense ever in the Steel City. Now at the season’s three-quarter point, vast improvement has been observed. After Q2, The Steelers’ defense was ranked 12th in the league in total yards allowed (347.9 ypg). After Q3, Keith Butler’s crew is 6th by allowing thirty yards less per game. The Q2 pass defense ranked 21st against the pass (257.6 pypg) and 8th against the run (110.4 rypg).

The bright spots on defense continue to be T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Mike Hilton, Vince Williams and Joe Haden. Javon Hargrave has joined those five as a standout. Bud Dupree, L.J. Fort and Terrell Edmunds are improving. Injuries to Morgan Burnett and Stephon Tuitt have greatly hampered this team. The Steeler D is much better with them in the lineup. However, they are much better with Artie Burns out of it.

Overall Defense Grade: C-

Even tough the rankings have mostly improved, the Steelers rush defense struggled against Leonard Fournette, Philip Lindsay and Justin Jackson in the past three games. The pass defense is regressing as well. Even though the defense had dominated the Panthersvand played well for two quarters a game in the past three, The defense has failed to protect leads in the past two contests. This has to improve or the Steelers could find themselves in peril.

Poll

What overall grade would you assign the Steelers defense for Q3 of 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (1 vote)
  • 8%
    B
    (11 votes)
  • 34%
    C
    (44 votes)
  • 46%
    D
    (58 votes)
  • 9%
    F
    (12 votes)
126 votes total Vote Now

Defensive Valedictorian: T.J. Watt