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Steelers defensive Pro Football Focus grades for Week 14 highlight depth issues at inside linebacker

In the grades provided by PFF, two inside linebackers getting their first defensive snaps of 2021 appeared to struggle.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers showed their “Jekyll and Hyde” nature in 2021 in one game in prime time on a short week. Unfortunately it was the Steelers struggles on both side of the ball which appeared for 2/3 of the game with their strong performance only coming out the final third of the game. The offense couldn’t sustain drives and the defense couldn’t get off the field as they trailed 29-0 until the end of the third quarter. A late rally made the outcome in doubt until the final seconds, but it proved to be too much for both sides of the ball to overcome in order to complete the comeback.

But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for their Week 14 performance. These scores are just from Thursday’s game and not for the entire season. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are each week.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. First up is the defense. Included will be all the players who played at least one snap and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 70 snaps on defense in Week 14.


Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

S Miles Killebrew: 90.5 (6 snaps)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 89.5 (61 snaps)
DT Cam Heyward: 83.8 (63 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 73.4 (31 snaps)
DT Montravious Adams: 72.0 (40 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

ILB Buddy Johnson: 38.6 (6 snaps)
ILB Marcus Allen: 35.8 (9 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 34.0 (70 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 32.5 (18 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 30.6 (9 snaps)


Defensive Front Seven

DT Cam Heyward: 83.8 (63 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 73.4 (31 snaps)
DT Montravious Adams: 72.0 (40 snaps)
OLB Taco Charlton: 71.6 (37 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 55.6 (25 snaps)
OLB Derrek Tuszka: 53.3 (52 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 52.1 (50 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 39.5 (15 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 32.5 (18 snaps)

As usual, it was no surprise to see Cam Heyward at the top of this position group as he continues to pour his heart and soul out for the Steelers on the field. Seeing T.J. Watt scored so low before he exited the game might cause one to pause and ask at one point was he injured before he left. While Montravius Adams continues to be a pleasant addition for his second-straight game, Isaiahh Loudermilk has been consistently inconsistent in his rookie season. It should also be noticed that Taco Charlton had the second-highest pass rushing score of 85.9 for the game.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Devin Bush: 65.7 (58 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 58.1 (58 snaps)
ILB Buddy Johnson: 38.6 (6 snaps)
ILB Marcus Allen: 35.8 (9 snaps)

There is a lot to glean from this position group. Devin Bush had a second-highest score of the season and once again puts up high scores in tackling with an 82.2 this week. Bush also had an improved score with an 80.1 coverage score. While many Steelers fans have been shouting for him to be benched, you must look at what is available as a replacement. Both Buddy Johnson and Marcus Allen saw their first snaps on defense this season and both landed with poor scores for the game. As for Joe Schobert, what helped his score was the top pass rushing grade of 90.4 for the game.

Defensive Backs

S Miles Killebrew: 90.5 (6 snaps)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 89.5 (61 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 67.4 (70 snap)
S Tre Norwood: 65.0 (9 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 63.3 (68 snaps)
CB Arthur Maulet: 47.5 (15 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 34.0 (70 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 30.6 (9 snaps)

Miles Killebrew topped the team with his score, but only six snaps might be with tells the story. Ahkello Witherspoon had an even better game according to PFF than he did in his previous start with a 90.5 coverage grade and two interceptions. It is a welcomed sight to see Witherspoon coming through, especially with Cameron Sutton and Justin Layne with the bottom scores for the team. Minkah Fitzpatrick and his quality tackling score of 82.2 saw him just outside of the top five for the defense.


So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.