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Report Card: Grading the Steelers’ 26-14 Week 17 victory over the Browns

Taking a look at who performed well, and who didn’t, after the Steelers’ 26-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Steelers did it— they went out and won one for big Ben Roethlisberger. The offensive line, defense, and perhaps Najee Harris had their best games of the year and pulled the Steelers to victory. Even though Roethlisberger was the story of the evening, performances by Harris, T.J. Watt, Derek Watt, Cam Heyward, Alex Highsmith, Montravius Adams, and Ahkello Witherspoon were so impressive they could all be considered candidates for players of the week. This was a perfect send off game for Roethlisberger, if it was truly is his final game in Pittsburgh. Below are the grades for everyone’s efforts in this memorable victory.

Offense

Just to get it out-of-the-way, despite it being his day Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t very good. But on a positive note most everyone else balled out. The line was outstanding pretty much wire-to-wire keeping Big Ben upright for most of the evening. They also sprung Najee Harris on a number of huge carries including his new career long, and helping him break Franco Harris‘ rookie rushing record.

Speaking of Najee Harris, he was also excellent breaking tackles and issuing probably the nicest stiff arm we’ve seen since Vance McDonald crushed Chris Conte in Tampa Bay a few years ago. Najee Harris is breaking Steelers records left and right and doing it with an offensive line that wasn’t great for most of the year. With more help, this kid will be a superstar in the league.

The receivers and tight ends really didn’t do anything special today. Some of that is to blame on Ben Roethlisberger and some of it is on the play calling as well, but both Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson dropped a lot of passes they really should have caught. This problem needs to be figured out by this group ASAP.

Final Grade: B


Defense

First and foremost, T.J. Watt, take a bow. Perhaps one of the greatest games by a defensive player in NFL history, Watt totaled four sacks, three tackles for loss, and a pair of batted passes which is just mind-boggling stuff. He easily could have broken Michael Strahan‘s record for sacks in a season this game had he not come off the field/not been held as much as he was throughout the evening. Watt easily cemented his first-ever Defensive Player of the Year award in this game. Now with 21.5 sacks on the season, the only question remaining is whether or not he can break the record on his own in Baltimore next week.

The rest of the defense was also phenomenal on this day totaling nine sacks, and two interceptions. It was a complete effort by the defense. Sure, Kevin Stefanski was a damn fool not giving the ball to Nick Chubb more often, and that definitely helped the home team win. But the defensive front dominated Cleveland’s flashy offensive line and won the Steelers the game.

Both Ahkello Witherspoon and Montravius Adams need some recognition here. In Witherspoon‘s case he was seen as a terrible trade but now has led the Steelers in interceptions for this season and made countless other plays in such little playing time, he is a ‘must bring back’ player for the Steelers this offseason. As for Montravius Adams, what a find to pluck him off of the Saints’ practice squad. He dominated the Browns point of attack, slowed down the run game, and held Baker Mayfield in the pocket which in turn helped T.J. Watt collect those four sacks. Great pick ups, and key contributors today.

Final Grade: A++


Special Teams

Both Chris Boswell and Corliss Waitman were money on this day. Boswell was clearly perfect kicking field goals and extra points, including a 50 yarder. As for Waitman, it was the best punting day the Steelers have had in some time. The punter has definitely earned himself a shot to compete with Pressley Harvin III next offseason.

But I also wanted to highlight Derek Watt, who was a special teams monster once again. He might just be the best kick coverage guy in the NFL and he has made the Steelers better. Not only that but he was an impact player on offense, springing Najee Harris for multiple runs as well as picking up a first down himself. Somehow, to me, he has lived up to his contract and absolutely needs to be back next year.

Final Grade: A


Overall

On what is likely Ben Roethlisberger‘s final game within the friendly confines of Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers had their best game of the 2021 season. Sure, Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t great, he even replicated the 123 passing yards he had in Super Bowl XL (one of the worst quarterbacked Super Bowls in NFL history). But it didn’t matter as today was a celebration of him and a celebration of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Next year will be weird without ‘Seven’ in the pocket, and we can only hope the next one will be as good as what we have received from Roethlisberger over these 18 seasons. This was an amazing game and one I know I will remember it forever.

Thank you Ben Roethlisberger, you will live on with this team and city forever.

Final Grade: A


But what do you think? Do you agree with these grades? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.