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Cam Heyward back on top of the Steelers defensive Pro Football Focus grades for Week 17

In the grades provided by PFF, players making splash plays topped the Steelers list on defense.

NFL: DEC 26 Steelers at Chiefs Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a big night at Heinz Field on Monday night. Several weaknesses the Steelers have experienced this season showed up as strengths as the ground game carried the offense and the defense held the Browns in check. Not only did the running game put up 190 yards, the Steelers kept the Browns potent rushing attack under the century mark while notching nine sacks.

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 17 performance. These scores are just from Sunday’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. Next 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 71 snaps on defense in Week 17.


Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

DT Cam Heyward: 89.3 (52 snaps)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 87.8 (55 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 84.5 (56 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 83.1 (56 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 70.0 (16 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

CB Joe Haden: 59.7 (69 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 56.9 (20 snaps)
ILB Marcus Allen: 54.9 (37 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 42.2 (6 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 34.9 (45 snaps)


Defensive Front Seven

DT Cam Heyward: 89.3 (52 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 84.5 (56 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 83.1 (56 snaps)
OLB Derrek Tuszka: 68.5 (16 snaps)
DT Carlos Davis: 63.3 (9 snaps)
DT Montravius Adams: 61.5 (28 snaps)
OLB Taco Charlton: 61.2 (15 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 56.9 (20 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 34.9 (45 snaps)

Having both Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt on top of the list is a good sign for the Steelers defense. When superstars are playing at a superstar level, it just makes everything better. It was actually Heyward (86.2) who had a better pass rush score than Watt (82.8). Put Alex Highsmith right behind them in the overall scores and the Steelers defensive front had a great performance. Highsmith’s stand-out score was 86.7 in run defense. Getting the start opposite of Cam Heyward, Isaiahh Loudermilk saw a low grade as he only had a 31.5 score when it came to run defense.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Ulysees Gilbert III: 68.4 (27 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 65.7 (62 snaps)
ILB Marcus Allen: 54.9 (37 snaps)

Although there wasn’t any off-the-charts score for this position group, the fact that they weren’t scoring in the 40s really helped out the defense. But as Coach Tomlin said in his press conference on Tuesday, it was the efforts of the guys in front of them that really set them up to have more success.

Defensive Backs

CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 87.8 (55 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 70.0 (16 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 66.3 (70 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 64.2 (71 snap)
S Terrell Edmunds: 63.9 (71 snaps)
CB Joe Haden: 59.7 (69 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 42.2 (6 snaps)

Ahkello Witherspoon, who led all Steelers defensive scores the previous week, actually scored higher this week but was just outdone by Cameron Heyward. Witherspoon‘s 89.0 coverage score was eighth best in the NFL in Week 17. Beyond Witherspoon, it was solid performances from the majority of the group. It just so happened this week, a score under 60.0 landed a defender in the bottom five for the team.


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.