Winning and losing are binary. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a chance to beat the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals, and lost in an extremely disappointing game at Heinz Field. Some position groups played extremely well, while others were mediocre. Let's see how the team graded out.
It was fantastic to have Ben Roethlisberger back at the helm, and for part of the game he appeared to be back in full force. In the first quarter, he had one touchdown, which ended up being his only one of the game. By the time the game drew to a close, Roethlisberger had completed 28 of 45 attempts for 262 yards. His stats also included three costly interceptions that cost the Steelers the game.
Receivers and Tight Ends: B
Heath Miller ended up being Big Ben's favorite target on Sunday with 10 receptions for 105 yards. Antonio Brown probably had high expectations for Roethlisberger's first game back, but still only ended up with 6 completions for 47 yards. Martavis Bryant had similar stats with 4 receptions for 49 yards, and the game's lone touchdown. Brown and Bryant both failed to catch catchable passes, mistakes that are inexcusable for athletes of their stature.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line could not have done much better, especially considering they are missing both Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum. The unit was much improved over previous weeks, providing both ample protection for their quarterback and decent run blocking. The times Roethlisberger found himself under pressure, it was more a function of the time he took to come up with a play, and less a function of the offensive line. At times, though, Cody Wallace and Alejandro Villanueva made costly mistakes that would have been more catastrophic had a slower-thinking quarterback been at the helm.
Penalties also tainted the unit's performance.
Running Backs: B+
Le'Veon Bell's devastating injury cast a shadow over the team's performance on the ground. After all, it is hard to assign a grade when one of the team's best players was carted off of the field with an injury that is likely to be season ending.
Still, even without Bell for most of the game, the Steelers run game was top-notch. On 19 carries, the running backs had 116 yards, an impressive 6.1 yards per attempt. The highlight of the game for this unit was DeAngelo Williams' 55-yard gain. Outside of that effort, Williams had eight carries for 16 yards, putting his total at 9 carries for 71 yards. Before his injury, Bell had 10 carries for 45 yards.
Defensive Line: A-
Stephon Tuitt is still out with injury, but the defensive line performed well in his absence. Steve McClendon and Cam Heyward had very strong games, putting pressure on Andy Dalton and stepping up with renewed aggression and drive when the offense started to collapse later in the game. Cam Heyward also blocked a field goal, and the combination of Dan McCullers and Steve McClendon resulted in a much-improved run defense. The defensive line was also a key contributor to the three sacks and two interceptions from Andy Dalton.
Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier terrorized the Cincinnati offense on Sunday, contributing to an effort that held the on-fire offense to only 16 points. Shazier had six tackles, including two for losses, while Timmons had four tackles and one pass defensed. Timmons already has five passes defensed on the season, a number he has matched only in 2010 when he tallied nine.
A weakness, the defense, particularly the linebackers, had trouble stopping AJ Green who was the frequent recipient of quick, short passes that caught the defense off guard time after time.
Defensive Backs: A-
For a unit that was the source of such angst and worry in the off season, the Steelers secondary is ending being an asset, not the liability that was expected. On Sunday, Antwon Blake redeemed himself after several shoddy games, showing that he is capable of being a true game-changer. Unlike previous weeks, Blake was able to stop plays on first contact, and he even came away with a momentum-generating interception.
Mike Mitchell also had a dynamic game that included an interception and several bone-crushing tackles. His efforts were tainted by an avoidable 15-yard penalty for taunting.
Robert Golden had a strong game, along with Ross Cockrell and William Gay. While not perfect, the secondary was effective. Considering the debacle from Week 1, these results are a small miracle.
Special Teams: C
Special teams were a mixed bag featuring some incredibly poor blocking, decent punting, and questionable decisions by Dri Archer. Still, Archer is one of the best kick returner in the league. His 26.7 yard average is fifth best in the entire NFL. Archer has room for improvement, but there are other factors involved in him executing to perfection. For example, Archer should be able to count on support from the other special teams guys out on the field. Time and time again, special teams appeared confused and inept, unable to work together for a common goal.
Jordan Berry had plenty of action, punting six times. He was effective most of the time, as he avoided gifting awesome field position to the opponent as had happened in previous games. Often ignored in discussions of special teams: Greg Warren. The Steelers long snapper has been consistent, never a weak link.