It was a stressful game for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15, as the team struggled tremendously in the first half and then rallied to beat the dominant Denver Broncos at Heinz Field. Sometimes the team floundered, while other times they played brilliantly.
Let's take a look at how each unit graded out for their performance in Week 15 en route to their 34-27 win.
Ben Roethlisberger had 40 completions for 380 yards and three touchdowns against one of the most feared defenses in the NFL. His stats also included two interceptions.He had one interception that was described by Phil Simms as the "baddest" decision. Whether or not it is the "baddest" or the "worstest," one thing is for sure: Big Ben cannot make those types of mistakes if he wants to lead the team to a Super Bowl.
Receivers and Tight Ends: A
Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton stood up against the most feared pass defense in the entire league and came out on top. Brown had 189 yards and two touchdowns, while Bryant had 10 catches (some of which were pretty impressive) and 87 yards. Wheaton had 62 yards and a touchdown. Health Miller caught three passes for 12 yards. Running back DeAngelo Williams had 30 yards off of five catches.
Offensive Line: C-
Cody Wallace struggled in Sunday's game, missing several blocks and getting flagged after a late hit in the first quarter. If he is going to get a 15 yard penalty it needs to be for an awesome celebration after the game is already a sure victory. The rest of the line did not stand up as well against the Denver defense as they had against other teams, but that is to be expected.
Running Backs: C-
DeAngelo Williams is a talented back, but the Denver defense was too much for him. With the offensive line overwhelmed as well, Williams had only 26 yards on 14 carries. His longest run was five yards. Williams did have a touchdown and had several helpful catches. Overall, though, it just wasn't his day.
Defensive Line: B
A decent day for the defensive line. Cam Heyward had a sack while Stephon Tuitt had five tackles. The line was able to put some pressure on Osweiler, but he was able to escape too often. The unit also had trouble maintaining gap integrity.
Ryan Shazier had a phenomenal, momentum-changing interception, one of the best plays of the game. The unit annoyed the quarterback when it should have been able to terrorize him, knocking him to the ground and preventing him from looking like the next coming of Tom Brady in the first half. The linebackers were not entirely responsible, but the entire defense shares the blame for the team's poor pass defense.
Defensive Backs: B
Some of the defensive backs performed well. Brandon "Finally On the Field" Boykin had a very strong game, while Will Allen had a forced fumble and a few other dynamic plays. Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell played poorly. The unit as a whole had a dismal first half but was able to make adjustments at halftime and prevent the Broncos from scoring in the third and fourth quarters.
Where did this grade come from? Making adjustments at half time deserves some points. These aren't "most improved" points. This is simply credit for regrouping, identifying weaknesses, and ultimately making Osweiler look more like a Tebow than an Elway.
Special Teams: B
Jordan Berry had six punts, four of which were inside of the 20-yard line. Special Teams coverage seemed better today, limiting the Broncos yardage on both punt returns and kickoff returns. Chris Boswell was 2/2 on field goals and 4/4 on extra points. All Hail Boswell! Shamarko Thomas had another above-the-head problem on Sunday, failing to down the ball properly, a lapse that almost cost the team a touchdown. Had Thomas not been out of bounds (by accident) and had the Denver team not entered the field of play prematurely, that touchdown would have counted, and the outcome of the game would have been very different.
A win is a win, but there is enough talent in the league that the Steelers cannot afford to make dumb mistakes (Roethlisberger, I'm looking at you. Also, Marty, that dropped pass wasn't cool). Teams can still be good despite pre-snap penalties, personal fouls, and errors of distraction, but they cannot be truly elite. If the Steelers can play clean, smart (that does NOT mean overly conservative) football in the last two weeks, that would bode well for postseason success.