The final score is what matters most, and the Steelers aced that with a decisive 43-18 win over the San Francisco 49ers at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.
While everyone on the team was a winner-- yes, even the guys who didn't play can claim a victory-- not all units played equally well.
Ben Roethlisberger had a stupendous game on Sunday. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 369 yards. He also had three touchdowns and two successful two-point conversions. Perhaps more importantly, Big Ben played smart football, getting rid of the ball in a timely fashion and making sure his throws were accurate.
Receivers and Tight Ends: A
Targeted 11 times, Antonio Brown had nine catches for nearly 200 yards and a touchdown. Darrius Heyward-Bey redeemed himself after last week's oops-I'm-not-in-bounds mistake against the New England Patriots which cost the Steelers a touchdown. DHB tallied 77 yards and a TD on four completions. The third touchdown went to tight end Heath Miller, who also had a two-point conversion. Receiver Marcus Wheaton didn't score any touchdowns, but still played reliably and consistently in Sunday's matchup.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line is good enough. There's room for improvement, though, which is largely a function of the absence of Maurkice Pouncey due to his leg injury. The OL provided Ben with a rather sturdy pocket throughout the game, but was penalized twice during the team's first drive. Inexcusable but not as many penalties as in their season opener against the New England Patriots. Also problematic was the run-blocking, as the offensive line could have done a better job of blocking for DeAngelo Williams.
Running Backs: B+
Le'Veon Bell was serving the second and final game of his suspension on Sunday, so it was up to DeAngelo Williams once again to fill the void. Williams couldn't match his performance against the Patriots, but that's attributable to some deficiencies in the OL. Still, he managed to tally 77 yards on twenty carries. He also had three touchdowns.
An A+ level performance will involve some combination of DeAngelo Williams, who currently has the second-highest total in the entire NFL in rushing yards at 204, and Le'Veon Bell, combined with an OL that ups its game when it comes to run-blocking. I can't wait.
Defensive Line: A-
The defensive line had a very good game, but going up against the disastrous 49ers offense, it wasn't too hard for them to impress. Much-feared 49ers running back Carlos Hyde was held to 43 yards and both Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt were credited with sacks. Proficiency up front also helped other members of the Steelers' defense to appear more competent and proficient than in Week 1.
It was a great day for the linebackers all around. In the preseason and last week, some of the linebackers appeared to have trouble tacking effectively, instead making contact and then letting the opposing player just keep on running. This week, Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree, Lawrence Timmons, and Ryan Shazier were much more effective in stopping their opponents. Dupree, who was criticized for appearing slow during the preseason, had a sack, while Moats, who had shown a rather suspect tackling style during the preseason, was credited with half of a sack.
Shazier had fifteen tackles and a sack along with a forced fumble and fumble recovery. He was all over the field showing preternatural speed and uncanny intuition.
Defensive Backs: B-
If we gave out "most improved" awards, the defensive backs would definitely deserve a certificate, ribbon, or maybe even a medal. Last week, the DBs were completely out of sync and made some nonsensical choices, the worst of which was, "Hey guys (motioning at other members of the secondary) get away from Gronkowski. He's not worth covering." Other times it seemed that they weren't even executing the same defensive play. Former backup quarterback and Steelers' analyst Charlie Batch mentioned going into the game that it would be important for the defensive backs to all be on the same page. But even if they're on the wrong page, at least they needed to be coordinated and unified in their efforts.
That came to pass on Sunday. While they certainly weren't perfect, they were definitely more effective and had more success limiting the number of high-yardage plays. Still, there were a few reminders that this secondary is a unit in transition. For example, receiver Torrey Smith had a 75-yard touchdown.
Special recognition to Antwon Blake. He looked fast, powerful and smart. A great combination of traits.
Special Teams: C-
Jordan Berry averaged 47.3 yards on punts, which numbered only three because the Steelers' offense was so effective. Kick coverage looked a lot better and Antonio Brown had a punt return for just over 15 yards. Josh Scobee missed two field goals last week and ended up missing an extra point this week. Missed extra points are more common this year than last due to the change in the PAT rules. But there have only been nine missed extra points so far this season in the league. Granted, there were only eight in the entirety of last season but, still, Scobee is one of few placekickers who has missed what should be a freebie extra point. On the bright side, his ineptitude is a good motivator for the Steelers to go for two points more often following a touchdown.
Overall Grade: A