The Pittsburgh Steelers, with the help of the Buffalo Bills, secured a playoff spot by beating the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 in a convincing score of 28-12. At times it seemed the Steelers might repeat their dismal performance against the Baltimore Ravens, losing to a terrible team. Instead, they came out with a win.
Let's take a look at how the team graded out by position.
Ben Roethlisberger did much better than last week, but still made some dumb mistakes, including two interceptions. One of the interceptions appeared to be the fault of Martavis Bryant who ran the wrong route. There will be no room for those kinds of mistakes in the postseason, so hopefully Roethlisberger will be on his A game next week. He did complete 24 of 36 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns. Without the interceptions and a few off-target passes, it would have been an excellent game.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B+
Antonio Brown had a stupendous game, catching 13 passes for an astounding 187 yards and a touchdown. Darrius Heyward-Bey had a bigger role today, catching two passes for 74 yards, but also missing a few opportunities for big plays. Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller also played well.
Not excellent: Antonio Brown had a fumble that was recovered by Cleveland and Martavis Bryant ran a wrong route that resulted in an interception. The offense is the main strength of the Steelers team, but when they make mistakes it puts too much pressure on the team's weak defense.
Running Backs: C
DeAngelo Williams left the game with an injury early in the game. Before he was sidelined, he struggled to pick up yardage on the ground, though he did catch two passes for 13 yards. Williams has been a strong contributor to the team in the absence of Le'Veon Bell, so hopefully this will not be a repeat of last year and the team can figure out how to function in the postseason without their star running backs.
Fitzgerald Toussaint filled in for Williams. He only accumulated 24 yards on 12 carries. He did not make dumb decisions, however, and had good ball security. Also positive, he caught a two-point conversion pass.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line did not allow any sacks, protecting Big Ben very well. They struggled to open up lanes against the run, but given the circumstances they did a fine job. A few presnap penalties lower the unit's score. In the postseason the line needs to play a cleaner game without giving away yards.
Defensive Line & Linebackers: B
The defensive line and linebackers played more competently than last week. James Harrison made some huge plays, including a critical red zone interception. Lawrence Timmons also had a strong game, leading the Steelers with seven tackles, three assists, and 1.5 sacks. In all, the Steelers defense had seven sacks, two of which were executed by Stephon Tuitt.
Overall, tackling was astoundingly bad and ineffective. Some players overpursued their targets, while others used their bodies in some sort of "I'm gonna knock you down with my shoulder" move that was universally ineffective. The defense needs to wrap up in future weeks and bring their opponents down on first contact.
The Secondary: A-
There were some disappointing plays, but, lo!, Austin Davis did not appear to be a Pro Bowl level quarterback. Brandon Boykin played very well, while other members of the secondary made big plays. William Gay had an interception. Ross Cockrell performed well in coverage. Antwon Blake had a sack, but struggled to tackle effectively.
Special Teams: C
After a few weeks of improved play, special teams struggled in Week 17, giving up unnecessary yards to their opponents. Chris Boswell made three of three extra points and two of three field goals, while Jordan Berry punted fairly well. Special teams had a few big plays, but struggled to the extent that on many plays they were more of a liability than an asset.
I haven't given out an A+ yet this season, but the Steelers victory over the Browns, along with the Jets loss to the Bills, secured the team a spot in the postseason. Fans were braced for disappointment, and instead have at least one more game to look forward to.