The Pittsburgh Steelers opened the new year with a victory against the Cleveland Browns, their seventh straight. This game was a tale of two halves, a common theme for the Steelers as they have come from behind to win the past three weeks. The Steelers were very lackluster in the first half, but came out with a much better second half, elevating the grades on all positions. Here are the positional grades for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh Steelers Postgame Positional Grades: Week 17
Contrary to popular belief, Landry Jones isn’t the worst backup quarterback in the league, as he proved Sunday that he can succeed when called upon. Jones was able to rally the team together and lead them to victory, capped off by the game-winning touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton. At the end of the game, Jones’ stat line was 24/37 for 277 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The interception was bad, but as the Browns’ Briean Boddy-Calhoun appeared to score a touchdown, he fumbled before he crossed the goal line and Jones had the awareness to fall on top of it, resulting in a touchback for the Steelers and not a touchdown for the Browns. Steelers fans should feel confident with Landry Jones as the backup moving forward.
Running Back: A-
DeAngelo Williams got the start here and got the job done with two total touchdowns. He finished the game with 67 yards rushing on 23 attempts and a score to go along with three receptions for 27 yards and another score. Fitzgerald Touissant also had a solid day picking up a couple of key first downs while Roosevelt Nix had a solid blocking game. This is one of the strongest and deepest groups on the team, which bodes well for the playoffs.
Wide Receiver: A
Not one individual in this group had truly eye-popping numbers, but they were solid as a unit. Getting separation early and often, Landry Jones was able to spread the ball around. The Browns defense did not have much of an answer because once they doubled one guy, another got open. As a whole, the receivers did what they needed to help the team win. Eli Rogers had six receptions for 61 yards and moved the sticks in some crucial moments, Cobi Hamilton caught three balls for 54 yards and the game-winning score, Darrius Heyward-Bey only caught one ball but it was a huge 46-yarder that set up a score and Demarcus Ayers had five grabs for 44 yards and a touchdown, which was set up by Heyward-Bey. While not flashy, they handled business with Antonio Brown sitting out. Pittsburgh has a problem, and that’s having too many productive receivers (a problem 31 other teams wished they had).
Tight End: C+
Jesse James finished the game with two catches for 16 yards. He was a good security blanket on a couple of plays, but he dropped a touchdown. Also, he was a blocker for much of the game for a line that allowed four sacks and failed to open up many holes for the running game. David Johnson and Xavier Grimble were invisible.
Offensive Line: C
Maurkice Pouncey was inactive and it showed. This unit allowed four sacks to a Browns unit that only logged 22 sacks all year coming into this game. They were also unable to create holes for the running backs, and they had a couple of false start penalties deep in their own territory and a bad holding call. This unit is usually one of the better lines in football; they just had a bad day.
Defensive Line: C+
The linemen allowed the Browns to easily rush for 231 yards. It was rare that they got penetration, and they allowed the Browns offensive line to push them around. One bright spot was a sack by Daniel McCullers. There were some positive moments where they got penetration and hurried Robert Griffin III, but 231 rushing yards allowed is just bad and should be improved upon.
The backers gave up a couple of plays, but for the most part they flew across the field and made stops. Ryan Shazier looked like he was shot out of a cannon speeding around the field making plays, including an interception. Lawrence Timmons continues to perform younger than he is, making some touchdown-saving stops. Bud Dupree added a sack and a forced fumble. Jarvis Jones even added a takedown and a crucial forced fumble down near the goal line. This group was a bright spot today in an overall-poor defensive showing.
Defensive Backs: C+
The secondary also had an underwhelming outing versus Cleveland. Although the defensive backs only allowed 232 yards passing, they surrendered two scores and multiple drive-extending plays. They couldn’t get off the field if their lives depended on it. Although they had a subpar display, they buckled down in crunch time when it counted. Sean Davis backed up his Steelers Rookie of the Year award with an outing that included a sack and a fumble recovery. Mike Mitchell made a game-saving fumble recovery at the Pittsburgh three-yard line late in the fourth quarter. This group play better if the team wants to win the Super Bowl.
Special Teams: B-
This unit was average today, though to no fault of Jordan Berry and Chris Boswell. Boswell was three-for-three on extra points, an aspect that has suddenly become an issue for kickers. Berry averaged 46 yards on eight punts with a long of 64. The core was mediocre because of its coverage and returning. There was a muffed punt that was fortunately recovered, and there was also a fumble on a kickoff return which was fortunately recovered. The coverage teams were also unable to wrap up on first contact and allowed a couple of decent returns. Although it wasn’t bad enough to lose the game, it must be addressed upon the postseason.
In a meaningless game where Pittsburgh’s top players rested, the Steelers were still able to keep momentum going their way with their seventh straight triumph. Football is a game of momentum, and while Cleveland started the game with it, Pittsburgh finished the game with it. Keeping momentum rolling into the playoffs may prove to be important while the Steelers prepare this week to play the Miami Dolphins in next week’s AFC Wild Card matchup.