Sunday’s AFC Divisional Round showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs was for the opportunity to play the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship. It certainly lived up to the billing of what a playoff game should be. This game was a slugfest and it showed in the final score of 18-16. The Steelers won this one in an instant classic. Without further ado, the positional grades for the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Pittsburgh Steelers Positional Grades: Divisional Round
This was not Ben Roethlisberger’s best game, but he made some of the passes he needed to. He didn’t throw any touchdowns and tossed up a pick on a tipped play, but he did just enough to help the team win, throwing for 224 yards to help set up Chris Boswell for his record setting six field goals to win the game. Roethlisberger didn’t lose Pittsburgh the game and played within the game plan so he doesn’t get any lower than a B- here.
Running Back: B+
Le’Veon Bell continues to play out of his mind. That Steelers playoff rushing record? Yeah, he broke that, again. Bell eclipsed the 167 yards from last week by rushing for 170 yards tonight. Not only was Bell excellent with his rushing, Roosevelt Nix was also excellent in blocking ahead of Bell. The offense doesn’t move without a running game, and Le’Veon Bell continues to show why he is the best back in the league
Wide Receiver: B-
This group didn’t do much in the scoring category, but they did make necessary catches and helped move the ball down field. Although the receivers all played their own part at one point or another, it was a very top heavy group. Antonio Brown went off for 108 yards on six catches, including getting the catch that put the game away. Eli Rogers, Demarcus Ayers, and Cobi Hamilton were all more pedestrian, but they had their plays to help move the sticks. Rogers ended with five catches for 27 yards while Ayers and Hamilton each had a catch, Ayers going for six yards and Hamilton going for four.
Tight End: A-
Jesse James played the best game of his professional career, catching five balls for 83 yards. That’s good for any tight end set aside Rob Gronkowsi or Jimmy Graham. James got open early to extend drives, and he ended up being a nice security blanket for Big Ben, and ended up outplaying Kansas City’s own big play tight end Travis Kelce. He was also excellent blocking with the offensive line to open up holes for the run game and contain the Chiefs’ formidable pass rush. David Johnson continued to be an excellent blocking tight end.
Offensive Line: B+
This unit is the best offensive line remaining in the playoffs. They opened up holes for the running game, and they protected the quarterback well as they only surrendered one sack. If this line can continue to play at this high level, this team very well might find themselves in Houston playing for a championship.
Defensive Line: A
The Chiefs only had 61 yards rushing as a team in no small part to the Steelers defensive line. This line seemed to plug up any holes the Chiefs offensive line would open and they got pressure and disrupted the quarterback. This line anchored a defensive performance that allowed only 227 yards total.
Line Backers: A-
James Harrison is an ageless wonder. Harrison had six total tackles, a sack, and a game-winning drawn penalty on the two point conversion that would’ve tied the game. Bud Dupree and Ryan Shazier combined for a nice little play that gave the Steelers the ball in Chiefs territory. The play I am referring to is when Dupree rushed Alex Smith and hit his arm as he was throwing and the ball fell into Shazier’s arms. Lawrence Timmons didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but he provides the constant defensive presence that everyone around him seems to feed off of. This group had a nice day.
Defensive Backs: C+
This group started off the day with Artie Burns giving up the first score of the day on a whiff in coverage. Throughout the day this group recovered and didn’t give up the big play, but toward the end of the game Sean Davis set up the Chiefs with a boneheaded helmet to helmet tackle on Chris Conley. This group has played better and must play better if they have hopes of winning in New England.
Special Teams: A+
Forget Chris Boswell’s NFL playoff record six field goals for a second. This team was excellent in return coverage. Tyreek Hill is the most dangerous kick returner in the league and the special teamers bottled him up. Jordan Berry only had to punt it once for 35 yards. Against any other team that would be a bad punt, but it went out of bounds and away from Hill, so it was an excellent punt. Chris Boswell also scored the Steelers 18 points by himself, so that’s also worth mentioning. This was the most complete performance by this group all year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won nine straight games and continue to find ways to win. That is invaluable this time of year. They only need to do it two more times to be crowned Super Bowl champions. Next week should be fun.