This was a tough pill to swallow. The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their 2016 season with a 36-17 loss in the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots. The only thing that Steelers fans can do now is look forward to next season. Here are the postgame positional grades for the AFC Championship Game:
Pittsburgh Steelers Postgame Positional Grades: AFC Championship
The final stat line for Ben Roethlisberger reads 31 for 47 for 314 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Roethlisberger wasn’t the only one at fault for the loss, but he certainly was far from spectacular, with his lone touchdown coming late in the fourth quarter with the game far out of reach. Furthermore, his pick was thrown right to the defender, and he should’ve had another pass picked off earlier, but Antonio Brown caused enough disruption that Malcolm Butler dropped a pass that was in his hands. Like I said, Roethlisberger wasn’t the only one at fault for the Steelers, but he wasn’t the quarterback they needed him to be.
Running Back: B-
Steelers running backs were also far from spectacular. Le’Veon Bell suffered a groin injury early in the game and just wasn’t himself, finishing with just 20 yards on six carries. DeAngelo Williams took over and wasn’t good himself in the run, game finishing with 34 yards on 14 carries and a short yardage touchdown. With that said, he was a pretty reliable receiver though, finishing with seven receptions for 51 yards. Roosevelt Nix even squandered his chance to be on the stat sheet when he dropped a pass early in the game.
Wide Receiver: C-
Steelers receivers were flat out bad. For starters, they couldn’t get open as often as they needed to. When they did get open, they seemed to forget how to catch. Too many drops to even be considered an “okay” day. Brown finished the game with seven receptions for 77 yards. Eli Rogers had seven receptions for 66 yards and a costly fumble. Cobi Hamilton finished the game with 37 yards on two grabs, and a garbage time touchdown, and Sammie Coates finished with two grabs for 34 yards among what seemed to be many drops. This group has played better, but today might have been their worst game of the season. Hopefully the return of Martavis Bryant will prevent more performances like this one next season.
Tight End: B
Jesse James had a nice day receiving, finishing with five receptions for 48 yards and setting up Williams’ touchdown. Unfortunately,, he was a liability blocking as he failed to assist the offensive line in making holes for the running game. David Johnson was great blocking, but he only logged one catch for a yard, so he wasn’t a big difference maker in that category.
Offensive Line: B-
The line did a good job keeping Roethlisberger upright, but they did not open up enough holes for the running game. The Patriots defensive line got enough penetration to render the run game ineffective. Pass blocking was great, run blocking was a different story.
Defensive Line: A-
The defensive line only held the Patriots to 57 total rushing yards and was able to get some penetration to rush Tom Brady. Javon Hargrave even got a sack. The defensive line had a good game as a group on a bad day for the Steelers as an overall team.
Line Backers: C+
Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier were flying across the field recording 21 tackles between them, but other than that, linebackers weren’t very good. James Harrison got some penetration in the run game, but not very much pressure off the edge. Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones were non-factors off the edge and were not very good in the run game. The sad part is, the linebackers weren’t even the worst position group on defense.
Defensive Backs: D-
There’s no way to spin this, these guys did awful. The only highlight of the game for the secondary was when Sean Davis got a sack. Other than that they allowed Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman to carve them up. Hogan finished the game with 180 yards and two touchdowns, and Edelman had 118 yards and a score for himself. 298 yards and three touchdowns between two receivers is abysmal, and this secondary must look back at this game and use it as motivation to only get better, because they looked like a high school team out there.
Special Teams: D
Chris Boswell missed an extra point after the first touchdown which pretty much set the tone for the game. To be fair, he made his only field goal attempt. Jordan Berry was called on to punt four times and yielded a 38.5 yard average, and no returns. The coverage on kickoffs was decent, yielding only one return for 18 yards. In turn, the Steelers return game was subpar yet again. Sammie Coates returned two kicks for 45 yards with a long of 31. That means his other return was only 14 yards long.
Justin Gilbert also wasn’t very good with one return for 17 yards. To cap it off, Antonio Brown was a non-factor with punt returning as he only had one return for 10 yards. With a missed extra point, below average punting, and subpar returning, a change may be forthcoming regarding Pittsburgh’s special teams coordinator.
The Steelers were flat out beaten by the Patriots. The run game was smothered, and any spark in the pass game was answered with a stop in the defense. There’s no sense dwelling in the past, and now all the Steelers can do is start preparations for the NFL Draft and next season. This season was a successful one; the Steelers just came up one game short.