By Tyler Sweet
Despite everything that went wrong for the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the season, they managed to play their way back into the playoff race. With a win against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers needed losses by the Chargers, Dolphins, and the Ravens. With a 1pm kickoff against the Browns, the Steelers had to take care of what they could control first before watching the scoreboard of the other games. Fortunately for the Steelers, the Browns have been one of the worst teams in the league this year and did not pose much of a threat. Last game of the year Steeler Nation. Which means the final grades of the season are in!
The offense has played extremely well the second half of the season and has made improvements in both the running game and passing game since week 1. The offense against the Browns on Sunday however did not look as good as they have been the past several weeks. Ben Roethlisberger seemed to be rushing his throws at times and was not very accurate on the deep ball. Some of the throws seemed to have been affected by the wind but even on a few of the short passes, the ball was thrown high or was not leading the receiver enough for them to make a play after the catch. With a couple of bad interceptions, Roethlisberger did not have his best game. Le’Veon Bell continued to look good with 90 yards off of 20 carries. Bell was consistently fighting for extra yards on every single run. He was spinning and twisting his body after first contact to get as much out of each run as he could. His touchdown run for example looked to be a blown up play with a Browns defender in the backfield, which Le’Veon spun away from and pushed several defenders into the endzone. The offense looked good at times but did not dominate the way they had been as of late. Offensive Grade: B- Season Grade: B-
It is hard to grade a defense who happened to be playing one of the worst offensive units in the league. The Cleveland Browns have been a joke in the NFL all season long. One of the few bright spots for the Browns all season has been the emergence of wide receiver Josh Gordon. The first time the Browns played the Steelers earlier in the season, Gordon broke a franchise record for yards and completely embarrassed the struggling Steelers secondary. The Steelers kept Gordon in check for most of the game and did not allow him to break off a big gain.
The defense looked great on open field tackles and did not give the receivers and running backs a chance to gain momentum after the catch. Again,it is hard to tell whether the defense was playing great or if the Browns were really that bad. Browns receivers were dropping wide open passes, while quarterback Jason Campbell was off target the entire game. Lawrence Timmons looked good and recorded a big sack and ended the game with a tipped ball interception. One soft spot for the Steelers defense on Sunday and for most of the season has been the interior rush defense.
Without Casey Hampton and injuries to the defensive line, an obvious weak spot on defense is the defensive tackle position. Many changes will be coming to this defense over the coming months in an attempt to get younger in the secondary and improve the defensive line. Great play by Cameron Heyward and Jarvis Jones this season suggest that perhaps a changing of the guard on defense may be an easier transition than some people may think. Defensive Grade: A Season Grade: C
This game was not a very exciting special teams game. Shaun Suisham hit his only 2 field goal attempts and punter Mat McBriar had a pretty good game punting as well. Antonio Brown had a couple average returns but failed to break off a big one. Consistent touchbacks by Suisham is a good thing and did not allow the Browns to even attempt to take advantage of a weak special teams unit. Special Teams Grade: C+ Season Grade: D-
Writing these report cards has been lots of fun. The beginning of the season was rough and was hard to shed too much light on an 0-4 team that looked absolutely horrible. Although the Chiefs ended up losing to the playoff bound Chargers, it was fun to think that even for a little while that this team had succeeded in overcoming a bad start to the season with a chance at the playoffs. Several things happened in the Chiefs game that may have altered the playoff picture a little bit, but you must not forget that this team put themselves in this position to begin with. It is hard to make a case for a team that lost to the Titans, Raiders, and Vikings. Again, it has been a pleasure to write these report cards and I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I have had writing them.
Please write your comments and/or grades below or send them to our Twitter @SteelersGab or @Tylersweet87