Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers


ATLANTA -- Here are the marks after the Pittsburgh Steelers improved to 9-5 with a 27-20 win against the Atlanta Falcons.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger showed sublime patience for the second week in a row, taking what the defense gave the Steelers. He didn't miss many throws even with the Falcons blitzing early and often. Roethlisberger again threw for well over 300 yards while completing just over 77 percent of his passes. Grade: A

Running backs: The Falcons held Le'Veon Bell to 47 yards -- his second-lowest total this season -- and just 2.4 yards per carry. The Falcons were determined to shut down the run and left very few openings for Bell. He did score a 13-yard touchdown on the Steelers' favorite running play, following blocks by pulling right guard David DeCastro and Will Johnson, who had lined up as a tight end, into the end zone. Grade: C

Receivers: Antonio Brown caught all 10 passes thrown his way and finished with 123 receiving yards. The two-time Pro Bowler showed tremendous footwork in making a 28-yard sideline grab near the end of the first half, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Bell. Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller each made timely grabs and Bell chipped in 72 receiving yards. Grade: A-

Offensive line: The Steelers did not get enough of a push against a defense that had been allowing just under 123 rushing yards per game. But the Steelers ran the ball when they had to and the line allowed just one sack in a noisy stadium and against a defense that blitzed Roethlisberger on 40 percent of his throws. Grade: B

Defensive line: The Steelers allowed 4.9 yards per carry and did not get enough of an inside rush when they played their nickel package. Defensive end Cameron Heyward had one of the Steelers' four quarterback hits, but Ryan had too much time to throw and was not sacked in a game for the first time this season. Grade: C

Linebackers: Vince Williams and Sean Spence continued to play ahead of rookie first-round pick Ryan Shazier at weakside inside linebacker and they showed why at the Georgia Dome. The two combined for 10 tackles, and Williams made the biggest stop of the game when he buried Harry Douglas after a third-down catch in the fourth quarter, 2 yards short of the first-down marker. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds got robbed of what could have been a game-changing sack in the second quarter. Grade: B

Defensive backs: William Gay starred for the defense, returning a pick 52 yards for a touchdown and setting a franchise record with his third interception return for a score in a season. Gay also broke up two passes but it was a pretty rough day for the rest of the Steelers' cornerbacks, especially nickel back Antwon Blake. The Steelers did not get enough out of their safeties as neither Troy Polamalu nor Mike Mitchell broke up a pass. Gay's big day saves the grade here. Grade: C

Special teams: Shaun Suisham made both of his field goal attempts. Brad Wing averaged 43.0 yards per punt and dropped two of his three kicks inside the 20-yard line. Antonio Brown returned a punt 31 yards and Markus Wheaton averaged 25.0 yards on both of his kickoff returns. Take away a 43-yard kickoff return by Devin Hester -- and that was erased by Gay's interception -- and the Falcons' return man did very little. The Steelers would take a performance like this one from their special teams every week. Grade: B+

Coaching: The Steelers handled the Falcons' blitz and stuck with the run enough to make the passing game effective from start to finish. The defensive statistics weren't pretty but the Steelers consistently made stops and twice forced field goals. The Steelers did not play to lose at the end of the game and Mike Tomlin won a key challenge. Grade: A-