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Monday, November 18, 2013
Pittsburgh Steelers report card

By Scott Brown

PITTSBURGH -- Highest marks of the year for an offense that looks like it is finally coming together.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger played his best game of the season in outdueling Lions counterpart Matthew Stafford. The 97-yard touchdown drive he led in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty and may have saved the season. The only knock on Roethlisberger was a few errant throws, including one that cost the Steelers a touchdown. Grade: A-

Running backs: The Steelers managed just 40 rushing yards and averaged a paltry 1.5 yards per carry. They were also stopped three times from the Lions' 1-yard line on two different drives. There wasn't a lot of running room, but the Steelers have to get more out of Le'Veon Bell. Grade: C-

Receivers: Antonio Brown continues to have his way with opposing defensive backs as he shredded the Lions' secondary. None of his seven catches was bigger than the third-down grab that jump-started the 97-yard touchdown drive. Tight end Heath Miller had a game-high eight receptions and re-established himself in the passing game. There were a couple of drops in the end zone by the Steelers' receivers. Grade: A-

Offensive line: How about the job first-year offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. has done in cobbling together a line that is in constant flux because of injuries? The Steelers held their own against the Lions' physical front, and they gave Roethlisberger enough time to pick apart Detroit's secondary. The line allowed just one sack and one quarterback hurry. Grade: B+

Defensive line: The Lions rushed for more than 100 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. End Ziggy Hood, starting for the injured Brett Keisel, played his best game of the season and his sack of Stafford sealed the victory. Cameron Heyward continues to get better and better. Nose tackle Steve McLendon played limited snaps because the Steelers employed their quarter package extensively. Grade: C+

Linebackers: Outside linebacker Jason Worilds generated consistent pressure in the second half when Stafford completed just 3 of 16 passes and was sacked twice. Worilds finished with a game-high four quarterback hurries as well as his fourth sack of the season. Leading tackler Lawrence Timmons had a quiet game, though he recovered a fumble. Grade: C

Secondary: Take away the second quarter and the grade here is an A. But Stafford threw for almost 280 yards in that quarter as the Lions scored 27 points and turned a 14-point deficit into a seven-point lead. The defensive backs locked down the Lions' receivers in the second half and held Calvin Johnson without a catch. Will Allen made the biggest interception of the season, and his pick set up the Steelers' final score of the game. Grade: C+

Special teams: No play loomed larger than the Steelers stopping holder Sam Martin on a fake field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. That turned the game in the Steelers' favor whether it was an ill-advised call by Lions coach Jim Schwartz or not. The kick coverage teams were again solid and Shaun Suisham made all of three of his field goal attempts. Mat McBriar was shaky at times but he boomed a 70-yard punt. Grade: A-

Coaching: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Roethlisberger collaborated to call their best game of the season. The red zone struggles were a result of poor execution, not bad play calling. Mike Tomlin did not panic after the disastrous second quarter, and his players followed the seventh-year coach's lead. Tomlin did miss an early opportunity to challenge what appeared to be a lost fumble by Lions running back Reggie Bush. Grade: A-