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Team Grades: Steelers Persevere Thanks To Defense In Win Over Chargers

By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the game against the San Diego Chargers, a Monday Night Football primetime event, focused on improvement from their offense after a disappointing week four loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Michael Vick struggled once again, and the Steelers defense that was overlooked by most in the league as being young, undisciplined and nowhere near the level the offense was prepared to play and took charge. After Philip Rivers hit Antonio Gates twice in the game for what looked to be the necessary points for a win, Pittsburgh rallied and pulled the trigger on one of the most hazardous, chancy play calls this season by having Le'Veon Bell go around the pile for literally a final seconds rush for the end zone. Bell was able to break the plane of the end zone and the Steelers, like defibrillators, shocked everyone by hanging on to win, 24-20.

The Steelers on offense

Vick had ten extra days to prepare for San Diego, but his struggles were very real as he faced a strong defensive rush from the Chargers and had trouble connecting with his receivers. Several times, Vick was unable to deliver a catchable ball. Antonio Brown was once again frustrated in his efforts, for the most part, to create necessary offense for the Steelers and was limited to just three receptions for 45 yards. Vick completed 13 of 26 passes for 203 yards and a 72-yard touchdown bomb to Markus Wheaton that was critical to keeping the Steelers in the game. Vick had missed Wheaton earlier in the game and was forced to keep his head on a swivel as San Diego took him to the ground for three sacks. Darrius Heyward-Bey also made a big play late in the game to give the Steelers a much-needed first down. Overall, Vick continues to struggle communicating with his receivers and came away lucky after telegraphing several throws that could have turned into easy interceptions.

The Steelers used both Bell and DeAngelo Williams in the rushing game, putting Roosevelt Nix in at fullback to create more push. To create the necessary blocking for the run game and protect Vick, Heath Miller was underutilized as a receiver but was key to helping move the Chargers defense onto their heals. The offensive line had their hands full, but created some nice holes for Bell to scoot through. Bell, looking like he was utilizing dance steps, out-juked defenders on his way to a 111 yard rushing game and game-winning touchdown.

The overall performance of the offense was barely enough to sustain the team. The Steelers looked like they could have used another week to get on the same page offensively. This was a huge boost to their confidence, but should be used to illustrate the obvious issues that continue to limit their ability to score.4

Grade: C+

Steelers Defense Grade: B+

The only reason the Steelers didn't receive a higher grade on defense for this game and the extraordinary effort they gave to keep themselves in competition came down to mental mistakes, missed tackles and blown coverage. Pittsburgh continues to show their defense deserves a lot more credit than they've received. The biggest reason they haven't gotten more kudos are plays, such as an easy catch by Gates that had Will Allen one-on-one in the end zone, alone and overmanned, that put a spotlight on the errors. It wasn't until the defense started to press the Chargers receivers that they didn't get burned when throwing the blitz at Rivers. Arm-tackling continues and gave the Chargers extra yards they didn't deserve.

Cam Heyward and the defensive front seven gave one of the strongest performances to date by this defense. By pressuring the Chargers' offensive line with regularity, the running game could never get going for San Diego. That forced Rivers to have to look for opportunities to make plays and score through the air. Rivers got plenty of opportunities, but Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones brought him to the ground for two critical sacks. Antwon Blake, one of the biggest offenders of not wrapping up in the open field, snagged a poorly-thrown ball and took it back for a pick-6 touchdown.

The Steelers defense won this game. If it hadn't been for their performance for a full 60 minutes, Bell wouldn't have gotten the opportunity for his heroic burst to win the game.

Special Teams Grade: B-

Penalties were the story of the night on special teams. The Steelers were repeatedly penalized, negating any effort Brown put forth in the return game. Dri Archer has had few opportunities to create a return game on kickoffs and Monday night wasn't much better.

Jordan Berry had two great punts that the coverage team, including Ross Ventrone, were able to pin inside the San Diego 20-yard line.

In his first NFL game, placekicker Chris Boswell was perfect on the night, successfully kicking one field goal and making the point after the touchdown for a total of six points.

Coaching Grade: B-

This looked to be an early disaster, but the coaching staff made a call that was quite simply gutsy. With the game on the line and time literally ticking off the game clock, Tomlin and the offensive coaches, after watching Keith Butler and their counterparts on defense get their players to do what it took, opted to go for the win. Vick handed the ball of to Bell, and initially it looked like the best running back in the league was going to get stuffed. With push from his offensive line, Bell was able to stretch out and get the ball just over the plane of the goal. The call really was dangerous enough to be considered reckless by most standards, but give the Steelers coaching staff credit for wanting this one just enough to risk it all on the play. They could have gone for the tie on a Boswell field goal and sent the game into overtime, but after losing to the Ravens by being too conservative, it all worked out for the best.

The coaching staff still has a lot to do to get this offense on track from week to week after building their entire scheme around Ben Roethlisberger; a guy who looks more and more valuable as games tick by.


The Steelers got what they needed, especially from Jones who not only had a sack but created a stripped-ball fumble that was recovered for a defensive turnover. Unfortunately, the offense could not turn early defensive takeaways into points. That is an area that has to improve. The defense truly was the Steelers' best offense on the night. Pittsburgh moves to 3-2 on the season, but face the Arizona Cardinals (4-1) at Heinz Field on October 18.

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on

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