Team Grades: Steelers Rally Behind Landry Jones, Bryant and Defense

By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers move to 4-2 on the season after defeating the Arizona Cardinals at Heinz Field on Sunday. It was a game that displayed strong defensive effort and an offense that fired up when Landry Jones entered due to injury to Michael Vick. In possibly the first game of the 2015 NFL season that the Steelers played as an effective unit on both sides of the ball, Pittsburgh was able to contain Carson Palmer and limit the Cardinals offensive powerhouse.

Steelers offense earns a positive grade: B+

Vick started the game under center and the Steelers looked like they may be facing yet another game of under-performing offense. After Vick hit his head on the turf, he was forced out of the game due to a hamstring injury. The rushing of Le’Veon Bell, play of Martavis Bryant and a feisty, chippy offensive line woke up. Jones came in and orchestrated successful drives that took advantage of turnovers by the Steelers defense, hitting Bryant for two touchdowns on the day and keeping the ball moving down the field. Antonio Brown was once again double-teamed and limited, this week by Patrick Peterson. Jones had the most significant game of his career with the Steelers and finished the day with eight completions for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

Steelers defense once again grades high: A

Pittsburgh entered the game as underdogs to Arizona’s high-performance offense and turned the tables. By pressuring Palmer, the defense was able to limit the production of the Cardinals receivers and rushing game enough to keep them from putting up big points. With two interceptions on the day – one from Lawrence Timmons, another by Mike Mitchell in the end zone to stop the Cardinals in their tracks – the takeaways were huge. “We can’t anticipate victory…we just have to take advantage of opportunities,” Tomlin said. By flipping the field, the defense did just that.

Special teams play best of the season: A

Add together the combination of the legs of Berry and Boswell and the Steelers finally have something special in their special teams. Berry consistently placed the ball in field position that was not in Arizona’s favor, adding a 79-yard punt that backed the Cardinals up inside their 20 yard line. Boswell earned every penny on a day where he went four/four on field goals and made a successful PAT attempt for 13 points. Boswell’s longest kick went for 51 yards. Dri Archer had a better day in the return game with four total and his longest going for 35 yards. The Steelers were aided by a solid coverage team that kept Cardinals returners David Johnson and Peterson from breaking long runs. Limited penalties were also a welcome change.

Coaches deserve high marks for overall performance of team: B+

Despite a relatively unremarkable offensive play set in the early stages of the game, Todd Haley allowed both Bell and DeAngelo Williams to control the backfield while giving Vick the leeway to use his legs. Vick was able to get a pair of key first downs by stepping out of the pocket, and his play-action did create space for receivers. Jones looked comfortable, and that is largely due to the time the Steelers gave him in the preseason working with the first-team offense.

From a defensive standpoint, Keith Butler called a great game. Understanding that the key to success against the Cardinals would be to keep Palmer from being able to set his feet, Butler allowed the defense to play tighter coverage, get a great push up front and stuff the run. The defense allowed just 55 yards on the ground and kept Larry Fitzgerald scoreless. Palmer was tackled for a loss four times and threw two interceptions versus one touchdown. “The units complimented each other,” said head coach Mike Tomlin after the game. “Tip of the cap to everyone…for what they were willing to do to secure a win for us today.”

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
Examiner.com.

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