A game in Pittsburgh you would expect to be won by their defense; that wasn't the case in my view. This game was really taken over in the third quarter when the Charger offense hardly saw the field. The Steelers repeated ability to convert third & long plays was just devastating; the defense played well in spurts but never three plays in a row. There always seemed to be glaring failures to cover in these third and long downs. The Steelers were also able to provide a timely turnover immediately after a Sproles runback to near their 20 yard line; and then their offense ground out a second lengthy drive.
The box score shows 146 rushing yards; and no doubt Parker's running was huge, but to me the key were those third down conversions by Roethlisberger that kept the drives alive. Of six third down plays in the third quarter the Steelers converted five of them. That ability was really what allowed their running game to wear down the Charger defense. With that; lets take a look at the grades:
Rivers finished with a 105 QB rating; though some of that was based on the long Sproles TD after the game was essentially iced. Rivers played reasonably well becoming the only quarterback to gain 300 yards on the Steelers and that with a long pass play to Jackson that was ruled an incomplete; though if he had hit Jackson in stride that would have been an easy TD. The Chargers came out on fire going straight down field for the TD, but the going was rough after that.
Offensive Line D
They just didn't create holes and gave up four sacks that really were critical in killing off drives. The running game had 12 rushes for 15 yards; a 1.3 average. It is just tough to win with such an anemic running game.
Wide Receivers A-
The receivers had a good game; they got open and made catches. The one that escaped Jackson would have been a remarkable catch, he did well just to get his hands under it. Chambers had a nice game for 72 yards. It was odd that Turner made Floyd active, but then didn't use him.
Running Backs D
This would have been an F, but the running game did come up with a few screens and Sproles did nab the big TD in the final quarter. There is no getting around 12 rushes and 15 yards and it shows why Sproles is going to have trouble being 'the guy' at this position. He needs to be the change of pace back, size matters up the middle against a tough defense.
Tight Ends B
Gates had a nice receiving game and Manumaleuna chipped in with a nice catch too. How about Gates coming out with no practice due to injuries two weeks in a row and playing his heart out?
Defensive Line D+
Certainly with 165 yards rushing the Defensive line play should have been better; I actually saw Jamal get moved back one play. To be fair, the defensive line did often develop third and long situations that the secondary was unable to stop. In some cases there was no pressure; but there also looked to be some real breakdowns in coverage.
Not enough pressure and several running plays that got outside for the big gain. They played well in spots but never consistently. An ILB that is good in coverage and the return of Merriman would be godsends next season.
Hart was torched consistently. Weddle played well in spots against the run and pass, but did have the big PI call in the endzone. It was a marginal call; overall Weddle had a reasonable game.
There were blown assignments on these third down plays; I can't say who but have little doubt that a corner should have been on some of them. We have to come up with a better scheme against the formation where three receivers are bunched together; coverage against that formation is weak.
It seemed like a reasonable game plan. Despite the commentators saying Turner 'had' to use his challenges on several close plays; I always think it is a mistake to blow a timeout and a challenge unless you are confident it will overturn the decision on the field. Time outs are gold at the end of a close game.
It is easy to overstate how the Chargers got 'dominated' in this game; there were several plays (Jackson's missed catch, the punt that just hit Weddle's helmet and the tipped turnover) that could have really turned this game around. The Chargers were competitive with the top teams this year; next year they get Merriman back and the 16th choice in the draft. If anyone had told me I would be handing out grades on January 12th after the game against the Falcon's, I would have laughed at them. This is a good team, and I'm very comfortable with the coaches and most of the players for next season.