PIT-CIN grades: Ryan Shazier stars in Steelers' win
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Steelers’ 18-16 victory over the Bengals Saturday night:
–Having lit up Antwon Blake for 196 yards on 12 completions during the regular season, the Bengals passing game led by quarterback A.J. McCarron (-5.1 PFF game grade) failed to find the same weakness in the Pittsburgh secondary on Saturday night. Blake (+0.9) was targeted five times, twice while covering A.J. Green (+1.5), surrendering only one completion for eight yards. McCarron threw a poor interception during the first half, which led to Pittsburgh points, and until the fourth quarter struggled to muster much offense as the Bengals once again came up agonizingly short of a playoff victory.
–Rounding out a fine season with another multi-pressure performance was Geno Atkins (+3.4), who took his season total for pressures against the Steelers to 14, falling one shy of the five pressures he recorded in each of the two regular-season encounters. His four defensive stops tied a season high, and his tremendous effort as a pass-rusher led to his four pressures (one sack, three hurries) and his highest game grade since Week 15.
–While he didn’t produce the seismic plays that Ryan Shazier did for the Steelers defense, the Bengals did have their own ultra-productive linebacker Saturday night in Rey Maualuga (+2.8), who tied his highest grade of the season and set a career-high with eight defensive stops. It will be fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict (-0.5) who steals the headlines for the right (a would-be game-winning interception) and wrong (a 15-yard personal foul penalty for his hit on Antonio Brown on the game’s final drive) reasons from last night’s game, but Maualuga was a consistent presence for the Bengals Saturday night, limiting the Steelers offense to help keep the game within reach while the Bengals offense struggled to find its feet.
–For those wondering, both Burfict (-0.5) and Adam Jones (-2.0) finished with negative grades due in large part to the negative penalty grades they earned for those two personal-foul penalties on the final drive.
DT Geno Atkins (+3.4)
MLB Rey Maualuga (+2.8)
DT Pat Sims (+2.8)
RT Andre Smith (+2.7)
DE Carlos Dunlap (+1.8)
–A playoff game against a bitter rival is as good a time as any to turn in the best performance of your career, and linebacker Ryan Shazier (+9.5) certainly did that last night for the Steelers. Shazier’s career to date has been a story of plays made and plays given up in largely equal measures, but last night he was simply making them. Included in them were two pivotal forced fumbles to take points off the board for the Bengals — the second of which, against RB Jeremy Hill with less than two minutes to go, saved the Steelers’ season.
–The extent of Ben Roethlisberger’s (-0.7) injury will be clearer in the coming days, but the Steelers will be thankful to him as well as their defense and the Bengals’ ill-discipline for pulling them through in this game. When Landry Jones (-3.1) came into the game he produced a nine-snap performance that nearly, and probably should have, cost the Steelers their place in the playoffs. This was not a vintage Roethlisberger performance, but he did just enough to threaten field goal range even before Vontaze Burfict (-0.5) and Adam Jones (-2.0) took over with their personal-foul penalties.
–A subpar end to the season capped off what had been a largely quiet second half of the season by Cameron Heyward, but the Steelers’ top defensive lineman turned in a productive display (+1.6) last night in the Steelers’ victory. His nine pressures (one sack, one hit, seven hurries) were his most in a single game since his destructive (+9.8) showing against the Chargers on Monday Night Football way back in Week 5. The Steelers haven’t had Heyward at his best in the second half of the season aside from one game — if he can be as destructive against the Broncos as he was in Week 15 (+5.8), he could help send the Steelers to the AFC Championship game.
LB Ryan Shazier (+9.5)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (+1.9)
WR Antonio Brown (+1.7)
DE Cameron Heyward (+1.6)
OLB James Harrison (+1.6)