PIT-CLE grades: Antonio Brown continues to impress in finale
Here are the top takeaways and highest graded players from the Steelers’ 28-12 victory over the Browns.
– Despite an early fumble and drop, WR Antonio Brown (+3.0) still had an excellent game. He’s now on an insurmountable +36.5 cumulative overall grade, and has claimed the highest receiving grade we’ve ever given in a single season. Brown caught 13 passes from 17 targets for 187 yards, one TD, and the aforementioned drop against Cleveland. He generates separation with ease, as highlighted by the deep post route he snagged for a big gain when he pressed the corner to the perimeter. Cleveland tried everything to stop him, including doubling Brown frequently. It still wasn’t enough, with Brown’s touchdown coming despite drawing the attention of a pair of Cleveland’s DBs. The league’s best receiver shows no signs of being slowed.
– DE Stephon Tuitt (+4.0) had one of his best games of the season against a quality offensive line. He was particularly dynamic as a pass rusher, where he finished with two sacks and seven hurries from 56 rushes, culminating in a season-high +4.2 grade. Tuitt was less effective as a run blocker, where he made just two stops and missed a tackle, but did show good recognition on a HB screen, forcing Austin Davis to throw the ball away. Tuitt outperformed teammate Casey Hayward (-2.6) for one of the first games this year, as he struggled to generate pressure consistently.
– The Steelers’ secondary has been an issue throughout the year, but they’ve improved significantly in recent weeks by getting Brandon Boykin (+0.6) on the field. He had a crucial forced fumble in the red zone, which took points off the scoreboard for the Browns, and finished with figures of three receptions allowed from six targets for 17 yards. Ross Cockrell has also emerged as a legitimate option off the bench. He finished with a +3.0 grade after posting a shutout from four targets with a pass deflection. Cockrell now holds the 15th-highest coverage ground amongst corners (+8.3), and is finding ways to contribute to a team heading to the playoffs.
DE Stephon Tuitt (+4.0)
LT Alejandro Villanueva (+3.2)
WR Antonio Brown (+3.1)
RCB Ross Cockrell (+3.0)
ROLB James Harrison (+2.9)
LG Ramon Foster (+2.9)
– It’s perhaps unsurprising that former Browns GM Ray Farmer finds himself without a job after the struggles of first-rounder RG Cameron Irving (-5.4). His development can’t have been helped by the fact he’s been shunted to a number of positions on the line, but he’s really struggled recently. Erving allowed two sacks and six hurries against the Steelers, recording a -4.3 pass protection grade. In addition, his -1.3 run blocking grade was the lowest on the team. With Jaguars’ castoff Austin Pasztor (-2.1) playing the other guard spot, the Browns are in trouble inside.
– Cleveland’s defense has a number of more debilitating issues than the inconsistency of the inside linebackers, but it’s one of the more frustrating aspects of the unit. Karlos Dansby (+3.8) hasn’t recorded back-to-back positive grades since Week 3, but has played some good games this year. He led the Browns defense with a +3.8 grade on the back of four stops against the run, a hit as a pass rusher, and just 11 yards allowed in coverage from a pair of receptions. Beside him, it was a typical performance from Craig Robertson (+1.0), who excelled in coverage, but struggled against the run. He had an interception against the pass, but made just one stop and missed a tackle against the ground game.
– The rotation on the Browns’ line stands in stark contrast to the Steelers, who use Heyward and Tuitt for the majority of snaps. No lineman finished with more than 30 snaps, as they search for a solution to their deficiency against the run. Only John Hughes (+0.2) finished with a positive grade, and he took just eight snaps. The five remaining defensive lineman combined for a -7.6 grade, just two combined hurries, and five stops. Despite significant investments in both free agency and the draft, the Browns still lack a standout on the line. Danny Shelton (-1.6) has bags of potential, but is taking a little time to develop, while Randy Starks (-1.3) and Desmond Bryant (-2.0) have failed to make an instant impact. Defensive line remains a need heading into the 2015 offseason.
LT Joe Thomas (+4.1)
LB Karlos Dansby (+3.8)
CB K’Waun Williams (+1.6)
C Alex Mack (+1.4)
OLB Cam Johnson (+1.3)