ReFo: Steelers @ Packers, Week 16
Even at a snowy Lambeau Field, the Packers couldn’t manage to come up with their third-straight victory with Matt Flynn at the helm, falling just short in a competitive, back-and-forth game. Green Bay scored 10 fourth-quarter points to tie the contest, but falling down seven again, couldn’t find the end zone with more than 40 seconds inside the 10-yard line. Fortunately, the Packers received a lot of help in the NFC North and now face a sudden death, win-and-in game at Chicago in Week 17.
Conversely, the Steelers’ defense got a crucial late stop in a game they had to win, and they likewise have to win next week to keep their playoff chances alive. However, with a 7-8 record, they’ll need some help to get in.
Let’s take a look at some of the key performances in a game that featured some exciting and bizarre (see 3Q, 5:32) sequences.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Although his -1.5 grade doesn’t reflect it, rookie Le’Veon Bell was a huge part of Pittsburgh’s offensive success, spearheading a rushing attack that averaged more than 5 yards per carry. Bell himself gained 124 yards on 26 carries, forcing four missed tackles in the process. His runs at 3:17 of the first and 5:13 of the third quarter were particularly impressive as he avoided open field tackles to pick up extra yards on both plays. Bell was effective running to the right side interior gaps, evidenced by the solid run blocking grades of center Cody Wallace (+1.5) and RG David DeCastro (+2.1).
However, as his grade indicates, Bell made some huge blunders as well. His fumble at 6:32 of the third quarter was incredibly costly, giving Green Bay possession inside the 5-yard line (which they converted with the help of some questionable officiating). He’s also shown a propensity for drops, with seven now on the season after adding two in this game.
Pittsburgh also received solid performances from their trio of corners, Ike Taylor, William Gay, and Cortez Allen. The group didn’t allow a single deep attempt to be completed, while limiting the Green Bay offense to just 4-of-10 on intermediate passes, with the most impressive play coming from the guy with the toughest assignment. Despite the task of tracking Jordy Nelson in the slot, Gay allowed just three catches for 46 yards. Taylor was equally good defending James Jones at RCB, limiting the big WR to 14 yards in six targets.
The shakiest of the unit, Allen was targeted 14 times, more than twice as often as any other Steeler defender, but he also delivered a few of the biggest plays, including a third-quarter pick-six that put the team up 10. However, with 97 yards and a touchdown surrendered, he had a few more negative plays than his teammates (e.g. 2Q, 4:09).
Brett Kiesel hadn’t played much coming into this game, with just seven snaps since Week 10. It was certainly a rough return against one of the better rushing teams in the league. He ended with a -3.0 grade against the run, and though there wasn’t any single, spectacularly bad play, he was far too easily and consistently sealed out of the point of attack by the left side of Green Bay’s line. Keisel did come up with a couple of big plays late in the game; his sack and fumble recovery both occurred with less than three minutes in the fourth. It wasn’t enough to make up for his lackluster effort against the run, however, as he continues the drop off from his 2011 form.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
A great display by the Packers’ all-purpose man, Micah Hyde, whose play on both special teams and defense kept the Packers competitive. He consistently put his offense in good field position, averaging more than 33 yards on five kickoff returns, with two (3Q, 1:55 and 4Q, 1:25) being particularly impactful, including his 70-yarder that put his offense 31 yards from the end zone with less than two minutes remaining, down seven.
On defense it was his second game above +2.0 overall in the last three weeks; Hyde allowed one reception in four targets in primary coverage, getting his hand on one (4Q, 10:40) to force a punt. His lone stop in the run game also came on third down (3Q, 13:21), as he bulled inside of WR Markus Wheaton to help take down Bell for a loss.
Performance Up Front Not Enough
The Packers weren’t able to pull out the win despite a great performance up front, with four of five starters on the line grading at +2.0 or better. Most of those grades were earned in the run game, where the unit paved the way for Eddie Lacy and James Starks, who combined for a 5.2 average on 25 rushes. Neither broke a tackle in the run game (Lacy did have a pair on a nullified play), which speaks to the quality of the line play. LG Josh Sitton was the best of the bunch, controlling whomever Pittsburgh lined up in front of him, whether Keisel, Al Woods, or Cameron Heyward. The group wasn’t bad in pass protection either, allowing pressure on less than 25% of the team’s passing plays.
Williams vs Brown
While Tramon Williams did well statistically, limiting our third-highest graded receiver Antonio Brown to just three catches for 82 yards in direct coverage, the damage could have been worse. Brown saw six targets against Williams, and on two of the three incompletions, Williams was badly out of position on overthrown balls, one of which should have been a touchdown (4Q, 1:45). And each of the three passes that were caught went for a first down, including a big gain at 2:32 of the first quarter that set up an eventual Steeler touchdown. A declined defensive holding penalty rounded out William’s -2.5 grade.
– Just two of Ben Roethlisberger’s 16 completions came outside the numbers to the left.
– While all quarterbacks have the occasional bad day throwing the ball, it’s rare to see QBs grade in the red for their work running the ball. That’s what a fumble will do to you, as was the case with Matt Flynn who graded at -1.4 rushing the ball, the second time he’s graded below -1.0 rushing on the season.
– B.J. Raji’s first offensive snap of the season didn’t go particularly well. Lined up at fullback on a goal line play (3Q, 6:26). He was beaten outside by Vince Williams for a tackle for loss.
PFF Game Ball
Ike Taylor gets this one for his work limiting the Green Bay passing attack.
Follow Thomas on Twitter