BAL-PIT grades: Brown, Bell, O-line clinch AFC North for Steelers

Offensive line keeps QB Ben Roethlisberger clean while RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown make key plays in Steelers' win.

| 6 months ago
(Justin K. Aller, Getty Images)

(Justin K. Aller, Getty Images)

BAL-PIT grades: Brown, Bell, O-line clinch AFC North for Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Baltimore Ravens 27

Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Pittsburgh’s 31-27 win over Baltimore in Week 16, which clinched the AFC North title for the Steelers:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback grade: Ben Roethlisberger, 78.3

Big Ben rallies after poor start to second half

The Ravens looked to be in a strong position early in the second half thanks to a pair of interceptions, including a really bad miss that resulted in an interception by Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley. He rallied, though, and delivered the drives that the Steelers needed in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning drive when all seemed lost. By the end of the game, he had completed six of the seven passes he attempted traveling between 10 and 19 yards in the air, and completed three of the four passes he attempted while under pressure.


Top offensive grades:

OT Alejandro Villanueva, 84.9

G Ramon Foster, 82.1

OT Marcus Gilbert, 82.1

G David DeCastro, 81.1

RB Le’Veon Bell, 81.1

Brown delivers late with game-winning touchdown

With the Ravens missing their top cornerback in Jimmy Smith, this game was always set up to be a potential big outing for wide receiver Antonio Brown (PFF grade of 80.6), and with the game-defining play, he delivered the AFC North title to the Steelers. Brown was targeted 11 times and came away with 10 catches for 96 yards and the division-clinching touchdown. This game saw Brown pass 100 catches on the year for the fourth straight year, an incredible feat for a receiver who wasn’t drafted until the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft. On the year, Brown has forced nine missed tackles, and is a constant threat to take the ball for a touchdown whenever he touches it.

Top defensive grades:

DI Javon Hargrave, 84.9

CB Artie Burns, 80.9

ED James Harrison, 80.8

S Sean Davis, 76.8

CB William Gay, 74.8

Ravens go after Steelers linebackers

Although the Steelers’ defense did not allow many big plays against the Ravens offense, they struggled to slow them down due to some weaker performances in the middle of the unit. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco targeted the Steelers’ linebackers on 27 of his 44 attempts, and the Ravens gained 184 yards on these plays. However, there were several promising performances on the Steelers defense, starting with interior defender Javon Hargrave. Pittsburgh’s rookie had an excellent day both against the run and as a pass-rusher, as he kept collapsing Baltimore’s pocket and pushed blockers into the backfield. In addition, rookie cornerback Artie Burns made several plays in coverage after a rocky start, including forcing a turnover on the last play of the game.

Baltimore Ravens

Quarterback grade: Joe Flacco, 76.7

Flacco plays game manager role in loss

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco was not asked to win the game with big passes against Pittsburgh. In fact, only four of Flacco’s 44 aimed attempts travelled 20 or more yards from the line of scrimmage and he completed only one of those passes – the touchdown pass to Steve Smith. However, he did distribute the ball very efficiently underneath, as he was on target on 32 of his 40 attempts within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. One aspect of the game where Flacco struggled was under pressure, as his passer rating dropped from 108.8 to 30.5 on the 18 dropbacks when the Pittsburgh defense was able to get to him.

Top offensive grades:

G Vladimir Ducasse, 79.7

OT Ronnie Stanley, 78.5

G Marshal Yanda, 78.2

OT Ricky Wagner, 78.0

WR Steve Smith Sr., 73.3

Smith shines as other skill players fail to step up to the occasion

Veteran Steve Smith Sr. once again came to play against Pittsburgh, as he caught all seven of his targets for 79 yards and a touchdown, and forced five missed tackles in the process. As a result, Flacco had a passer rating of 153.3 when targeting Smith. However, other receivers failed to help out Flacco, as they dropped three of his passes. On the bright side, Baltimore’s offensive line had a solid game, as the unit did not surrender a single sack or quarterback hit – Pittsburgh’s lone sack was due to Flacco’s movement in the pocket. Furthermore, they were able to open big holes for rookie running back Kenneth Dixon on several occasions.

Top defensive grades:

S Lardarius Webb, 84.4

CB Tavon Young, 68.3

S Eric Weddle, 60.6

CB Jerraud Powers, 60.0

LB C.J. Mosley, 56.7

Top offseason need for the Ravens? Pass-rushers

One thing that was abundantly clear during this game, and something which has been noticeable throughout the year, was that the Ravens go into the offseason with pass rush being their primary need. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are aging, and they haven’t found success in the draft there in recent years, with the jury still out on Kamalei Correa and Matt Judon. In this game, the Ravens pressured Ben Roethlisberger on just four of his 33 dropbacks, and finished the game with just two quarterback hits, and no sacks. With a stacked draft class looming, Ravens fans can begin looking ahead and hoping a player like Auburn’s Carl Lawson or Alabama’s Tim Williams is there when they pick in the draft.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Steelers WR Antonio Brown

PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. Learn more about how we grade and access grades for every player through each week of the NFL season by subscribing to Player Grades.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • Mark Erickson

    This loss basically profiled the Ravens in a nutshell with relative accuracy. Despite Bell finding room to run later in the game (most of it was off the edges), the interior did a solid job, and had been doing a solid job all season with the run. When Jimmy Smith is on the field the secondary plays well, with him, Young, Weddle, and Webb playing well enough to mitigate the mediocre play of Powers and Wright. When he’s not on the field to neutralize the #1 receiver the passing game opens up as the game unfolds. Suggs and Dumervil are amazing, but cant sustain pressure on every 3rd down situation, for 4 quarters or 16+ games at this point in their careers. The o-line has been serviceable when fully healthy (which isn’t terribly often) and a liability when it’s not. West, Dixon, and Jusyzczk make an interesting backfield, but not to a level they can be the focal point of the offense. This brings it to the passing game, where Flacco has settled in as a fringe franchise quality QB whose plagued with inconsistency with below average instincts and mechanics. This could be mitigated with a talented WR group, which isn’t the case with a declining Steve Smith and two one-dimensional receivers that purely specialize as deep threats. The TE situation is muddled and confusing, with a mix of serviceable veterans and youth with potential in Williams, Gillmore, Pitta, and Watson. All 4 have pass catching ability (not completely sure who outside of Nick Boyle is used for blocking).

    From a guy sitting on his couch on Sundays I’d say the primary issues to address in the offseason is getting young talent on the edges and finding an offensive skill player to be the focal point, either deal for one of the talented RBs in the 2017 draft or draft/sign a star-caliber big-bodied possession WR (make a push for Alshon Jeffery maybe, he would be a good pairing with Flaccos strong-arm). Personally I’d love to see Baltimore attempt to adopt an offensive attack similar to Tampa’s, becoming more aggressive downfield and using the size and strength of the big pass-catchers by throwing jump balls where only the receiver can catch it (go back to no-huddle with it as well, Flacco has had success with it). If not this than trade up for Fournette and get back to power-run/play-action. The next season or two need to be spent looking long and hard at Flacco, and at the least bring in a young QB in 2018 for grooming purposes. The decision will be to resign Joe to a much more affordable extension or find a team interested in trading for him.

    Anyways done blabbing, saw a lot of positive things this year and I hope we can continue to rebuild successfully from our 2012 superbowl squad ripe with aged HoFers and pro-bowlers that left for retirement (or made bad decisions to end their careers early). Good luck to you playoff contenders!!

  • Vitor

    120 million for a game manager in the most important game of the year.