DEN-PIT Grades: Harris Jr. earns career-low grade against Brown

The highest-graded players and top takeaways from Pittsburgh's 34-27 win over Denver.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

DEN-PIT Grades: Harris Jr. earns career-low grade against Brown

Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Steelers’ 34-27 win over the Broncos.

Denver Broncos

– It was a tale of two halves for Brock Osweiler (-0.2). In the first half, he could do no wrong. He kept finding open man after open man, and was quick and precise with his decisions. Then, in the second half, that ability to navigate the Steelers’ defense ceased. Osweiler started to have to force the ball into coverage, and his decision-making took a nosedive. On throws 10+ yards down the field, he was six-of-seven in the first half. In the second half, that plummeted to a dreadful 3-of-17. It’s hard to come from behind without being able to push the ball down the field.

– No one has ever come close to working over Chris Harris Jr. (-7.0) in his entire career the way Antonio Brown did Sunday. And honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any corner in any game I’ve graded get as thoroughly beaten as Harris was. The Broncos cornerback ceded 14-of-15 targets for 164 yards and two touchdowns to go along with a pass interference penalty. The Broncos played a ton of man coverage, and Harris’ usually elite change of direction was thought to be better suited to matchup with Brown. His -7.0 overall grade is his first grade below -1.0 since Week 12 of the 2013 season.

– One of the biggest takeaways I had after analyzing this game was how infrequently Broncos’ blitz packages got home. Denver has the second-highest pass rushing grade as a team, and their man blitzes have been deadly all year, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday. Roethlisberger was only pressured on 16 of his 58 dropbacks, despite the fact that the Broncos blitzed 29 times. The ineffective blitzing definitely shares in some of the blame for their shortcomings in the secondary. Von Miller (-2.7) was held to a negative pass rushing grade for just the second time this season.

Top performers:

WR Emmanuel Sanders (+4.6)

DE Malik Jackson (+4.1)

C Matt Paradis (+3.9)

ILB Brandon Marshall (+3.8)

S David Bruton (+2.9)


Pittsburgh Steelers

– It’s a shame that Ben Roethlisberger (+0.4) was hampered by injuries this season, because he’s playing at an MVP level, but won’t get any recognition. The late interception brings his grade down a ton, and deservedly so, but he still graded out above average, having to drop back to pass 63 times against the best defense in football. Big Ben was accurate on 80.8 percent of his throws on Sunday, and got the ball out of his hands in an ultra-quick average of 2.26 seconds.

– I touched on it earlier, but it’s worth repeating again: Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL right now. His +5.7 receiving grade on Sunday was the third highest single game grade from a wide out this year, behind only his own Week 9 performance and Keenan Allen’s 14 catch game in Week 6. He caught all but one of his 17 targets for 189 yards and two touchdowns, with another 30+ yard gain getting called back due to penalty. A truly special performance from a player in his prime.

– The disappointing rookie season from Bud Dupree (-5.3) may have reached its nadir on Sunday. The outside linebacker collected one lone clean-up hit on 25 pass rushes, and was continually pushed well behind the quarterback, opening up wide lanes to scramble. He also committed a couple of needless penalties and failed to make a single stop against the run.

Top performers:

WR Antonio Brown (+4.9)

DE Cameron Heyward (+4.3)

S Mike Mitchell (+3.0)

OLB James Harrison (+3.0)

CB Brandon Boykin (+2.7)

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.


    Missing both starting safeties yesterday hurt us. TJ and Darian would have made a huge difference. Also, when Wade sent Von from the opposite side every few snaps against New England it made a huge difference and confused the coverage and protection from the O-Line.

  • Rick S.

    This is the second week in a row, Schoefield against Mack vs OAK and Harris against Brown, where the Denver coaches refused to provide help for a player that was struggling in a one on one match-up. It looked like Harris wasn’t the same player after the controversial PI was called against him… it seemed to affect him mentally.

    Its also the second week in a row they lost a game they should have won. Blowing 12 and 17 point leads in back to back weeks.

    • Autocephallus

      With both starting safeties out, there’s not much you can do to give Harris help there. If Brown hadn’t do the damage, it would have been Bryant or Wheaton.

      • Matt Hornbeck

        Maybe, but maybe not. At some point, they must try something different. Put Talib or Roby on Brown – probably the same result, but try something. Dedicate a safety for help. Chip him w/ a backer at the line. Something.

        • Sam Doohan

          I totally agree about the Broncos refusing to adjust. It’s just crazy to me that they didn’t try SOMETHING to slow him down. Sure, maybe a switch just gives Brown’s yards to someone else but surely you at least try?

    • geo2209

      Good point, wtf is up with Phillips not adjusting? Just because it worked somewhat in the 1st half doesn’t mean you don’t make adjustments to their halftime adjustments. Irritating.

  • tunesmith

    It seems like every time I see a player with a very high or very low game, the player on the other side of the one-on-one matchup is just as extreme in the other direction. I guess what I’m asking is, would Harris have scored as low if Brown scored 0.0? Would Brown have scored as high if Harris were average?

    • Mike Renner

      This was an extreme case because of how much man coverage the Broncos played. If Brown would have dropped four of his targets, Brown’s grade would have been lower, but Harris’ would have been the same.

    • anon76returns

      I finally saw a counterexample to that today, fittingly from the Car-NYG game. The ugliness around the ODB-Norman sideshow really did have no winner, with both players firmly in the negative (both showed up on the “worst player at every position on the week” page).

  • Josh Knepshield

    How did Shazier play?

    • Stephen Sdsds

      he was alright. a couple decent stops, a pick at a pretty crucial moment IIRC.

  • TJ Smith

    Can’t believe it took Pittsburgh so long to play Brandon Boykins.

    Is it me or when has Chris Harris shut down any elite receiver. It seems like he almost always on some mediocre receiver. That game to me shows Harris is not an elite corner. Also says that any list that doesn’t have Richard Sherman near the top is laughable.

    • Junior Taylor

      All it took was one horrible game against the best WR for the trolls to come out. The man had not given up a single TD reception in 2 seasons then all of a sudden he faces the best WR with the best QB and a DEN offense failed to score a single point for the 3rd week in a row which leads to DEN’s defense being on the field for too long, he’s not an elite corner?

      • TJ Smith

        This isn’t trolling. Chris Harris couldn’t cover Mike Wallace against Minnesota earlier in the year. Talib had to switch on him. That has been my issue with him over the last two years. Every time Harris struggles they switch Talib to his man. PFF doesn’t recognize the reality that some corners cover tougher receivers. Talib consistently is doing the harder covers. Alright here is a game that you get an elite receiver all game. He defended him worse than just about every corner that has played AB this year. Not a shock if you couldn’t cover Mike Wallace your not going to cover Antonio Brown.

        I’m not saying he sucks but Denver has had an insane pass rush and Talib usually takes the top receiver. He has nice stats but I think he just proved he not a lock down corner. Elite corners don’t give up near historic days. Nor do they constantly tap out of some match-ups. Good but not one of the elite corners in football.

        • Izach

          PFF doesn’t have a way to account for difficulty it also struggles ally with deciphering teams zone coverages, numerous accounts of misattributed coverages and stat lines every weeks they are close but not perfect, have fun with the comments and debates rather than get mad about them IMO

    • anon76returns

      LOL. He did shut down Crabtree last week, so I guess “mediocre” would be the term for all the Richard Sherman Sycomphants.
      I remember Sherman in particular looking very bad against the same Green Bay Packers offense that the Broncos completely shut down. In fact, I believe Sherman gave up more yards on a single pass interference call than the Broncos D allowed to the entire GB passing attack throughout the game. Everybody has an off game now and then, even against mediocre receivers. Sherman deserves to be right where he’s at, as does CHJ.

      • TJ Smith

        You mean that same Green bay team that Seattle beat to go to Superbowl. Rodgers went pretty much two games without throwing at Sherman. Only threw at him in that early season regular season game because Seattle was off sides and they had free plays..All he got was some pass interference plays. Which is fine but you make my point. Chris Harris can shut down number 2 receivers. I’m not ripping him because he had a bad game. I’m ripping him because he proclaimed himself the best corner in the league. PFF which I love is insane to have proclaimed him the best corner in football last year.

        Yet at the same time acknowledging his coverage responsibilities rarely are on the number 1 receiver. When they are its usually a None TD making slot receiver. Oh by the way if he struggles against that guy he will tap out and have a teammate cover him. If things aren’t put into perspective it would be like saying some AAA minor league baseball player who is hitting 400 is the best hitter in baseball. You know he couldn’t do those numbers against the best.

        I really like PFF but I don’t really like what they do at the cb position. Harris is a great number 2 corner. Probably could be a upper tier number 1 corner. Who your going up against has to be taken into account though. The biggest criticism about Harris Jr rating has been we rarely see him on a true number 1 receiver. Ok now we have seen it and it was flat out ugly.

        • anon76returns

          No, I’m not talking about the GB team that Seattle beat last year. I’m talking about the team that beat the Seahawks *this* year, making Sherman look very bad in the process (it was more than just the PI play).
          And in case you hadn’t notice, you’re giving me exactly the same BS “doesn’t cover the #1″ argument that people use all the time against Sherman. In base looks CHJ generally takes the Right side of the field, Talib generally takes the left side of the field. If opposing coaches thought that CHJ was the weak link, you better believe CHJ would be covering the #1 all game long. As it is, both Talib and CHJ see their share of the #1 WR, and only in cases where there would be obvious mismatches (CHJ vs. Bryant’s size, Talib vs. Brown’s quickness) do they lock up on a single WR most of the game. Yes, you are ripping him because he had a game- ordinarily he’ll spend time on the #1 WR, and in nearly 5 seasons of play he’s giving up something like 8 total TDs. Make all the excuses you want, but that’s an amazing statistic.

          • TJ Smith

            First Harris plays a lot in the slot. Which is why he had the Brown matchup much of this game. They knew AB would get a lot of work in the slot. Many people including this site will often suggest well CHJ is the best slot corner. Which would be a lot more of a fair statement. Which they are quick to do with Mathieu. It is completely unfair calling Tyrann Mathieu the second best corner in the league when he not even covering the best receivers in the game. The strength of his Harris coverage ability is in the slot. Most of Harris number 1 matchups are slot receivers.

            Richard Sherman is a right corner. At least he was in previous years. This year he follows more. The majority of teams offense is on the right side of the field. For example Green Bay Jordy Nelson usually on the right side and Aaron Rodgers usually throwing on the right side. The fact that teams suddenly become left handed against Seattle is not only funny but a testament of the respect Sherman has. If you want to say Sherman’s stats are overrated because teams move there wide receiver away from him. That is fine. The problem is Seattle has been so good defensively it hasn’t meant success. He hasn’t been needed to follow when Seattle had better number 2 corners.

            Now in terms of Green bay I don’t even get your point. Especially since the two teams have played a bunch over the last few years. After a number of games all you got for me is pass interference plays on some free throws. It wasn’t one of Sherman’s best games but he didn’t give up 14 out of 15 targets. Your telling me someone is an elite corner after giving up 14 out of 15. Many of which he was barely in the picture during the catch he was beaten so badly. A corner who rarely is locked up against an elite receiver. It wasn’t a bad day. It was truly his only day.

            My problem with Harris is not following. It is avoiding. Which Talib is doing the following often. Harris is looking for favorable match ups. So when someone says he has not given up a TD in 2 years. That doesn’t excite me. It not an amazing stat. Especially watching the Broncos and seeing him tap out of match-ups. If your covering elite players your going to give up TDs. Why not have him on the top guy all the time if he so good that he doesn’t give up TDs. What is even more annoying is when the Broncos are beaten by a guy hearing CHJ cry that he should have been covering a guy.

            Now if your in the mindset that Harris Jr is one of the best corners in the league.Show it. Go out and follow AJ Green if your so good. I just want the resume against elite receivers. I don’t want excuses like well I don’t want to defend really big receivers because of size. Which is like most of the top receivers. Don’t really want to defend really fast receivers because of his lack of speed. He great against guys like Golden Tate and Randall Cobb. Yet his own defensive coordinator hid him from T.Y. Hilton. His new defensive coordinator should have hid him from Antonio Brown. Just to keep the Chris Harris Jr myth alive.

          • Izach

            Actually brown doesn’t most his work on the outside, Wheaton is the slot WR, even in that game I’d say no more than 1/2 Browns rec came from slot.

          • TJ Smith

            I know AB is usually on the outside. My point was that if they put Talib on Brown AB would end up on the slot anyway because he gets snaps there. Talib probably wouldn’t follow him into the slot. So just put Harris on him and you not have to worry if AB is in slot or outside.

          • Izach

            Think it would’ve been better to do what Seahawks do and have a Right left and slot CB and who ever lines up in those spots is who the DBs cover, too much trouble when there’s a mismatch like CHJ on Brown basically the whole game. Most offense have at least 2 good WRs and most good WRs line up in multiple spots, this isn’t the 80’s where your #1 only line up on one side, I mean look at lions vs slants last night, megatron might be there “most talented” WR but Tate has outplayed him a few times this season and multiples times last season. Pointless to take away one player when multiple players can do damage, better to take away one side of field IMO hurts game plan much more

          • anon76returns

            Your logic is all over the place. “Now if your in the mindset that Harris Jr is one of the best corners in the league.Show it. Go out and follow AJ Green if your so good”. That is exactly what people say about Sherman, and it’s total BS in both cases. Sherman plays on the right side, CHJ plays on the left. The difference comes in nickel, when CHJ moves into the slot. But Denver has played nickel less than half the time this year, meaning on over 50% of the downs any offense that wants to pick on CHJ can simply put their best guy on their left and go after him. There’s no “tapping out” at that point. Teams haven’t done it because there’s nothing to exploit there- elite CHJ shuts down whoever comes to his side, outside of Sunday.
            You seem to be one of those guys who believes there is some sort of magical barrier between elite talent and the rest of the NFL. News flash: there isn’t. A guy that’s considered elite this year might be mediocre next year. A guy that’s had a terrible year receiving might suddenly put up 200+ yards next weekend. It happens all the time, and until last Sunday, CHJ has shut them all down, including Julio Jones in 2012, TY Hilton and Reggie Wayne in 2013, Fitzgerald and Brown in 2014, and Cobb this year. 5 years, and something like 8 TDs allowed, and he’s out there on the edge whenever a team wants to target him.

          • geo2209

            Amen. TJ Smith has no clue what he’s talking about. If teams wanted to pick on CHJr they’d just put their #1WR on his side. They don’t most of the time because he’s better than Talib.

          • TJ Smith

            If your talking past years I can’t tell Sherman ignore your coaches and follow a receiver. Seattle system said Sherman you line up on the right. That said Sherman still got plenty of opportunities against elite WRs as most teams don’t go left the entire game. It was a shorter sample size but it wasn’t like any Wrs were lighting up Seattle on either side. If they started to do so we even saw last year Sherman start to follow. He followed Odell Beckham last year. He followed Dez Bryant, Kelvin Benjamin last year. People can say Sherman was overrated because he didn’t follow but that wasn’t his choice. He never hid.

            That is my point. There are stipulations regarding Chris Harris. It isn’t well he a great corner and goes up against anyone. It is well when the match-ups are good for him. Imagine if Richard Sherman was a right corner until a little WR like Antonio Brown lined up in front of him and then they moved him. Chris Harris is nearly the same height as Revis but I never seen him slide a bigger WR to another corner.

            This league isn’t full of great receiving units. He didn’t cover Steve Smith early in the year. He didn’t cover Calvin Johnson. He bailed on guarding Mike Wallace. The Browns don’t have anyone. Alex Smith and the Chiefs rarely throw any TDs to receivers. Not to mention he rarely throws the football downfield. He did a good job against Randall Cobb who has sucked this year but is a slot receiver anyhow. They played the Bears with Alshon. Doesn’t matter because he is big so Talib would have took him. I could do the same thing last year.

            What Brown your talking about in 2014. John Brown? Doesn’t matter your making my point. None of those guys you listed are number 1 receivers at that point of those match ups. T.Y. Hilton you could make a case and he didn’t even cover him in the playoffs last year. Honestly I can’t even remember the Julio Jones game and how he did.

            You seem to be one of those guys having a conversation with himself. I’m not someone who thinks your elite all the time. This was a big year if we truly are looking at Chris Harris though. Last year the knock on Harris was he not only didn’t take the elite WRs. The Broncos played a lot of 7 man zone and some dismissed his season completely. This year the Broncos are almost all the time a man to man team. AB is one of the only times he has truly been on an island with a elite WR. He gave up 14 out of 15 targets. A bad day at the office would be like 7 or 8 catch night. Not Brown might have had more difficulty with the Raiders corners than Chris Harris. Sorry that was getting exposed. Even Sam Monson said it wasn’t even competitive. He is a very good corner but a very good corner left on an island with Antonio Brown could get destroyed. The self proclaimed or even PFF proclaimed for a year ago best corner in the league should not be toyed with. If you think it was a bad day then do the same thing against Antonio Brown should the Steelers and Broncos meet in the playoffs. I have a feeling that CHJ will be praying for a first round match up with Kansas City.

          • anon76returns

            You’re still ignoring the fact that Denver is playing base D on more than 50% of snaps, and there’s no guy for Harris to pass off to in those situations. He plays his side, same as Sherman did. If offenses thought he couldn’t cover, then he’d be seeing tons of #1 WRs.
            You also keep confusing primary responsibility with every down. Harris wasn’t on Smith every down. He wasn’t on TY every down. But he did cover both guys when they came over to his side. Back wen PFF used to make their stats available you could go and see where Harris was credited with defense on the #1 WRs, as I pointed out several times last year to guys making the same incorrect argument that you’re trying to make now.

    • James Winslow

      Yeah he’s overrated he can beat-up on the scrubs, but the number ones take him down. Talib is better.

      • geo2209

        No, Talib is not better.

        • James Winslow

          he actual has covered number ones and beat them. chris harris cant cover number ones.

  • tunesmith

    David Bruton got a +2.9 while playing most of the game on a broken leg. Yeesh.

  • Nik Hildebrand

    If I didn’t know anything about CHJ and I just watched this game, I would’ve assumed that he was some 4th-string (or lower) guy forced into significant playing time by a bunch of injuries. He was flat-out rubbish.

  • shaunhan murray

    Im honestly still confused on how bud dupree got called for holding.I watched the game nd heard the call but didn’t see the replay I think the Broncos played hurry up so they dididn’t show it.How does someone rushing the pass get called for holding? I guess maybe the running back ran into him or something I dont know.Can someone please explain to me.

    • Madi

      He engaged a receiver (a TE I think) before the guy went out for a pass, and the guy fell down. I can see why they thought it was holding, but in my opinion it wasn’t. Bud was just trying to get by him, not hold him up, and the guy lost his balance.

      • shaunhan murray

        Thaks I was confused.

  • Joe

    For starters Roethlisberger’s interception was horrible, it was a terrible decision, he should have just strolled toward the sideline for another half a second and thrown the ball away and the 2 minute warning would have ensued. That being said Roethlisberger deserves better than a (+0.4). According to your numbers that is average, even with the 1 god awful decision he went 40/55 (73%) for 380 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INT. That was against the best defense in the NFL (had some injuries yes but still had majority of their starters) and you’re calling that average. I watched every snap and although I wasn’t grading it he was making great throws all game long. AB was doing the work in getting open but Ben was hitting his windows with crazy accuracy and timing with all of his receivers. Again, TOTALLY agree Ben’s pick was dreadful but even with 2 INT I think his day was still superb, better than average. I know you guys try to stay with objective data but there is subjectivity in grading each play based on what is good or bad. I think you need to add a metric in where you multiply or at least add into the final total based on the defense’s typical grade. Putting up these numbers on the Ravens should be considered vastly different than putting these up on the Broncos. Just a helpful hint.

    • Izach

      Agreed here even with both picks being 100% negative plays that would only equate a 2.4 grade if he didn’t throw those picks, and Ben was better than 2.4 IMO