Steelers Report Card: Game Five vs. Detroit Lions

GERRY DULAC grades the Steelers' effort in a 28-20 victory over the Lions yesterday.

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Quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger really made only one mistake, and that was throwing a late sideline pass to Mike Wallace that was picked off and returned 38 yards for a touchdown by CB William James. Otherwise, he did a good job reading pressure, sliding protection and beating blitzes with quick passes. He finished with three touchdown passes and a 123.9 passer rating.

Running backs

Rashard Mendenhall finished with 77 yards on 15 carries and a TD but never got much of a chance in the second half after rushing for 65 yards on nine attempts in the first half. His 27-yard run on his first carry was his fourth run of 22 yards or longer in his past three games. He showed good speed and vision to bounce outside and beat cornerback Anthony Henry to the corner on his 7-yard TD run.


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Receivers

Good thing Mike Wallace atoned with a 47-yard TD catch after pulling a Limas Sweed and dropping what would have been a 71-yard TD, then getting a delay penalty for kicking the ball. Hines Ward had seven catches for 85 yards and made a nice play to dive over a defender for his 17-yard TD. Heath Miller had all five of his catches in the first half, including three for 22 yards on the third TD drive.

Offensive line

The protection was very good, at least for three quarters, but then it should have been against a Detroit defensive line playing without two starters. Roethlisberger, though, was sacked three times, all during a four-play sequence in the fourth quarter. The running game averaged only 3.9 yards on 21 attempts, and part of that was because Roethlisberger knelt three times for minus-3 yards.

Defensive line

The Lions had 110 yards rushing, the most by an opponent this season, but the number is slightly misleading because QB Daunte Culpepper had 44 yards on two scrambles. Lions RB Kevin Smith finished with 53 yards on 20 carries but hurt the defense more with screen plays, catching three passes for 42 yards. Backup end Travis Kirschke had a big run-stuff for a 4-yard loss.

Linebackers

The Steelers had a season-high seven sacks on Culpepper, and their linebackers accounted for 5 1/2. James Harrison had a season-high three and also forced a big intentional grounding penalty that caused the Lions to settle for a field goal. LaMarr Woodley got his first 1 1/2 sacks of the season, but he also got beat on a 27-yard pass that set up a field goal.

Defensive backs

Wlliam Gay made the two biggest plays on the final series with back-to-back blitzes that forced two sacks, Ryan Clark had the first interception since the season opener and Ike Taylor made a leaping pass breakup on the Lions' final play. But nickel back Keiwan Ratliff continues to get beat in coverage, and the Lions were allowed to convert too many third-down chances (11 of 18).

Special teams

The good news is no costly mistakes. Stefan Logan has been mostly ineffective on kick returns, but he did have a big 47-yard return that allowed the Steelers to quickly counter Detroit's TD interception return in the second quarter. The kick coverage eventually tightened on Derrick Williams after a 34-yard return, and the punt coverage didn't allow a return longer than 9 yards.

Coaching

The game shouldn't have been this close, and the blame goes to the offense as much as the defense. The insistence on throwing the ball with a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter led to three sacks and only 18 plays in the second half. Mendenhall had only six carries in the second half. The defense allowed the Lions to repeatedly convert third downs, but it atoned with three sacks to finish the game.


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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