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Linebackers top the Steelers Pro Football Focus defensive grades

The Pittsburgh Steelers continued their 2023 season with a decisive preseason win in front of their home crowd. The Steelers starters saw limited action on offense and defense, but they got the job done so decisively it was time to move on to the other units. It was another team victory, this time 27-15.

But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for the Steelers preseason Week 2 performance. It is their performance just this week and not combined with their previous performance. Before going any further, I must give my typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective and merely an opinion. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed and sometimes it causes me to look more at a certain player when looking at things a second time. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are each week.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. After looking at the offense yesterday, next up this week is the defense. Included will be the players who played at least one snap and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 60 snaps on defense in Saturday’s game.


Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

ILB Tanner Muse: 90.4 (31 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 90.3 (11 snaps)
ILB Mark Robinson: 87.1 (22 snaps)
OLB Nick Herbig: 86.9 (27 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 82.2 (8 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

S Jalen Elliott: 43.9 (18 snaps)
DT James Nyamwaya: 43.8 (8 snaps)
S Damontae Kazee: 33.9 (12 snaps)
DT Breiden Fehoko: 30.5 (18 snaps)
ILB Forrest Rhyne: 24.7 (9 snaps)


Defensive Front Five

OLB Alex Highsmith: 90.3 (11 snaps)
OLB Nick Herbig: 86.9 (27 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 82.2 (8 snaps)

OLB Marcus Golden: 80.3 (15 snaps)
DT DeMarvin Leal: 67.2 (17 snaps)
DT Cam Heyward: 66.2 (10 snaps)
DT Montravius Adams: 63.5 (13 snaps)
OLB Toby Ndukwe: 61.1 (22 snaps)

DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 56.9 (27 snaps)
DT Manny Jones: 54.1 (15 snaps)

DT Jonathan Marshall: 53.7 (11 snaps)
DT Armon Watts: 53.7 (22 snaps)
OLB David Perales: 48.0 (30 snaps)
DT James Nyamwaya: 43.8 (8 snaps)

DT Breiden Fehoko: 30.5 (18 snaps)

The outside linebackers top this list with good play from the top four guys. It was Highsmith’s 86.4 coverage score which sent him apart from the rest in this position group with a pass defensed on one of his two coverage snaps. The defensive line didn’t have any scores overly impressive. As much as I have been hearing good things about Breiden Fehoko in training camp, he hasn’t stood out in either preseason game. One more interesting point for this group is the omission of Quincy Roche as he did not see any snaps on defense.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Tanner Muse: 90.4 (31 snaps)
ILB Mark Robinson: 87.1 (22 snaps)
ILB Elandon Roberts: 81.0 (12 snaps)

ILB Kwon Alexander: 58.4 (25 snaps)
ILB Cole Holcomb: 50.9 (20 snaps)
ILB Forrest Rhyne: 24.7 (9 snaps)

Tanner Muse pulled off the complete turnaround in going from the lowest defensive score in the Steelers first preseason game to topping the overall list in his second time around. It was an 85.6 coverage score, third overall behind Mark Robinson (88.3) and Alex Highsmith (86.4) in the game which helped bolster his numbers. Speaking of Mark Robinson, it was great to see him do well with the best cover score despite giving up two receptions on two targets but for only 5 yards. I thought Cole Holcomb stood out much more than the previous week in a good way but was given a 46.8 score in run defense. When it comes to Kwon Alexander, he had an even lower run defense score of 44.1 but had a 71.0 pass rush score which helped his overall grade.

Defensive Backs

CB Chandon Sullivan: 77.1 (14 snaps)
CB Chris Wilcox: 72.5 (24 snaps)
S Keanu Neal: 72.1 (12 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 71.7 (13 snaps)
S Joey Porter Jr.: 71.1 (24 snaps)
S Elijah Riley: 71.1 (16 snaps)

CB Madre Harper: 67.8 (7 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 65.2 (37 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 64.8 (11 snaps)
CB Lavert Hill: 63.0 (14 snaps)

CB Levi Wallace: 62.3 (16 snaps)
S Kenny Robinson: 56.4 (31 snaps)
S Trenton Thompson: 52.3 (25 snaps)
CB Patrick Peterson: 45.5 (13 snaps)
S Jalen Elliott: 43.9 (18 snaps)
S Damontae Kazee: 33.9 (12 snaps)

There wasn’t really any scores that jumped out from the defensive secondary of the Steelers. Chandon Sullivan led the group with his nice interception that came on a pass rush. Both Keanu Neal and Minkah Fitzpatrick started off with decent scores in their first action of the preseason followed closely by Joey Porter Jr. It is concerning to see Patrick Peterson and DeMonte Kazee at the bottom of the list with coverage scores of 43.9 and 38.8 respectively, but it was their first action in what many would call a “vanilla” preseason defense.


So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.

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