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T.J. Watt tops the Steelers Pro Football Focus defensive grades

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished their 2023 season with their third decisive win, this time in a shutout. The Steelers offensive starters saw two more drives which finished in touchdowns bring their total to five for five. As for the defense, they dominated early and got the job done for all 60 minutes.

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 3 performance. It is their performance just this week and not combined with their previous performances. 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 59 snaps on defense in Thursday’s game.


Top 5 (regardless of position)
OLB T.J. Watt: 92.8 (3 snaps)
OLB Quincy Roche: 92.1 (26 snaps)
S Keanu Neal: 88.0 (8 snaps)
ILB Elandon Roberts: 87.3 (10 snaps)
DT Keeanu Benton: 81.2 (20 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)
S Tre Norwood: 50.4 (19 snaps)
DT Manny Jones: 46.5 (17 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 45.0 (27 snaps)
ILB Mark Robinson: 29.7 (23 snaps)
DT James Nyamwaya: 29.2 (8 snaps)

Defensive Front Five

OLB T.J. Watt: 92.8 (3 snaps)
OLB Quincy Roche: 92.1 (26 snaps)
DT Keeanu Benton: 81.2 (20 snaps)
OLB Nick Herbig: 78.8 (23 snaps)

DT DeMarvin Leal: 75.7 (12 snaps)
DT Armon Watts: 74.7 (21 snaps)
DT Jonathan Marshall: 71.1 (21 snaps)
OLB Toby Ndukwe: 68.0 (22 snaps)
OLB Markus Golden: 67.7 (14 snaps)

DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 65.2 (23 snaps)
DT Breiden Fehoko: 64.7 (14 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 63.9 (10 snaps)
OLB David Perales: 63.1 (20 snaps)
DT Montravius Adams: 54.6 (7 snaps)
DT Manny Jones: 46.5 (17 snaps)

DT James Nyamwaya: 29.2 (8 snaps)

T.J. Watt only played three snaps, but getting a sack on one of them puts him at the top of the list. Quincy Roche actually had a higher pass rushing score than Watt (93.7 to 92.4) by having a strip sack with a much larger sample of snaps, but a 49.2 run defense score brought his overall grade down a little. Nick Herbig landed just outside of the top five overall and had his third big performance of the preseason. In all, 13 of the 16 players on the defensive front who saw snaps Thursday night landed with a score higher than 60.0.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Elandon Roberts: 87.3 (10 snaps)
ILB Tanner Muse: 74.2 (31 snaps)

ILB Kwon Alexander: 70.1 (17 snaps)
ILB Cole Holcomb: 61.8 (19 snaps)
ILB Nick Kwiatkoski: 56.8 (16 snaps)
ILB Mark Robinson: 29.7 (23 snaps)

Elandon Roberts seemed to be shot out of a cannon on Thursday night making a big play on the very first snap. Tanner Muse now has two games under his belt of a solid performance as he tries to show his quality depth to go along with the special teams. Cole Holcomb had the top coverage score on the defense (76.6) but didn’t score great against the run (46.0). Mark Robinson is quite interesting as he saw his score plummet from last week where he had an 87.1 overall. Robinson actually scored higher in run defense and tackling this week but saw his coverage score plummet from being the best on the team in Week 2 to the worst at a 29.3 against the Falcons. While I don’t think Robinson had nearly as good of a game in coverage this week, the vast difference between those two scores didn’t seem to match any difference in his play.

Defensive Backs

S Keanu Neal: 88.0 (8 snaps)
CB Chandon Sullivan: 75.6 (5 snaps)
CB Lavert Hill: 69.0 (14 snaps)
CB Levi Wallace: 67.6 (13 snaps)
CB Patrick Peterson: 67.4 (13 snaps)
CB Madre Harper: 66.8 (8 snaps)
CB Nevelle Clarke: 66.6 (8 snaps)
CB Luq Barcoo: 66.3 (11 snaps)
CB Chris Wilcox: 66.3 (11 snaps)
S Damontae Kazee: 62.7 (7 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 62.5 (7 snaps)
S Joey Porter Jr.: 59.4 (29 snaps)
S Elijah Riley: 58.0 (18 snaps)
S Trenton Thompson: 54.2 (27 snaps)

S Kenny Robinson: 52.1 (33 snaps)
S Jalen Elliott: 51.0 (19 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 50.4 (19 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 45.0 (27 snaps)

Looking first at my own eye test, I didn’t feel that there was really any member of the secondary that stood out in coverage in this game based on how everything played out. Keanu Neal had the best coverage score in the secondary with a 75.7 which is only behind linebacker Cole Holcomb. In all, the secondary scores seemed to match this type of game as they weren’t really called on to make big plays very often. The biggest takeaway might be James Pierre scoring at the bottom of the list as he is currently the Steelers best option for the fourth outside cornerback position.

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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