Steelers vs. Packers Performance Grades: Defense Struggles in Snowy Shootout

Wesley Hitt

Despite looking ahead to the Bears game, we take our last look back at the Packers 38-31 loss to the Steelers this past Sunday, and hand out positional performance grades.

It's amazing this team had a shot to tie the game on the final play of regulation.

After a pick-six, an offsides penalty on Nick Perry (that turned three points into seven) and a false start that cost the Packers five yards and 10 seconds on the final drive, the Packers didn't deserve to still be in the ball game. There's no moral victory in losing at home to a 7-8 football team, but somehow both teams are still alive for postseason play.

With Thursday's news of the return of QB12, and possibly Randall Cobb, there's no reason to dwell on the past. Unfortunately, in the sports realm, we must assign blame and credit after every event. Consider me the ghost of Packers past, as we take a journey through a game that didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Quarterback: D+

Matt Flynn finished 21 for 39 for 232 yards, one touchdown, and one awful interception. Flynn could have easily had a second interception if it wasn't for the hustle play of James Jones to rip the ball away from Ike Taylor.

On the pick-six throw, Flynn appeared to make an audible at the line to change the play from a quick run to a quick pass. The only problem was that they were in an inverted wishbone formation, which made a three-step drop nearly impossible. The second Flynn ran into Quarless, Flynn should have aborted the play. Instead, he threw off his back foot, while falling over, and cost his team seven points.

Flynn's two biggest assets for the organization are his experience and composure. He didn't show either of those qualities this past Sunday. He isn't a difference maker at the quarterback position, and is best suited for the game-manager role. He could be a solid player if he made better decisions, and didn't try to do too much. At this point, I expect him to be a career back up, and not necessarily in Green Bay.

Running Backs: A

Eddie Lacy is human after all. There is only so much punishment the bowling ball of a man can take, and Sunday proved that. Lacy left that game with an ankle injury in the third quarter and never returned. Lacy finished with 84 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while James Starks added 47 yards on 10 carries. John Kuhn added 12 yards and one touchdown on three carries.

Lacy showed off his quick burst, patience, and vision while in the game. His 14-yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty, as he cut back on the play, and ending the run with a spiraling jump into the end zone.

Starks seemed to run with some explosiveness when he got the opportunity, and read his blocks better than he has at other times this season. Starks also added a 23-yard reception on the second drive of the game. John Kuhn did get a goal line carry for a touchdown, but he also dropped an easy screen pass, and didn't have the greatest footwork in both run blocking and pass protection.

Wide Receivers: A-

James Jones led the unit with 84 yards on nine receptions, while Jarrett Boykin added five receptions for 54 yards and one touchdown.

Jordy Nelson caught 3 passes for 46 yards. It was clear the Steelers wanted to take away Nelson's playmaking ability at both the slot and outside, as Nelson was bracketed by a safety for most of the game. If Randall Cobb is ever able to return this season, expect to see a few big plays from Jordy Nelson on the outside.

Tight Ends: B

Andrew Quarless only caught one pass for 19 yards, but had one of his best blocking performances of his young career. While most of the offensive line struggled with LOLB Jason Worilds, Quarless was able to win the point of attack against Worilds. With Brandon Bostick out for the remainder of the season and Ryan Taylor not being much a difference maker, it's up to Quarless to carry the load for this unit.

Offensive Line: B

Take away a terrible attempt of a block by Marshall Newhouse as a sixth blocker on Jason Worilds and a delayed snap by Evan Dietrich-Smith that caused the costly 10-second runoff at the end of the game, and this unit could be in the A- range.

The offense averaged five yards a carry, and appeared to win the point of attack on the majority of run plays, especially when the guards pulled. There were some costly mistakes, but overall this group has shown some major improvements over the past two weeks.

Defensive Line: C-

Other than his emotional exchanges with third-string center Cody Wallace, B.J. Raji was nearly invisible once again on Sunday. Raji and Ryan Pickett both failed to record a tackle on the day, and didn't provide much pressure against a Pittsburgh offensive line that is banged up and depleted. The duo did maintain good gap integrity, but didn't appear to get off blocks very effectively. Mike Daniels provided a fairly consistent pass rush, but was washed out of run plays from time to time due to his over pursuing nature.

Josh Boyd appears to have replaced Datone Jones in most packages, playing 24 snap to Jones' 4 on Sunday. C.J. Wilson was decent against the run in his limited performance.

Linebackers: B-

A.J. Hawk and Andy Mulumba each recorded six tackles to lead the unit. Hawk's interception might be his most impressive show of athleticism since his days as a Buckeye. Hawk hasn't been meeting people in the hole lately, and is often making plays five yards down the field. With Clay Matthews (three tackles, one sack) out, and Brad Jones (one tackle on 19 snaps) banged up, Hawk will need to summon his early-season form in order for this defense to right the ship.

Mulumba was above average in run support, but had leaks in coverage. Mike Neal added five tackles, but only one pressure. Jamari Lattimore (34 snaps) recorded three tackles and one forced fumble. Nick Perry didn't record a tackle in 22 snaps, and appears to be a shell of the player he was earlier this year before his foot injury slowed him down.

Health has really hit this group hard this season. While people make a big deal about the lack of quality back up quarterbacks on the roster, I believe the lack of depth at linebacker has been an issue of equal stress.

Cornerbacks: C+

If there was a positive takeaway from Sunday's game, it was that Micah Hyde was excellent in his performance as a nickel back. He proved to be more than up to the task in run support, recording six tackles to lead the unit. Tramon Williams recorded five, while Sam Shields added three, and Davon House and Jarrett Bush each added one.

Williams struggled to keep up with Antonio Brown, who recorded 105 yards on six receptions. Shields missed one tackle, but was solid in containing Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery.

Safeties: C

Morgan Burnett led the defense in tackles with eight, while Sean Richardson added five. M.D. Jennings had four tackles, and Chris Banjo added one.

Burnett (58 snaps) and Jennings (22 snaps) each missed two tackles, and were sloppy in pass coverage as well. The duo doesn't appear to be playing with any confidence, and at times appear to be over-thinking their assignments on a given play.

Richardson (36 snaps) seems to be more reliable than Jennings in run support, but isn't an upgrade in terms of pass coverage.

Kicker: B

Mason Crosby made a 22-yard field goal, but also had a 23-yarder blocked before it was nullified by illegal push pass by a Pittsburgh defender. His kickoff average was around 61 yards per kick, and he even added a tackle for good measure.

Punter: B+

The Ginger Wolverine booted six punts for an average of 41.6, downing one inside the 20-yard line. Brett Goode's one-hop snap to start the day wasn't exactly helpful to Masthay's cause either.

It's hard to learn much from a game that didn't really matter by the end of Sunday night. The Lions lost to the Giants to eliminate themselves from playoff contention, and the Bears got smoked by the Eagles on Sunday Night Football.

Now the Packers get their leader back just in time to play in a winner-takes-all road game in Chicago on Sunday. With Rodgers practicing with the team over the past couple of weeks, don't expect much rust from QB12.

The only question is whether his contributions will even matter with the way the Green Bay defense has playing as of late.

Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JVanDyke24

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