Steelers Report Card vs. the Raiders

The report card for the Steelers 35-3 thrashing of the Raiders takes the Steelers from academic probation to Dean’s list in one week.

As usual, I add the caveat that no other report cards were consulted.

Ben Roethlisberger looked a little rusty as he has all season – on the first series. After that it was vintage Roethlisberger. Ben made things happen, throwing three touchdowns, running for another and picking up a first down with his legs. The Steelers were also 7-14 on third downs. That does not happen if the signal caller plays poorly. Grade: A-

Running Backs
Can you imagine Rashard Mendenhall with good run blocking? I was shocked to see that his average and his numbers were so low. Yet Mendenhall made it happen enough to give the Steelers some balance. Isaac Redman acquitted himself well in relief of Mendenhall and scored his first NFL TD as a result. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Eight different players caught balls against the Raiders, and all made plays. Emmanuel Sanders made the most out of his first game as the third wide receiver, as did Antonio Brown. Health Miller and Hines Ward only caught three balls apice, but their made their catches count. Grade: A

Offensive Line
In and act of incredible foresight, Sean Kluger was brought in from the Bills largely on the strength of his ability to manage makeshift offensive lines. The line didn’t open much for the running game, but they did give Roethlisberger time to throw. Tomlin’s creedo is “injuries will be no excuse” and these men lived up to it. Grade: B-

Defensive Line
Do you think Johnny Mitchell and his defensive lineman were a little ticked that the Patriots ran on them? They were, and they lopped 4.2 yards per carry off of his normal rushing average. Ziggy Hood did not rack up gaudy statistics, but he was around the ball. A welcome sign we must see more of. Grade: A

Another unit that took its embarrassment over the Patriots disaster out on the Raiders. The Steelers linebackers were everywhere. Defending passes, sacking quarterbacks, tackling for losses and hauling down interceptions. And who was it that was saying a year ago that James Farrior had lost a step…? Don’t tell that to the Raiders. Grade: A

After getting torched and derided for much of the last month, the Steelers secondary answered with one of its finest games of the season. Each member made significant plays, and Troy Polamalu made everyone forget about his Achilles issue. There was no 4th quarter comeback this time nor was there a threat of one, thanks to the defensive backs. Grade A

Special Teams
Tory Brown needs to return more kicks. This is a player who can take it to the house. Shaun Suisham looked like he was hooking his PAT kicks a little to much, but I’ll take 5-5. His kickoffs, however, could have been longer. Grade: B

The ugly loss to the Patriots could have triggered an unpleasant chain reaction. Mike Tomlin prevented that from happening. The rest of the NFL might feel that Patriots released the template for defeating the Steelers defense, but Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin concede nothing. Bruce Arians and his coaches likewise deserve credit for their game plan, and for their ability to deal with unprecedented offensive line shuffling.

Tomlin also gets the nod for dressing and playing both Emmanuel Sanders and Troy Brown. I have never bought into the “weapons can compensate for a leaky line” but both of these men give the offense some much needed speed. Grade: A.

Unsung Hero
It might seem odd to give this nod to the unit with the lowest grade, but the Steelers offensive line deserves it. This unit has played under more adversity than any other Steelers offensive line in modern memory. And while their play has been dominating, let along flawless, it has been above the proverbial line.

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