Steelers 2010 Report Card

Ah, what a year it was. An up year, but a bumpy ride.

Breaking with the scholastic theme of previous report cards, grading the Steelers 2010 season is like grading the guy who went through 3-4 rounds of job interviews, passed pre interview tests, had excellent references, but slipped up just enough in the final interview to swing the decision the other way….

…And alas, unlike high school, they do not award partial Lombardi Trophies for “showing your work.”

Nonetheless, these grades do reflect an overall evaluation of the Steelers 2010 performance.

How many teams make the Super Bowl after starting their 4th string quarterback for 3 games?

Ben Roethlisberger showed some rust following his 4 game suspension. While this rust was hardly toxic it went. Still Roethlisberger returned to top form before season’s end. His release was faster, accuracy up, and he gave up fewer sacks despite what at times was non-existent protection.

Roethlisberger made some costly errors in Super Bowl XLV and, although it may not be fair, many will hold that against him arguing it disqualifies him as an elite quarterback. (Never mind that those same “many” refuse to hold Peyton Manning to the same standard.)

2010 was not Ben’s best year under center, but his play did leave indications that that year is yet to come. Grade: B+

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall
did not have a breakout year in 2010. After flashing so much promise in 2009 Mendenhall plateaued in 2010, sometimes hitting holes decisively, while other times he shuffled tentatively.

His performance in the post season was emblematic of the year – the Steelers defeated the Jets because of Mendenhall’s power and ability to impose his will. Yet he committed costly turnovers against Baltimore and then in Super Bowl XLV.

Isaac Redman lived up to his cult-hero status. The question about Redman at this point is why he doesen’t carry more? Mewelde Moore made few splashy headlines, but played solid football when called upon. Jonathan Dwyer looked OK in one outing against Cleveland.

The Steelers were able to run the ball when they needed to in 2010, a marked contrast to 2009. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Santonio Who?

The Steelers discarded their youngest Super Bowl MVP wide out, doing some addition by subtraction. This unit made plays.

Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown both developed and made impacts as rookies far beyond what anyone had the right to expect.

Mike Wallace’s playoff production indicates he still needs more development, but his 20 plus yards per catch average indicates he is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in this league.

Health Miller had a “quiet” year, if you consider calmly making clutch catches “quiet.”

Hines Ward remains driving force behind this unit. He may have had more 1-2 catch games that Steelers Nation is accustomed to, but he made those catches count.

The fact the Arnaz Battle was a special teams Ace and Antwaan Randle El had the catch of the year and are still afterthoughts speaks volumes of the rest of the unit. Grade: A

Offensive Line
Has a Steelers offensive line ever experienced such turmoil? The 2010 offensive line sage makes the 2008 offensive line double rebuilding project look trite. Guards played tackle. Tackles played guard. Back ups were called into replace the… backups.

No, the offensive line was neither dominate nor consistent. Outside of Maurkice Pouncey, few members of the unit would get poached in a hypothetical expansion draft. Yet, when examined collectively, the offensive line remained “above the line” in 2010, against all odds. Grade: C+

Defensive Line
Another unit that stared upheaval in the face and refused to blink. Unlike their brethren on the offensive line, the Steelers do have defenders who are the envy of their peers, and their ability to step up in the face of injury is a major reason why the Steelers finished just shy of setting an NFL rush defense record. Grade: A

The strength of the team in 2010, the Steelers linebacking corps was also the NFL’s best. Every Steelers linebacker made plays in 2010, despite finding themselves squarely in the crosshairs of the NFL’s new “Thou Shalt Not Hit” policy. James Harrison continued to, in Mike Tomlin’s words, “make plays in timely fashion,” James Farrior defied father time, LaMarr Woodley had a Pro Bowl year, and all Lawrence Timmons did was lead the team in tackles. Grade: A

The secondary finished 2009 a maligned, shell-shocked unit which played with zero confidence absent their leader, Troy Polamalu. 2010 brought a different story as Ryan Clark and William Gay rebounded, Bryant McFadden made good on his return, and Troy Polamalu made game changing play after game changing play. With these improvements duly noted, the Steelers were more vulnerable to the pass this year than in years past, and the secondary must bear responsibility for that. Grade: B

Special Teams
At mid season, Al Everest was looking like a miracle worker, but then the Steelers special teams started slipping. The Steelers special teams improved in 2010. Two victories can be directly traced to their “splash plays.” That they made this improvement despite the departure of Jeff Reed and injury to Dan Sepulveda is all the more impressive.

Still penalties and inconsistencies in the return and coverage units were at issue. While we laud the improvements, playing championship football will require the special teams to move beyond simply not being a liability. Grade: B

Why Bill Belichick won AP Coach of the Year Honors is beyond me…
…The Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff began the year in crisis and spent the rest of the year managing injuries, suspensions, and some selective prosecution from the officials. Mike Tomlin always maintained a clear head, kept his team focused, refused to make or allow excuses, adjusted game plans and approaches, and made tough personnel calls.

Pittsburgh measures success in Lombardi’s and the Steelers failed to nab one this year. But the truth is the coaching staff did one hell of a job. Grade: A-

Unsung Heroes
This is a tough award to give out because so many men stepped up at so many critical times. But how about singling out Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Jonathan Scott, and Trai Essex, the offensive line’s key backups. These men not only rotated in and out of the starting line up, they rotated from position to position – often multiple times in the same game. Lacking that selflessness, absent that versatility, or without that will to win, the Steelers don’t even sniff a chance at Lombardi number Seven.

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