Translated into scholastic terms the Steelers recent offensive line building strategy has been the football equivalent of “craming pulling all-nighters.” In light of the Trashing in Texas, this Steelers report card carries a tone of “I warned you.” As usual, no other report cards were consulted.
It is not easy to throw from your back. Still, Ben Roethlisberger missed some open receivers on plays the Steelers needed to have and according to Dale Lolley, Ben had check downs open on some of the sacks he took. He also had a couple of three turnovers nullified by penalties. Grade: C-
So it isn’t just the poor run blocking. Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman gave the offense a real shot in the arm when it needed it. Mendenhall has only been effective when reach the line of scrimmage. Grade: C+
Mike Wallace made a brilliant play that got called back on a taunting penalty – the Steelers can’t have this. Antonio Brown showed some fancy footwork. Overall the receivers were “above the line” but that alone was not enough. Grade: B-
No one on the line is playing well. No one. Maurkice Pouncey perhaps played a little better this week, but he’s still way below last year’s standard. And Pouncey’s penalty took the Steelers out of scoring distance. Trai Essex left no doubt as to why he got zero interest in the free agent market, and Marcus Gilbert seemed to break off his blocks just as his man was getting to Ben or else he simply got beat physically. If the Steelers don’t have the worst offensive line in football, show me who does. Grade: F-
Differing theories abound as to the Steelers sudden vulnerable to the run. What is clear is that the Texans ran inside, run outside, ran around and over the Steelers defensive line and none of the lineman could cope. Injuries or no, Aaron Smith’s continuing claim to a roster spot remains tenious at best, but Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood got plenty of snaps and they did not help. Grade: F
Why is it that James Harrison, he of 33 years of age and back surgery, appears to be the only noticeable player in the group? Age may be catching up with James Farrior, but what about Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley? The Steelers invested over 100 million dollars in these youngsters and neither has delivered. Grade: F
Troy Polamalu was all over the place as usual, but his angles were off and Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain has suggested this arises for his desire to avoid fines. Keenan Lewis made a nice pass defense, William Gay and Ike Taylor looked good. Still, four games into the season, the secondary has produced ZERO turnovers. As bad as the rest of the team played, one turnover could have made the difference in Houston. Grade: C-
The Steelers had some nice punt returns although some work on when to field and when to fair catch is needed. But what is it with the blocked kick? In four games this is the second time one of the place kicking units has suffered a total breakdown. This cannot continue. Grade: D
Perhaps the NFL’s new rules on dangerous hits have neutered the Steelers defense. Perhaps the mandated reduction of physicality in practice has had a similar effect on both the defense and the offensive line. It is difficult to argue with Mike Tomlin’s assessment that the Steelers problems trace back to the fundamentals – blocking and tackling. Except why would one say that about a defending conference champion? Either way the Steelers have been caught totally flatfooted by the NFL in 2011. Grade: F
David Johnson’s presence in the backfield helped get the running game going in the second half although it did nothing to help the pass protection. Either way Gerry Dulac gave him a nod in The Post-Gazette’s Two Minute Drill.
The Steelers coverage units have played well this year, and yesterday they were led by rookie corner Curtis Brown who made three special teams tackles and forced a fumble which the Texans recovered. Age is an issue for the Steelers defense, and signs of hope from the youth are welcome, and for that Curtis Brown is Steel Curtain Rising’s Unsung Hero of the week.