From the grade book of a teacher who has agnonized as his student slammed his head up against a wall time and time again, only to finally achieve success. Thus comes the Steelers report card for their 25-17 puncturing of the Patriots. As always, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.
Ben Roethlisberger threw 50 passes completed 36 of them for 365 yards and two touchdowns. Moreover 39 of those 50 passes were underneath, and Roethlisberger completed 79.5 percent of them according to ESPN and with Roethlisberger guiding them, the Steelers offense converted 10 of 16 first downs with a monster 39:22 time of possession. And the beauty of it is, Roethlisbeger knows he can still improve. Grade: A-
So the Steelers dominated time of possession by almost a two to one margin and 3 running backs totaled 21 carries? Yes, this might be a sign of things to come. But that will be OK if Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore produce continue to deliver when they get their chances. Grade: B+
Every member of the Steelers receiving corps (save for Weslye Saunders) not only caught balls, but did their part make catches that counted. This unit kept the chains moving and dominated New England’s secondary. Young Money has yet to master the shoe string catch and there were some communication miscues. Like Roethlisberger, this group can still improve and that’s the beauty of the situation. Grade: A-
Heavens sake, what a difference a year makes. Last year against the Patriots seemed to collapse the left side of the Steelers offensive line at will. The offensive line gave Roethlisberger time for most of the day, and the sacks were largely Ben’s fault. The line also opened up holes for the rushers. The line could have played better in the Steelers final offensive series as well at the goal line. Grade: B+
If the Steelers had developed a fundamental weakness against the run, Billy Belinick would have exploited it. As it was the Patriots totaled 53 yards rushing. Tom Brady didn’t face a ton of pressure, but he didn’t have anywhere near the time he did last year. Brett Keisel is playing like a man possessed. Grade: A-
Out go James Harrison, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, and in come Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, and Chris Carter…. LaMarr Woodley had a dominating performance until a hamstring fell him. Larry Foote did his part to pick up the slack in the middle and was second on the team in tackles. Timmons also looked “OK.” Sylvester didn’t play much and Cater did about as well as you could expect given the circumstances. Grade: B+
My, my, my, is this the maligned unit that left Super Bowl XLV with its tail between its legs? Ike Taylor totally shut down Wes Welker, Deon Branch failed to a factor and the Steelers secondary played some aggressive press man-to-man converge to send New England’s aerial game crashing down to earth. Pittsburgh has not seen such quality secondary play the man who is not coaching them, Carnell Lake, was playing in the early 1990’s with Rod Woodson and Darren Perry. Coincidence? Don’t bet on it… Grade: A+
Shawn Sushiam’s out of bounds kick off, idiotic rule aside, could have been lethal were it not for the defense. Nonetheless his field goals gave the Steelers their margin, however the fact that he missed his fourth kick and that the coaches didn’t feel confident enough to let him kick when trying to run out the clock is a little disquieting. Grade: B-
Who was the resident genius at Heinz Field? Bruce Arians rolled out one of the best game plans he has ever produced in Pittsburgh and his players executed it almost to a T. And you can’t say enough of about the way the Dick LeBeau’s defense smothered what had been the NFL’s best offense. Mike Tomlin brought it all together by getting the team to forget about “righting history” and focus on “writing history.” Grade: A+
Unsung Hero Award
The Steelers victory over the Patriots may go down as the day that the passing game established itself is the dominant modus operandi of the Steelers offense. But that should not short change the quality contributions made by the running backs. The Steelers ran economically against New England, but they it well when they needed to, and for that Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, and Isaac Redman are the Steelers Unsung Heroes of the Patriots game.