From the grade book of a teacher whose sorely disappointed that his star pupil squandered term paper that he needed to give him a much needed cushion heading into final exams, so goes the Steelers report card for going splat against the 49ers. As always, no other grades have been consulted.
What were Ben Roethlisberger’s final numbers? Who knows. They are unimportant. The important stat that sticks out is 4 turnovers and 3 sacks. Ben Roethlisberger was playing with an injury that left him unable to deliver the deep ball, unable to evade pressure, and inaccurate much of the rest of the time. Does he deserve credit for sucking it up under such trying circumstances? Yes, and that’s what prevents his grade from being an out right failure. Grade: D
Rashard Mendenhall only ran for 64 yards, but he did that in just 15 carries against the NFL’s number one rushing defense. Its not his fault that the team chose to run merely 18 times on the night when their quarterback was hurting. Issac Redman seems to have played better than ESPN’s statistics note, but number don’t like. Mewelde Moore had a nice 21 yard run before he got hurt. Grade: B
Health Miller was the best player in this unit, although he should have caught the ball that ended up being Ben’s second pick – yes the ball was high. Jericho Cotchery did well late in the game. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown also played well on a difficult night. Still, if the Steelers got good play out of their receivers, they needed exceptional play. Grade: B-
The offensive line missed Maurkice Pouncey out there, but nonetheless played well. They did get called for several penalties in the second half, but those were largely academic. The unit actually gave Ben Roethlisberger decent time to throw, but Roethlisberger was unable to take advantage. Likewise, Mendenhall had room to run, but line wasn’t controlling the line of scrimmage with the kind of conviction that was necessary to control this kind of game. Grade: C+
The San Francisco’s rushers didn’t dominate, but did do enough to keep drives moving. The defensive line did seem to get some pressure on Alex Smith early on, but that pressure was neither consistent nor effective down the stretch. Still, this unit gets credit for forcing two field goals early in the game. Grade: B-
Lawrence Timmons got burned repeatedly and looked nothing like the dominating player he appeared to be growing into during the first half of 2010. LaMarr Woodley was not effective. Jason Worilds was a non-factor. James Farrior got beaten badly when the Steelers could least afford it. The Steelers had no sacks and one QB knock down against a quarterback that will let you beat him if you apply enough pressure. Grade: D+
The effort of the secondary was inconsistent. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark made key tackle after key tackle, and the Steelers kept San Francisco to 4-13 on third down conversions. Still, things could have been better had Alex Smith not missed some wide open receivers. All in all, however, the secondary’s performance was above the line. Grade: B
Keenan Lewis forced what should have been a potentially game changing fumble. Lawrence Timmons got called on a penalty that ultimately made the score 20-3 instead of 16 to 3. Suisham was 1-1 on long kicks – about the best you can expect. Antonio Brown made a few mistakes but put in a solid game. Special teams could have given the Steelers a spark, but it is hard to find fault with their performance. Grade: B-
Mike Tomlin coached the worst game of his professional life. Starting Ben Roethlisberger was a good move, keeping him in the game cost the Steelers a shot at home field advantage in the playoffs. Keeping him in the game was inexcusable. With Bruce Arians you have a mixed bag – throwing 44 times against the NFL’s number 1 defense is understandable, throwing 44 times with a wounded quarterback is not. Grade: F
To paraphrase Gerry Dulac’s words, there were lots of chances for someone from the Steelers defense to be a hero against the 49ers, yet that hero never materialized.
Nonetheless, on a night when the offense was struggling as bad as it has in recent memory, the defense kept the Steelers in the game deep into the fourth quarter. Absent “splash” plays, that only happens if guys are making quick, smart plays on a down-by-down basis. One man did that through the whole game, registering two tackles for losses and defensing two passes. For his consistent, productive play, Ryan Clark is Steel Curtain Rising’s unsung hero of the 49ers game.