From the grade book of a teacher who sees that their star pupil gave it all, but just couldn’t get it together when it counted, so goes the Steelers report card for their Wild Card loss to the Denver Broncos.
Ben Roethlisberger stepped up and made some conragous plays during a game where the offensive line protection was shaky at best. He nonetheless threw a costly interception that fed the Broncos momentum when the Steelers could ill-afford it (and should have had at least one other pick.) He also got lucky with a blown call on a botched lateral. For some unknown reason, Roethlisberger’s timing with Mike Wallace has been off in the second part of the season, and that as much as anything else hurt. Grade: C
Isaac Redman was a senseation. This man has a motor that simply does not quit, and he more than lived up to the standard set by Merril Hoge in this same city back in 1989. Redman had to carry the load all by himself, and he was more than up to the task, running for 121 yards on just 17 carries. Ball protection, however, is becoming an issue with Mr. Redzone. Grade: A
Emmanuel Sanders justified the coaches wisdom in making sure he was healthy for the playoffs. Antonio Brown likewise looked sharp in his catches. Heath Miller was Mr. Dependable as usual. Jerico Cocherty was great on the TD catch but dropped another ball. Mike Wallace was largely a non-factor, and failed to control the ball on what could have been a game-changing 50 yard completion. Hines Ward had a couple of drops and no catches in what might have been his final game. Grade: B-
Another week, another injury to the offensive line. This time it was Max Starks who fell with Jonathan Scott stepping in to take his place. The line blocked well for Redman, but Ben Roethlisberger suffered repeated sacks when the team was trying to run its two minute drill at the end of both halves. And Doug Legursky’s errant snap was another costly, untimely mistake. This unit had its moments and weathered some adversity, but ultimately the Steelers needed more. Grade: C-
The Steelers lost Casey Hampton and Brett Kiesel early in the game, leaving them with just three healthy lineman. Ziggy Hood, Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward did an excellent job of containing the Denver running game, but contributed next to nothing in the pass rush. Given the set of cirumstances they were forced to work with, this unit did OK. Grade: B-
LaMarr Woodley was not a pass rushing force but came up with a key fumble recovery, and Lawrence Timmons was second on the time in tackles with one tackle for a loss. And the unit did well in containing the run. But James Harrison was not a factor in the pass rush, and seemed bewildered as to how to read Tebow’s options. James Farrior was not much of a factor. The bottom line is the Steelers needed much, much more from this unit, and that was not to be found. Grade: D.
Let’s give them this, Ryan Clark was out, Keenan Lewis was playing on a bad hamstring, and Cortez Allen was out. Even if you take all of these mitigating factors into account, the until still had a nightmare performance unlike anything that has been seen in decades. Ike Taylor topped off his career year with the worst game of his career. William Gay did play well, but where were the safeties on the Tebow’s multiple 40 plus throws? Whether by coaching, cockiness or happenstance, the DB’s were attempting to be ball hawks when they should have been focusing on limiting yards after the catch. Grade: F
Shaun Sushiam was 3-3 including a 45 yarder that hooked at just the right moment. Justin Kapionos boomed off punts with authority and the Denver return units never made any noise. That said, hats off to Denver’s kickers, as Antonio Brown didn’t get a chance to attempt any returns. The Steelers had a lot of weaknesses on display in Denver, but specials teams was not one of them. Grade: B
The logic behind Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin’s decision to force Tebow to beat the Steelers throwing is understandable, but his failure to adjust as Tebow’s 40 yard plus throws is not. Where was the pass pressure? Why was Tebow able to consistently draw blood with his option plays? The Steelers wracked up 400 yards but only 23 points, under performing on the road yet again. Over all, the Steelers did not appear to be focused or well prepared, although their persistence in the face of injury was impressive. Grade: D
Had the Steelers won the game Ben Roethlisberger, Isaac Redman, or perhaps even Shaun Suisham would have gotten the game ball. But this young man led the Steelers receiving crops, and did it and impressive way, reminding everyone of why he, and not Antonio Brown was the player coaches were touting for greatness heading into 2011, and for that Emmanuel Sanders is Unsung Hero for the Steelers Wild Card game.