Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is watching one half of the class fail its written test horribly, while the other half is acing the oral exam, here is the Steelers report card for the loss vs. the Browns. As a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.
The positives – Charlie Batch worked the two minute drill very well to put the Steelers up at the half. But the rest of the afternoon all but obliterates the one moment. Batch couldn’t hit his man down field and several passes were wild. The Steelers were 1-9 on third downs. He threw three picks, although they weren’t entirely his fault, the quarterback’s job is to avoid tunovers. Grade: D-
Positives – Chris Rainey was positively brilliant on his touchdown run, showing the type of “X-Factor” that the coaches thought he had in preseason. But that was his only strong run of the game. And he fumbled. As did Rashard Mendenhall. As did Jonathan Dwyer. As did Isaac Redman. Worse than that, when they weren’t fumbling none of the running backs even came even close to establishing the run. Grade: F
The fleeting moments when the Steelers feigned a comeback found Heath Miller catching the ball. Coincidence? Not at all. Emmanuel Sanders was the only receiver to make any downfield head way or do anything with the ball in hand. In his return as a Steeler, Plaxico Burress cut off a route resulting in an interception and dropped a pass he should have caught. Mike Wallace bobbled one ball that got picked off and watched as another got picked off. Batch completed many check downs because he could find no one open. Grade: D
Positives – Charlie Batch actually had decent time to throw (which is scary, actually). But the offensive line contributed to the Steelers failure to get into a groove with multiple penalties that negated gains. To win, the Steelers needed to run the ball, and that’s something that rushers did not have much daylight. As a unit, the line needed to step up, and it failed in that regard. Grade: D
If their was any possibility that the coaches might forget him, Steve McLendon made his presence felt loud and clear, slamming Trent Richardson for 3 yard loss. However, Casey Hampton played well too, while Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward did their part. But it was Brett Keisel who was all over the backfield, tipping passes, hurrying the passer, tackling guys for a loss and registering a sack. Grade: B+
In preseason Steel Curtain Rising said that for the Steelers defense to excel, Lawence Timmons would need to come on strong. Well, Timmons has come on strong at mid season, and his pick six was masterfully executed. He was all over the field after that, leading the team in tackles. James Harrison played well. And don’t look now, but Jason Worilds posted double digit sacks, including one that got the ball back for Pittsburgh. An almost great effort by the linebackers wasted. Grade: A-
Another strong game by the Steelers secondary that limited Cleveland to 1 for 9 on third downs. When that happens a unit is doing a lot of things right. Keenan Lewis had another strong game. Ike Taylor had two passes defensed, which is actually a problem as the Steelers needed them to be picks. Ryan Clark again was all over the field, and Will Allen continues to ably fill in for Troy Polamalu. Grade: B+
Drew Butler had a solid day punting and Shaun Suisham’s kickoffs were deep. The Steelers punt return coverage unit did contain Joshua Cribbs, but allowed a long return by Travis Benjamin. However, the Steelers struggled could have used a bust from their return game and instead got nothing, although one nice Chris Rainey return was called back on a penalty. Emmanuel Sanders muffed a punt that could have been another turnover. The Steelers needed something special from this unit. They didn’t get it. Grade: C-
Positives – Dick LeBeau has this unit executing at a high level, despite the absence of some key players. That says a lot, although the lack of turnovers is uncanny. “Horrendous” does not do justice to the performance of the Steelers offense. But can you blame an offensive coordinator whose unit turned over on half of its possessions? No, you really can’t.
In a conventional sense, you can’t blame Mike Tomlin for the fumbles and interceptions either. But, as noted in Steel Curtain Rising’s post game analysis, the Steelers suffered from a lack of focus. When things begin to become unglued, it falls on the head coach to find a way to keep his team on track. Tomlin found a way to keep his defense trained on the mark, but the offense only got worse, and that puts the coaching staff below the line. Grade: C-
The Steelers defense began the season as the team’s weak link. Since the Tennessee game they’ve improved bit by bit, and so has one of its key players. By his own admission, he lacks the explosiveness on the premeter that once made him feared, but he’s been finding new ways to quietly contribute each week. Against the Browns, he was no longer quiet, and if he may not have roared, a loud growl was heard in Cleveland’s backfield as he tackled four players for losses, had a sack, and was number 2 on the team in total tackles, and for that James Harrison is the Unsung Hero of the Browns game.