Steelers Report Card vs. Bengals @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who can only now sympathize with Parkland Junior High School’s decision to send out interim progress reports (i.e. failure warnings) before the Christmas holidays, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss against the Bengals at Heinz Field. As a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Ben Roethlisberger did not have a good day. He only completed 50% of his passes and led the Steelers to a woeful 2-14 effort on third downs. Those are mediocre numbers, but the true ugliness of his performance lies in two interceptions Ben threw in situations were he was obviously forcing the ball when he didn’t need to. Ben certainly had help in losing the game, but he was clearly the first among equals here.  Grade:  F

Running Backs
Perhaps the greatest difference between this outing for the running backs and others was in the attitude. Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman all ran hard, contested every hit, and never stopped pumping legs for extra yards. During the first half the trio managed to put up some nice runs and in doing so helped the team. The second half saw them take hits behind the line of scrimmage more regularly, and they’re efforts suffered. At the end of the day it was a wash, as the running game again was a non-factor.  Grade:  C+

Wide Receivers
For the first time in a long time the Steelers wide receivers put in a solid game from start to finish. Their quarterback put them into some tough positions, but Antonio Brown and Heath Miller led the team, with Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders, and Mike Wallace each following with a catch. This unit did not have a lot to work with, and perhaps could have done more to get open, but no fingers need be pointed at them for the loss. Grade:  B-

Offensive Line
This was the much ballyhood David DeCastro’s second NFL start and the truth is he played like an NFL rookie on the second week of September, as Geno Atkins dominated him through the game. His rookie compatriot Kelvin Beachum faired little better. Maurkice Pouncey suffered another injury but was able to return. Early in the game the line opened some holes for the running backs and afforded “OK” protection to Roethlisberger. But Cincinnati dominated the battle at the line of scrimmage in the second half shutting down the Steelers running game and sacking Ben Roethlisberger 3 times. The playoffs were on the line, and this unit’s performance was far, far below the line:  Grade:  D-

Defensive Line
If Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton are playing their final games at Heniz Field then they’re going out with a bang, as both men lead a unit that completely suffocated the Bengals rushing attack all day long. Ziggy Hood and Cameron Hewyard also got into the action spending plenty of time in the Bengals backfield, and Steve McClendon had a half sack. What’s more, these men won enough of their matchs ups to allow others to pressure Andy Dalton, and that should have been enough. Grade:  A-

Lawrence Timmons was a man on fire, leading the team in tackles, sacking Dalton twice, hitting him two more times, and registering two tackles for losses. James Harrison also got into the act with a sack and a tackle for a loss. Larry Foote added another tackle for a loss. LaMarr Woodley, however, was a non-factor. Overall, a solid performance from the linebacking corps. Grade:  B+

Oh the irony! The Steelers defense in general, and the secondary in particularly, have been a turnover-starved unit for almost two seasons running. Against the Bengals, Cortez Allen accounted for three, intercepting two balls and forcing another fumble which Ryan Clark recovered. Troy Polamalu got into the action and as fate would have it seems to be returning to form now the Steelers find themselves out of the playoffs. This unit was not perfect – Dalton did complete some passes when he needed to, but they were well above the line.  Grade:  A-

Special Teams
Shaun Shuisham had been all but perfect until the playoffs were on the line, and he missed, twice. And it wasn’t even his fault. Greg Warren has one job, one sole function justifies his existence on the Pittsburgh Steelers. His bad snap cost the Steelers three points and those three points made a huge difference. Drew Bulter punts had decent length but too many ended up as touchbacks. Chris Rainey had a nice return. Grade:  D

Coaches hold ultimate responsibility when teams lose games and seasons end in failure. Yet can you really blame a coach for things like a bad snap on a 24 yard field goal and two forced passes that end as interceptions? The truth is that the Steelers fielded a focused, championship caliber defense vs. the Bengals. The offensive effort was not as sound, but its difficult to attribute much of that to game planning. However, as has happened at other times in the season, when one part of the Steelers is at the top of its game, another part is falling short, and it is the head coach’s job to avoid that, and clearly Mike Tomlin again was unable to do that against the Bengals. Grade:  C-

Unsung Hero
He started the day injured, and for most of the day played on one leg. Yet he still managed to defend two passes and helped contain Andy Dalton and his otherwise A.J. Green and had he had help from offense and special teams, the Steelers success at defending against the Bengals passing attack would have been the difference maker, and for tha Keenan Lewis is the Unsung Hero of the Bengals game.

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