Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is wondering if what once seemed to be his star pupil is actually underachieving or is simply mired in mediocrity, here is the Steelers report card for the loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Jerry’s World. As a caveat, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.
Had the Steelers won, it would have been forgotten that Ben Roethlisberger started shaky, was uncharacteristically low on several key throws, and was below 50% passing for much of the early going. The amnesia is justified, as Roethlisberger put on a sterling performance to close the second half, and brought the Steelers back from deficits in the fourth quarter in strong fashion. But… He threw an interception, inside his own twenty, in over time. Maybe one costly error doesn’t negate everything Roethlisberger did, but it negates a lot. Grade: C-
Jonathan Dwyer started off with a strong 6 yard run, and then end up averaging 2.4 yards per carry, although nine carries isn’t much to judge by. Isaac Redman had a spectacular 22 yard run and looked good, on his other 2 carries. Ditto Chris Rainey, who made the most of his carries. It may have been through no fault of their own, but the running backs were largely a non-factor. Grade: B-
This unit started out with some ball security issues, drops and inability to get in bounds, and of course finished with an inability to stay in bounds. But in between, the receivers turned in a pretty good game. Heath Miller was phenomenal in the first half. Mike Wallace burned his men so badly he had to wait for the ball, and Jerricho Cotchery made a couple of key catches. Grade: B
Ben Roethlisberger didn’t go down often early, but that was largely from his “Roger the Dodger” imitation. The run blocking was average at best. Both Max Starks and Kelvin Beachum struggled to contain pressure off the edge. But unit put up a winning performance until the Steelers final two possessions – when Roethlisberger needed time the most. That breakdown was unacceptable. Grade: D
Unlike Pittsburgh, Dallas’ running game was a factor, giving Tony Romo lots of 2nd and 3rd and shorts which he converted with relish. That starts with the defensive line. Likewise, the Steelers got little significant pressure on Romo. In fact, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward were the only players to register any stats, although Brett Keisel recovered a fumble. With a depleted secondary, the Steelers needed something extra up front. They didn’t get it much from the line. Grade: C-
Lawrence Timmons continued to make his case for defensive MVP registering a sack and stopping a key Dallas third down conversion. James Harrison saved a touchdown with a masterful strip at the goal line, and nixed some sort of trickery by slam dunking Romo on another 3rd and short. LaMarr Woodley played, but was invisible throughout the game. Larry Foote did little to distinguish himself. Grade: B-
You had to feel for Joshua Victorian. Has a Steelers corner ever been picked on so badly? Clearly he was over matched early on, but he did perk up, a little during the game. Still, poor tackling and yards after the catch were as much issues as completions, which were plentifully. Keenan Lewis turned in a strong game including some great touchdown saves. Ryan Clark led the team in tackles, and Troy Polamalu was second, although he’s clearly failed to be a force since his return. The Standard is the Standard, and the secondary was below the line. Grade: D
Shaun Suisham was 1-1 on field goals. Chris Rainey had one nice kick return. No returns got called back on penalties. Dallas did have a long punt return. Antonio Brown had two long punt returns. Unfortunately on his second one, where he looked primed to set Pittsburgh up to ice the game, he put the ball on the ground. For an encore he passed on fielding a punt and the ensuring bounce put the Steelers another 15 yards in the hole. This unit cannot seem to stop tripping over its own too feet. The fumble was a decisive momentum shift. Inexcusable. Grade: F
After a heart breaking letdown the Steelers started off jittery. To their credit, Mike Tomlin kept the team on an even keel. On a day when Tony Romo was moving with alarming ease, the Steelers maintained their composure and did not hesitate to go blow for blow. And for all of the defense’s flaws, they did force Dallas off the field at a couple of key points (only to watch their special teams self destruct.)
Dick Lebeau had a difficult task. His adjustments didn’t manage to get much pressure on Romo, but overall the defense’s performance might have been good enough. Ditto Todd Haley. Much is made of the inability to get Heath Miller the ball in the second half, but the Steelers offense did tie the game in the 3rd and took the lead in the first. Ultimately the Steelers did make some adjustments, but they weren’t enough. Grade: C
He’s a guy who doesn’t see the stat sheet a lot and will in all likelihood have to fight for a roster spot every summer at St. Vincents. But Ben Roethlisberger called his number twice, and twice he delivered with double digit receptions, including one that helped set up the Steelers first score. On the Steelers second score, he helped open the daylight that lead to Dwyer’s first half ending touchdown, and for that Will Johnson is the Unsung Hero of the Dallas game.