From the grade book of a teacher who could never quite decide of his star pupils simply had too many absences due to sickness, under achieved or was perhaps the victim of over estimation here goes the Pittsburgh Steelers report card for the 2012 Season.
Steelers management sought to give some tough love to Ben Roethlisberger by showing Bruce Arians the door and bringing in Todd Haley. The question was, could Roethlsiberger get rid of the ball more quickly but still “be Ben?” Through the first 9 games of the season the answer as a “Yes” as in staistical terms Roethlisberger was having an MVP type season. Then came the injury, and not only was Roethlisberger not the same, he threw two interceptions that cost the Steelers two must win games, and Ben’s slide at the end hurts his overall grade. Grade: B-
Rashard Mendenhall began the season unable to play giving a golden opportunity to both Issac Redman and/or Jonathan Dwyer. Neither man sized it, although both were battling injuries themselves. Mendenhall had a chance to reestablish himself upon his return but instead found himself benched and then suspended. All three running backs showed flashes at times and struggled at others, all had issues with ball security. At the end of the day no one back established himself as “the man” and the Steelers offense suffered accordingly. Grade: C-
Perhaps nothing was more disappointing about the 2012 Steelers than “Young Money.” Antonio Brown (probably) dropped more passes in 2012 than he did in 2010 and 2011 combined. Mike Wallace made some spectacular plays, stretched the field, but also dropped the ball and admitted he wasn’t concentrating at times. Emmanuel Sanders seemed to be quietly laying claim to the role of “go to guy on 3rd” until ball skills and ball security became an issue with him too. Jerricho Cotchery played well, but his opportunities were limited. Plaxico Burress made good on his return, for what it was worth. The only consistent star of this until was Heath Miller, who was heads and shoulders over everyone on the offense week in and week out. Were it not for Miller, this grade would be lower yet. Grade: C+
After years “plug and patch” on offensive line the Steelers invested four premium picks into their offensive line yet still finished the season starting undrafted rookie free agents, 7th rounders, practices squad promotees and veterans they’ve tried to cast off. Injuries are no excuse. The report card measures performance and results. Neither were consistent in 2012. The offensive line’s performance rose and fell with Willie Colon. Early in the season pass blocking was better, except at critical junctures in games, but run blocking suffered. After Colon settled in guard run blocking improved, only to suffer again after his injury. The line played well at times and was under duress the whole season, but its performance was not that the Steelers needed. Grade: C-
The Steelers rush defense was 6th in the league – a fall from prior standards but something they improved upon as the year progressed. The unit’s leader again was Brett Keisel, who had 4.5 sacks and got better as the year went on. Casey Hampton started out slow, but finished strong. Ziggy Hood remains a disappointment. Measured by pure statistics, Cameron Heyward had half of his productivity in a quarter of the snaps. Steve McLendon made a lot of noise in preseason, and made the most of his opportunities once the games counted. This unit improved as the year went on, but must bear some responsibility for the lack of turnovers. Grade: B-
Larry Foote lead the unit in tackles and registered four sacks. While those numbers are good, he struggled in coverage at times and at other times was a step slow on run containment. Still, his job is to get everyone lined up correctly, and with the Steelers finishing number 1 in overall yards, he did something right. James Harrison started of slow but finished the season with a bang, making “splash” plays when they counted, and tied for the sack lead in spite of his injuries. LaMarr Woodley fought hamstring injuries all year and more or less disappeared form the defense late in the season. Jason Worilds did well in relief of Woodley. The class of the unit was Lawrence Timmons, who finally lived up to his potential. Grade: B
If someone had told you Troy Polamalu would miss half the season but that the Steelers would finish number one against the pass anyway, would you have believed them. The biggest reason for this was the emergence of Keenan Lewis, who seemed to make highlight reel worth pass defenses week in and week out. Ike Taylor struggled early, called out the media for criticizing him, and then went and backed it up by improving. Ryan Clark was a force all over the field. His contributions are under valued. Will Allen proved his worth while Ryan Mundy disappointed. Cortez Allen came on strong at the end of the year. Strong performance from a unit who finished the year with the arrow pointing up. Grade: B
Chris Rainey was one of the few bright spots on this until and now he’s gone. And that’s the kind of year its been. Shaun Suisham’s kick offs were deeper than they’ve ever been, and he was far more accurate than anyone in Steelers Nation gave him credit for. Drew Butler was decent, but he left room to improve in terms of length and directional punting. Antonio Brown had some nice returns. His errors were game-changing however. And that’s the tale of this unit. At least two touchdowns were erased by penalties. Numerous long runs got called back. Even more normal runs saw penalties that put the Steelers with their backs to their own goal. Opponents converted two fake punts and partially blocked another. An errant snap cost the Steelers 3 points in a key division game decided by a field goal in over time. All unacceptable. Grade: D
Mike Tomlin graded himself as an 8-8 coach for 2012 and Steel Curtain Rising concurs. There are positives to the 2012 effort which the coaching staff must share credit in. Tomlin’s move to improve the offsense with Todd Haley was a wise one, as Haley designed an offense that allowed Ben to be Ben while reducing punishment taken. Likewise, Tomlin and Dick LeBeau started the season with a defense that could not hold leads in the fourth quarter but they managed to reverse that trend by mid season. Certainly return to health of players like Harrison, Polamalu, and Hampton had a role in this, but early in the year there was talk of LeBeau’s defense having been solved. No one said that at year’s end. And Tomlin’sSteelers are the final team to defeat the defending AFC Champion Baltimore Ravens. The players of course deserve credit for that, but so do the coaches.
However, there are negatives. Tomlin could not prevent his players from riding the roller coaster following the Raven’s win, and the horrendous performance vs. San Diego was the result. For all of the talk about “The Standard is the Standard” injuries hurt the Steelers, particuarly late in the season. It may seem harsh to criticize the coaches here but, as Kevin Colbert pointed out, there were teams that lost more starter games to injury than Pittsburgh yet still made the playoffs.
The issue of turnovers, however cannot be ignored, now that the Steelers finished a second year near the bottom of the league in turnovers and sacks. Perhaps its is because of smart coaching that the Steelers, in spite of this absence of “Splash Plays” still finished number one. Fair enough. But take aways and sacks are game changers, and those game changers were in far too short supply too often.
Discipline also is an issue. No, Tomlin is not responsible for the off the field transgressions of players like Rainey and Ta’amu, but on the field and in the locker room discipline was an issue. Rahsard Mendenhall got benched and opted to skip a game — what if a running back had injured himself in warm ups? Mike Wallace admitted to checking out mentally during portions of games. The Steelers committed a host of penalties many of which were pre-snap penalities — ones that good coaching can reduce to a minimum.
And of course special teams remains a glaring issue. We may never know why Tomlin chose to fire Al Everestt, but Amos Jones was clearly not up to the task. Amos Jones is now set to follow Bruce Arians to Pittsburgh West. This is a welcome sign. Tomlin and Jones are close going back to their days coaching together at the University of Cincinnati, so perhaps Tomlin “encouraged” his friend to seek emplomet elsewhere. But any objective analysis reveals that Jones deserved to get the ax outright.
In the final analysis, lurking below Tomlin’s 8-8 record lies the fact that he entered the season without established team leaders like Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior. While coaching can only replace locker room leadership to a point, the fact is that the discipline issues show that Tomlin needed to adjust his coaching style to better compensate for the transition. Grade: C
Unsung Hero Award
When Steel Curtain Rising previewed the 2012 season the challenges, particuarly on defense were obvious – an aging unit was starting the season without some of its top stars. Others would have to step up if the Steelers tradition of stoudt defense was to be maintained.
One player did that. In a second season where the Steelers defense faced a shortage of “Splash Plays” this man stepped up and not only led in sacks but also interceptions — two categories for which his position is not necessarily know. He also came in second in total tackles but even there, numbers do not quite tell the tale.
This player excelled because, like other true Steeler defensive legends such as Rod Woodson or Greg Lloyd, he was around the ball at critical times, making tackles that ended drives, prevented scores, or stopped the loss of additional yards. And he did it, for the most part, when most in the media and many in Steelers Nation, were focusing on injuries to James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and LaMarr Woodley.
For all of that, Lawrence Timmons wins Steel Curtain Risings “Unsung Hero Award” for the Steelers 2012 season.