Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is trying to figure out which of his pupils is underachieving and which simply lacks what it takes, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. As a caveat, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.
How things change in a week. Last week Ben Roethlisberger stood as the lone bright spot for the Steelers offense. Vs. the Bengals he was a liability. Yes, he was under duress at times, but at other times his line gave him time and on far, far too many of those occasions Roethlisberger’s passes were either high and/or overthrown. His second half interception was a poorly thrown ball which essentially ended the game for the Steelers. Ben really hasn’t had a good game since the injury. Which is troubling…. Grade: D
Felix Jones managed to squeeze himself a dixie cup of lemonade out of some lemons. Isaac Redman increasingly looks like he is not suited for this zone blocking offense. Jonathan Dwyer gained 2 yards on one carry. Its not all “their fault” but the running backs are not getting it done. Grade: D
David Johnson was invisible, and that’s not a very good thing, esp. when the run and pass blocking were suspect. David Paulson made what could have been the catch of the night, only to fumble it away. His pass blocking remains woeful. Yes, these are 3rd and 4th string tight ends playing. No one would mistake them for anything else. Grade: D
For second straight week this group was the offense’s most consistent unit, although it is clear that collective they do not have enough talent to make up for Heath Miller‘s absence. Emmanuel Sanders led the team and set up the first score. Antonio Brown was close behind and looked to be his old self — getting open and making the catch. Jerricho Cotchery also looked good. Derrick Moye scored his first NFL touchdown on a perfectly executed fade. Grade: B
This unit improved considerably from week 1. Which is not to say that they were good. Pass protection continued to be a serious problem despite sporadic moments of quality protection. However the run blocking was atrocious as running backs went nowhere. This unit is young and inexperienced and very much needs to prove that it has the talent that prompted the team to draft them. Grade: D
Cameron Heyward, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McLendon are all getting high praise from Steelers commentators and sites like Pro Football Focus. Praise is nice, but the rock of the Steelers 3-4 defense is stopping the run, and teams are running on the Steelers. No one is dominating them, but chains are being moved. Dick LeBeau planned to use his ends to improve the pass rush, and they do seem to be playing closer to the quarterback. But the group is not getting sack, nor are they forcing fumbles. Grade: C-
The knock on Jarvis Jones coming out of college was that he would arrive a half step late to the quarterback, which is what he did in his first start. Still his first NFL start was not bad LaMarr Woodley however was little better. Both Kion Wilson and Vince Williams were all over the field, but both men must bear some of the responsibility for break down of the run defense. Lawrence Timmons made several tackles, but was not as visible on the field as he has been in the past. Jason Worilds, remained invisible the entire night. Grade C
Ike Taylor blanketed AJ Green and while he “didn’t stop him, he did contain him.” William Gay handled his man well too. Troy Polamalu led the team in tackles but dropped a would-be pick six. Ryan Clark made his share of tackles, but was out of position a number of times, and let a couple of players slip out of his grasp. This unit bear part of the blame for Andy Dalton’s strong second half. Grade: C
For the first time in recent memory there were no long returns and no idiotic penalties. Grade: B
Coaches are hardly responsible for fumbles and interceptions, but that does not absolve them form answering some hard questions. Why was Jerricho Cotchery running a reverse? If he had the wrong people in, why was that? Why was Ben so out of sync with his receivers? Why did the Steelers run defense regress from week 1 to week 2. Why wasn’t the no huddle used more? Chuck Noll once said that when people ask these kinds of questions, they’re asking “Why don’t you win?” Well, these questions are certainly being asked. Grade: F
Few things can ignite or extinguish a team like a big special teams play. That fact is well known. But the value of consistent special teams is under appreciated. Good field position can make a bad offense look mediocre. A well covered deep punt can help an average defense look above average. The Steelers special teams weren’t spectacular vs. the Bengals, but they were solid, and that was one reason why the score stayed so close, and for that they get the Unsung Hero Award.