Taken from the grade book of a teacher who has seen his students regress from underachievement into out right self destructive tendencies, this is the Steelers report card for the loss in London to the Vikings. As a caveat, no other grades have been consulted prior to this posting.
What do you get when you put Jared Allen up against a struggling left tackle? A franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood tall, he evaded, and he made tough throws. In doing so he completed 36 passes to 8 different receivers for just under 400 yards, and was sharp on third downs. Still, Roethlisberger’s interception wasn’t made under duress and Minnesota turned that into 7, which brings his grade down: Grade: B-
Le’Veon Bell got his first NFL start and with it the Steelers got their first two rushing touchdowns of the year. Bell showed good foot work and an ability to find holes – when they were there. Still, Bell was limited to 57 yards which is hardly a dominating performance. Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones clocked in at two carries, or combined they had a quarter of the opportunities that Bell had. No mystery there. Grade: B-
If there is any unit that played “above the line” during the Steelers 0-4 stretch it has been the wide receivers. Jerricho Cotchery led the team with 105 yards catching on 5 carries. Antonio Brown also looked strong working the underneath routes. Emmanuel Sanders played well as did Markus Wheaton in his first significant action. Grade: B+
Heath Miller provides one reason why the wide outs have been so good these last two weeks. His ACL may be surgically repaired, but he has already shown that defenses must respect him as his six catches, including one over the middle, show. David Johnson also caught a pass. The tight ends contributions as blockers still seem less apparent. Grade: B-
Early in the game Ben seemed to face consistent pressure form the strong side, although it is not clear that Marcus Gilbert was to blame. That situation corrected itself, but the play on the left side was atrocious. The Steelers may been playing in London, but Mike Adams didn’t even look like he belonged in NFL Europa. On the first goal line sack of Roethlisberger, Adams almost appeared to get out of Allen’s way. The offensive line remains a glaring deficiency, and the Steelers could conceivably go 0-16 if this unit fails to improve. Grade: F
Steve McLendon led the unit in tackles and Cameron Heyward had a pass defensed. Other than that this was not a good outing for the defensive line. The unit got no pressure on Matt Cassel, allowed Viking rushers to get to the second level too often, and otherwise failed to influence the game for the Steelers. Grade: D
LaMarr Woodley had the units only sack, for zero yards. Lawrence Timmons defended a pass. Vince Williams had 5 tackles. Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds were both non-factors. This unit got no pressure on the quarterback and missed plenty of tackles and was out of place on Adrian Peterson’s 60 yard scamper. All very much below the line. Grade: D-
Cortez Allen had his first game back and looked thoroughly out of in all facets of his game, he missed tackling on Greg Jennings twice on his 70 run and then got burned on Jennings final touchdown. Ike Taylor let not one but two picks slip through his fingers. Ryan Clark uncharacteristically missed tackles. Troy Polamalu had the teams only tackle for a loss, but too often he overpersued in the back field. The Vikings had touchdowns of 70 yards in the air 60 yards on the ground plus another 51 yarder. All of them went through the secondary. Grade: F
Some have labeled this unit as a bright spot. Alas, the record doesn’t support it. It seems like the bar is set so low on special teams for the Steelers that a non-major catastrophe counts as a good game. Zoltan Mesko was terrible, averaging 35.5 yards per punt. Felix Jones did a respectable job returning kicks. Brown’s punt returns were a non-factor. One return got pulled back by penalty, and the Vikings had a 42 yard kick return. Special teams certainly didn’t lose this game for Pittsburgh, but they didn’t do much to win it either. Grade: C-
Neither Mike Tomlin nor Todd Haley can wave a magic wand and make Mike Adams play better. Nor can they undo the of the personnel discussions, some made in the shadow of a narrow Super Bowl defeat, that left the Steelers with salary cap space that prevented them from incorporating depth into the offensive line. But the coaches could have done more to help Adams – that’s what Will Johnson is for.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dick LeBeau didn’t suddenly forget defense, nor did the league suddenly figure out the zone blitz. Still this team is giving up yards in large chunks, rushing touchdowns and being shut out in the sack and turnover category. Worse yet the Steelers are entering/have entered the category of learning to lose, which is very, dangerous. Already things are snowballing.
Mike Tomlin needs to stop the snowball’s downhill slide. Fast. Grade: D
Unsung Hero Award
On a day when clean crisp tackling was in short supply the Steelers got a text book example from someone who not only wasn’t in football on opening day, he isn’t even a defender. This gentleman arrived amidst the carnage of the Titan’s game, and has played very well. But his tackle after Ben Roethlisberger’s interception show both a lot of heart and very clear focus on the action of the game, and for that Fernando Velasco wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Vikings game in London.