Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his student fall flat on his face in the first quarter of the season, pick himself up and charge ahead, only to stumble badly again, then finish things off with a very respectable head of steam, here is part I of the Pittsburgh Steelers final report card for the 2013 season. Note, these are overall grades, and not averages of the weekly report cards. And as always, no other Steelers report cards were consulted.
Mike Tomlin finished the season saying that Ben Roethlisberger was playing the best football of his career. That’s probably not true. Roethlisberger was very sharp after the 0-4 start, and certainly played some of his most disciplined football of his career. He also accomplished a feat no other Steelers signal caller has pulled off in 61 years. However, during the last three games Roethlisberger reverted to throwing inane interceptions. And even if he was under duress, Roethlisberger caused 9 of the team’s 11 turnovers in the 0-4 start. Those two negatives must be weighed along with some very strong positives. Grade: B+
To get an idea of the kind of year it was for the Steelers running game, their opening day starter Isaac Redman was cut by mid-season, and their number two rusher wasn’t even on the team. Yet in spite of that, their were signs of hope. Le’Veon Bell provided an immediate boost to the offense, even if his yards per carry were low. He also proved to be such a receiving threat that he broke Franco Harris’ rookie yards from scrimmage record. Jonathan Dwyer ran each carry as if it were his last, and looked good doing it, converting numerous short-yardage situations. Felix Jones was respectable number 2-3 back. Will Johnson’s contributions were underrated but he was an asset. Grade: B-
Antonio Brown vindicated the faith the Steelers showed in him after his sophomore season, and is budding into an elite receiver before our eyes. Emmanuel Sanders likewise showed why the Steelers coaches were fortunate to win the argument with the front office, although Sanders has probably plateaued as a player. As for Jerricho Cotchery? He only catches touchdowns. Derek Moye made to very good catches and dropped a few others, and Markus Wheaton never really emerged. This unit was solid, although it could have been a tad bit more consistent. Grade: B
Like the running game, this unit started with its number 3 and number 4 playing first string when the season began. And it showed. David Paulson was clearly in over his head, although he did show some receiving skills. David Johnson just looked to be hitting his stride when he was injured again. Heath Miller’s return transformed the offense, although Miller did struggle at times. Still, in spite of the injury, he finished third on the team in catches. Matt Spaeth returned late in the season, and gave the rushing game a boost. He only caught one pass – for a touchdown. Grade: B
The one thing the Steelers could not afford going into the season was an injury to the offensive line. They got it 8 plays into the season when Maurkice Pouncey was lost. Fernando Velasco filled in ably until he too got hurt. Mike Adams floundered terribly at left guard, but Kelvin Beachum stepped in and saved the season. Marcus Gilbert was better, but his play was still inconsistent. This unit was a horrendous liability early in the season, late in the season Roethlisberger had the best protection he’s ever enjoyed, and the run blocking improved. Grade: C+