Steelers Report Card for Dolphins Debacle

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is once again concerned at the complacency with which his students address low-level tasks, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the drowning suffered at the hands of the Dolphins.

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Jarvis Landry beats the Steelers’ Artie Burns to set up the Dolphins 1st touchdown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Yes, Ben Roethlisberger played hurt, but Ben Roethlisberger was out of sync with his receivers long before he tore his meniscus. It is true he faced more pressure than he has in recent weeks, and it is also true that the receiving corps was ailing. But the Steelers couldn’t get it done when they needed to get it done, namely on third downs. Landry Jones came in for a series and threw one pass which should have been intercepted. Grade: F

Running Backs
Finger pointers will find plenty of places to point in the wake of the Dolphins loss, but the running backs won’t provide one of those targets. Le’Veon Bell started the game strong and on the carries he got immediately after Roethlisberger’s injury, looked hot enough that he might simply be able to take over the game. And that’s only counting Bell’s work on the ground, as he also was the Steelers leading receiver with six catches. DeAngelo Williams only ran 3 times but looked good. Grade: A

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That stat sheet shows that Jesse James caught 2 passes on two targets and that Xavier Grimble caught 1 pass on two targets. That’s fine, but the truth is that Jesse James continues to struggle as a blocker, as his inability to block led to a Roethlisberger sack on third down, followed by a Dolphins score. Grade: C-

Wide Receivers
Darrius Heyward-Bey authored the best play of the wide receiving corps with his 60 yard reverse. That’s nice, but receivers are supposed to catch the ball first and foremost. Antonio Brown made a couple of nice catches, but openly complained about his lack of targets. Sammie Coates played in spite of 7 stitches in his left hand, but was in effective. Eli Rogers returned, and had two catches, but also dropped a catchable ball. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t make it easy for this group, but they didn’t make it easy on him either. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice and knocked down 6 more times. Those are not pleasant numbers to see. The Steelers offensive line did a fairly strong job of run blocking during the game, but they failed to protect Ben Roethlisberger when it counted. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Just how much do the Steelers miss Cameron Heyward…. A lot. I would be unfair to scapegoat Ricardo Mathews but the Dolphins did have tremendous success running to their right. Stephon Tuitt had three tackles and a quarterback hit, but clearly failed to function as disruptive force. Daniel McCullers saw extensive playing time, but was unable to corral Ryan Tannehill when he got into the backfield, and Tannehill turned the opportunity into money. 200 yards rushing and zero pressure tells an ugly tale. Grade: F

Jarvis Jones almost got to the quarterback a few times early in the game, and that reminded me of Gil Brandt’s assertion that Jones 40 time represented the difference between almost getting to the quarterback and getting to him. James Harrison had a nice tackle for a loss, but was a non-factor after that. Lawrence Timmons had 5 tackles but was ineffective. Vince Williams had 6 tackles including a nice one for a loss, but had to leave the game. Tyler Matakevich actually led the team in tackles, but missed (along with others) on Jay Ajayi’s final embarrassment touchdown. Anthony Chickillo got his first start, but the Dolphins had success running his way. This unit got ZERO pressure on the quarterback. Grade: F

The knock on Artie Burns was that he couldn’t tackle. Well, he has yet to disprove the doubters. The secondary gave up passes to 9 Dolphin receivers including long gains of 53 and 39 yards, both of which set up scores. Miami was also 50% on third down conversions, and dominated time of possession. Injuries forced Steelers coaches to mix and match members of the secondary, but none of the combinations worked. Grade: F

Special Teams
On the positive side, the Steelers managed a blocked punt. But Miami had punt returns of 15 and 13 yards. Jordan Berry saw two of his punts take a Miami bounce. The Steelers tried to return 3 kicks, but only averaged 19 yards. Like the rest of the team, the Steelers special teams couldn’t get it done. Grade: C-

Just what the hell exactly was that supposed to be? From top to bottom, the Steelers performance against the Dolphins screams that question.

On offense, the Dolphins came into the game with the NFL’s worst rushing defense, yet Todd Haley only found a way to get the ball to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams 13 times? On a day when the Steelers were effectively limited to pairing Antinio Brown with their 4th, 5th, and 6th wide receivers? And did we mention that Ben Roethlisberger was misfiring long before he got injured?

Per Dale Lolley’s observation, the Dolphins and employed Wide-9 techniques to effectively pressure Ben Roethlisberger. But as Lolley observed, so did the Eagles. Why wasn’t the Steelers offensive line ready?

  • It is easy to second guess play calls that don’t work, but Todd Haley didn’t even appear to employ a strategy that explited the Dolphin’s weaknesses.

The defensive debacle was just as bad. It’s been 16 years since someone put up 200 yards on the Steelers defense, but people still remember Fred Taylor’s name. The lack of pressure and the inability to produce turn overs – these two factors are not unlinked – has continued to a point in the season where one wonders if the 2015 explosions in those areas were not a mirage. If the Steelers couldn’t get pressure on Ryan Tannehill, how can they hope to get on Tom Brady’s face?

Keith Butler wasn’t the one out there missing tackles left, right and everywhere in between, but Butler certainly must find a solution.

  • And that brings us to Mike Tomlin.

Following the Dolphins debacle, Mike Tomlin dutifully accepted responsibility, as he should have. The problem is this mea culpa speeches following flat performances against inferior opponents have become all too common.

Following the Steelers late December melt down against the Ravens, Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola assured readers that he’d observed the Steelers doing nothing different prior to the Ravens game. After this loss, Jim Wexell issued similar reports on his site, even assuring readers that the Steelers had had productive week of practice. So we’ll take them at their word, the Steelers aren’t doing anything before going out and laying big fat eggs against inferior opponents.

Clearly Tomlin must try something different. The experiment has been replicated too many times. Grade: F

Unsung Hero Award
Choosing an unsung hero is challenging at best after a game like this. But unlike the Eagles game, there was one player who not only did everything that was asked of him, he showed flashes that he could have put on just the dominant performance that his team needed on a day when nothing else went right. And for that, Le’Veon Bell wins the Unsung Hero Award from the Steelers drowning against the Dolphins.


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