Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Running Back – A Higher Priority Than You Think…

No team has rushed for more yards since the AFL-NFL merger than the Pittsburgh Steelers. In January 2010, Steelers President Art Rooney II described quality rushing as a “foundation of the franchise.”

In contrast to Bill Cowher, during Mike Tomlin’s tenure, the Steelers have looked to running back earlier and more often in the draft having used 3 premium picks on running backs. Will that trend continue or, perhaps better stated, should that trend continue in the 2016 NFL Draft?

Steelers Depth Chart @ Running Back Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starter

Although he finished 2015 on injured reserve, Le’Veon Bell will enter 2016 as the Steelers starting running back, and if Art Rooney II’s statements are any guide, the Steelers will look to lock him up to a long-term contract.

  • It is easy to understand why, as Bell’s dynamic ability as a double threat teases to reestablish the concept of “franchise running back.”

Such lofty visions must be tempered with the reality that the shelf life of running backs in the NFL is short and continues to grow shorter, and Bell has already missed 16 of a 51 possible games to injury, including 3 playoff contests. The Steelers have confidence in Bell’s ability to recover, but on the outside that looks like a leap of faith.

While it almost seems quaint to acknowledge a fullback as a “starter” the Steelers chose undrafted rookie free agent Roosevelt Nix over Will Johnson.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Running Back Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

A year ago the Steelers signed DeAngelo Williams as an insurance policy, and many were skeptical that a 32 year old NFL running back coming off an injury and with 1432 carries on his frame could deliver.

  • Those skeptics were dead wrong.

DeAngelo Williams had his best season rushing since 2009, and showed himself a dangerous double threat, not only did Williams do damage on the ground, but he also gave Ben Roethlisberger an enticing target underneath.. Williams almost literally saved the season.

In late November, the Steelers made a curious move – they activated a guy named Fitzgerald Toussaint from their practice squad. This came before DeAngelo Williams injury, and after Mike Tomlin had assured reporters he would not attempt to groom an understudy for Williams.

The move came shortly after the Ravens put Justin Forsett on season ending IR and activating Toussaint looked like a proactive move to protect him from practice squad poaching. When the playoffs arrived, Toussaint vindicated the Steelers faith in him as he collected over 120 all-purpose yards in the playoff win against the Bengals.

For the record, the Steelers also have running backs Abou Toure, 2015 practice squader Rajion Neal and Daryl Richardson who has experience with the Rams and Browns.

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Running Back

Running back is one slot on the depth chart where Steel Curtain Rising’s analysis likely differs from much of Steelers Nation and likely Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

  • The Steelers have now been forced to start their 4th string running back in three consecutive post-season contests.

OK, 2014 is somewhat of an aberration, as LeGarrette Blount’s insubordination and Dri Archer’s total failure couldn’t have been foreseen, at least not while something could be done about it. Yet, in 2015 the Steelers essentially chose to enter the season with a running back’s depth chart that was two backs deep.

By season’s end, both Bell and Williams were hurt….

  • Sure, Jordan Todman and Toussaint played well, but do you really want pin post season hopes practice squaders and waiver wire pickups?

Sure, the days when the Steelers staffed their depth chart with three or four quality running backs may seem like an anachronistic memory of a bye gone era, but it’s no secret that the Steelers won their last Super Bowl with a depth chart that went Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell and Carey Davis – all of whom were on the opening day roster, and all of whom were at “Above the line” ball carriers.

  • It says here that drafting running back in the first round would be a mistake.

Drafting one in the second round might be too high as well. But the Steelers have rolled the dice on running back depth in two straight seasons and it has cost them in two straight post seasons which means that the Steelers 2016 draft need at running back must be considered Moderate High.

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Is 2016 the Year the Steelers Make a Splash in Free Agency?

Is 2016 the year the Pittsburgh Steelers make a splash in free agency?

  • ….Probably not. The Steelers never make a significant splash in free-agency, but this doesn’t mean they can’t make some moves that fans will feel good about.

Two years ago, the signings of safety Mike Mitchell and reserve running back LeGarrette Blount were met with great enthusiasm, especially after a few off seasons of financial blood-lettings that included the departure of promising corner Keenan Lewis and the release of veteran linebacker James Harrison in 2013.

All those years of cap massaging finally left Pittsburgh with no space at all, and the 2013 offseason was certainly a depressing time, complete with the inevitability that the upcoming regular season was going to be a bit of a downer, which it was–at least the 2-6 first half.

Obviously, Mitchell, who was injured, didn’t do much in 2014 but draw the ire of fans for his underwhelming play; Blount ultimately drew the wrath of teammates, coaches and, of course, the fans for his actions that included smoking a joint with Le’Veon Bell the day before an exhibition game in August and walking off the field moments ahead of the rest of his team near the end of the Steelers Monday night win over the Tennessee Titans.

But while the moves didn’t do much to help the 2014 team, they were good in-theory, and Pittsburgh’s 2015 free-agent running back do-over that was the signing of long-time Panthers’ veteran (and good guy) DeAngelo Williams more than made up for the gamble on Blount.

Due to a suspension and season-ending knee injury, Bell wound up only playing in six regular season games. In his place, Williams, who responded to a challenge by head coach Mike Tomlin and came to training camp in the best shape in years, started 10 games and rushed for 907 yards (the third-highest total of his already accomplished career).

As for Mitchell’s 2015 regular season, it was significantly better and the kind of upgrade over the retired Ryan Clark that everyone initially envisioned when he came on board the year before.

According to to the website Over the Cap, the Steelers have approximately $11.3 million of cap space, heading into free-agency.

  • That’s a fair amount, but certainly not enough to go after one significant player. But that’s okay, because football is a team sport.

While fans and the media like to fall all over themselves this time of year, after downtrodden organizations with a lot of room like the Buccaneers and Jaguars sign big names, the fact is, the smart moves can often make the biggest difference.

For the Steelers, maybe those smart moves will simply be re-signing guard Ramon Foster and/or cornerback William Gay. Maybe it’s going out and finding a dependable, veteran tight end who, if he doesn’t start in place of the young Jesse James, could be an upgrade over Matt Spaeth. How about finding a reserve defensive lineman that is an improvement over Cam Thomas?

None of these moves would get the Steelers added to any list of free-agent “winners,” but championships are won in January and February, not March and April.

A small ripple doesn’t have the same kind of initial impact as a big splash, but, in the long run, it can often be more effective.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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DeAngelo Williams Foot Injury Highlights Thin Steelers Running Back Depth, Changing Times

As everyone knows, Ben Roethlisberger‘s name heads the Steelers injury report as Pittsburgh prepares to play the Cleveland Browns this week. That comes as no surprise after his leaving the Steelers victory over Oakland in the 4th quarter.

The next two names are linebackers James Harrison and Ryan Shazier. Clearly the Steelers are better with those two in the lineup than without, but both have a couple of three players who can take their place.

Last week the Steelers lost Le’Veon Bell to an MCL tear and this week DeAngelo Williams misses practice due to a swollen foot….? Neal Coolong of The Steelers Wire pointed out the Steelers 2015 playoff hopes might hinge on Landry Jones’ arm.

Because those are the “next men up” should DeAngelo Williams be unable to play vs. Cleveland, or at any other point in the remainder of 2015. For the record, Todman has 3 careear starts, 113 carries and 464 yards on his NFL rushing resume. He even has 3 touchdowns and has 3 receptions (although not 3 touchdowns for 3 receptions.) Pead has 19 carries for 78 yards.

Certain segments of Steelers Nation will no doubt wish to pick up the pitch fork and man the barricades to condemn Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert for allowing such a situation to come to pass. But the truth is that DeAngelo William’s swollen foot merely highlights the precarious nature of the Steelers thin running back depth, which simply a symptom of a larger, league wide problem.

Steelers Running Back Depth Long a Franchise Hallmark

Throughout Steelers history, the franchise has long boasted depth charts that were at least three deep at running back.

In 1976, the Steelers had two 1,000 yard rushers in the form of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Six years later the Steelers had three 1st round running backs on their depth chart as they did in 1982 with Harris, Greg Hawthorne and Walter Abercrombie along with work horse Frank Pollard.

The trend of the Steelers fielding a deep bullpen of running back depth continued through 80’s and into the 1990’s. In 1991 the Steelers running back depth chart had Merril Hoge, Barry Foster, Tim Worley, Warren Williams and Leroy Thompson. In 2000, the Steelers running back depth chart boasted Jerome Bettis, Richard Huntley, Amos Zereoue, Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala, and Jon Witman with Dan Krieder on the practice squad.

As recently as 2008, the Steelers opened the season with Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Cary Davis, and Gary Russell for depth at running back. Even in 2012, the Steelers still had Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer – hardly three super stars, but the threesome gave Pittsburgh more running back depth than they currently enjoy.

Those days ended then and there, however.

2013 a Turning Point for Running Back Depth for the NFL and the Steelers

The Steelers picked Le’Veon Bell in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Assuming the Bell makes a full recovery from his injury and resumes his stratospheric performances fans will someday wonder how a back of his talent fell out of the NFL Draft’s first round. Or they won’t.

  • The 2013 NFL Draft marked the first draft since 1936 that no running back was taken in the first round.

The trend continued in 2014 and, while the San Diego Chargers took Melvin Gordon in the 1st round of the 2015, NFL Draft, 2013 marks milestone for running back depth for both the Steelers and for the NFL.

2013 saw Bell’s early season sacrificed to a Lis-franc injury, and Redman ailing due to an undisclosed neck injury, so it fell to Dwyer and Felix Jones to carry the Steelers load at running back. The duo did not do well. By comparison’s sake, in Isaac Redman 2012 out-rushed and out received the combined ’13 rushing and receiving totals of Dwyer and Jones.

Choices Lead to Thin Steelers Running Back Depth in 2015

The Steelers thin depth at running back in 2013 was largely a product of accident, but in 2014 it became more a product of choice.

The Steelers of course signed LeGarrette Blount in the off season to back up Bell. But behind Blount the Steelers only had Dri Archer, whom they envisioned as a utility back/wide receiver, and fullback Will Johnson. (Josh Harris was on the practice squad.) LeGarrett Blount discipline problems cost him his roster spot, forcing the Steelers to sign Ben Tate after Bell went down vs. the Bengals.

  • The Blount dismissal aside, the Steelers made a conscious choice to enter 2014 only two players deep at running back.

And the made the same choice in 2015, opting to go with Bell and Williams, only picking up Todman on waivers after Josh Harris failed to impress during preseason. The NFL is a passing league, and no one argues with the Steelers giving Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates roster spots.

  • But every roster choice involves an opportunity cost.

And with Bell down for the count, and DeAngelo Williams nursing a swollen foot, the potential opportunity cost of the Steelers opting to staff such a thin depth chart at running back has just gone up.

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When Cody Wallace Starts for Steelers, Pittsburgh Plays Pretty Well…

If you’re a citizen of Steelers Nation, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the Steelers preseason victory over the Packers came at the cost of Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey broke his ankle and will require surgery. The only question now is whether Pounecy will miss the whole season, or most of it.

With that in mind, Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter Chris Adamski posted this rather ominous looking Tweet.

The numbers speak for themselves. The statistics geeks at Pro Football Focus and similar sites may argue that he’s overrated, but clearly Maurkice Pouncey’s been a difference maker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Pouncey is out of the picture and that only means one thing on a Mike Tomlin football team, “The next man up.” Or, “The Standard is the Standard” if you will. (Obviously.)

  • In the case of the 2015 Steelers, the next man up is Cody Wallace.

The Steelers acquired Cody Wallace when Kevin Colbert when wire waiver shopping after the NFL’s mandatory cut down to 53 men in 2013 (he also picked up Antwon Blake, BTW.) Wallace however couldn’t be “the next man up” when David DeCastro plowed into Pouncey’s leg in the opening day fiasco vs. Tennessee. He was in street clothes.

Instead, the Steelers went to Fernando Velasco who found himself a street free agent after the self-same Tennessee Titans made him a salary cap casualty. Velasco started for the Steelers and did well, until the Steelers Thanksgiving Day loss to the Ravens, where he too would fall to a season-ending injury.

  • Then it was to Cody Wallace’s turn to be “the next man up” taking his place in front of Ben Roethlisberger.

So just how have the Steelers done with when Cody Wallace starts? The answer is, not bad. With Wallace starting the final four games of 2013 at center, the Steelers finished 3-1.

Wallace’s first start was a rough one, as the Steelers lost to the Miami Dolphins in the snows of Heinz Field. But Wallace could hardly be labeled as a weak link in that game, as the entire Steelers roster from top to bottom put up subpar performances (except perhaps for Troy Polamalu.)

In Wallace’s next start the Steelers throttled the Bengals at Heinz Field and in the following week he started in the Steelers victory over Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Le’Veon Bell also rushed for his first 100 game in the victory over Green Bay. Wallace continued his starting streak as the Steelers defeated the Browns to close the season.

Wallace didn’t start any games at center in 2014, but he did start two at guard, where the Steelers went 1-1. With Ramon Foster injured, Wallace started for the Steelers vs. Carolina, in a game where the Steelers offensive line could only be described as “Scary good.” Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount combined for an astounding 245 yards. However, the Steelers didn’t fare as well in Cody Wallace’s final start of the season, which again came at guard in the Steelers embarrassing loss to Tampa.

The Steelers will miss Muarkice Pouncey who contributes to the team with his leadership both on and off the field in ways that go beyond his expert blocking. But as Mike Tomlin commands, “Injuries will not be an excuse.” Nor should they be because Cody Wallace is capable.

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Poetic Justice for Pittsburgh: Le’Veon Bell Suspension Reduced to 2 Games, Tom Brady’s Upheld

For years Steelers Nation has been convinced that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has had it in for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Never mind that this hasn’t been true, given Goodell steadfast support of Dan Rooney during the Steelers 2008 ownership restructuring.

  • But Goodell has given his critics no shortage of ammunition.

He’s suspended for Ben Roethlisberger even though he was never arrested or charged with a crime, while convicts have gotten less. Heck, Ray Rice was video taped cold-cocking his girlfriend and got off with less. Goodell unfairly signaled out James Harrison and Ryan Clark for their hard hits. He fined Mike Tomlin for stepping on to the field while weeks later others followed suit and got off with in-game warnings.

The truth is that justice has been anything but blind and balanced in under Roger Goodell’s watch. But today the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans are enjoying just a smidge of poetic justices.

First, the NFL opted to up hold the four game suspension of Tom Brady. Aside from finally seeing someone on the Patriots punished for wrong doing, the move also means Brady will not play when the Patriots open at home vs. the Steelers.

Next, the NFL reduced Le’Veon Bell’s suspension from three games to two. Le’Veon Bell was of course arrested just over a year ago when he was caught in possession of marijuana while driving under the influence. LeGarrette Blount was also in the car, and has since been cut by the Steelers.

Earlier this spring, the NFL announced that Bell would face a three game suspension, which sent Steelers Nation up in arms as seemed to exceed the guidelines found in the NFL’s new conduct policy.

Since then opinon has been divided over whether Bell’s appeal would be successful or not. Fortunately for the Steelers it was. While Bell will miss the Steelers opener vs. the Patriots and their second game vs. the San Francisco 49ers, he should be available for their week 3 match up vs. the St. Louis Rams.

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Le’Veon Bell’s Suspension Cut to Two Games

It took perhaps longer than most would have liked, but the NFL made a decision on the appeal of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s three-game suspension he received for both possessing and driving under the influence of marijuana last summer. As reported by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and various other outlets, Bell’s suspension has been reduced to two-games to start the 2015 regular season, and he’ll be eligible to play when the Steelers travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams in a Week 3 match-up on September 27.

Last August 20, Bell was the driver in a car with LeGarrette Blount, Bell’s backup until his release in November, when the vehicle was stopped by Ross Township police (Ross is a suburb north of Pittsburgh). Both running backs were found in possession of marijuana, and Bell was later found to have a sufficient amount of the substance in his system to charge him with a DUI.

According to the the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bell’s appeal may have centered around the differences between the NFL’s old drug policy (in-place when Bell was stopped by police) and the new one, implemented last September. Under the old policy, a conviction for using marijuana would draw a one-game suspension, but a DUI would not. Under the new policy, a DUI warrants a two-game suspension, but a first time positive test for marijuana carries no suspension.

  • While Blount, now a member of the Patriots, would ultimately be suspended for one week, because of the DUI, Bell was initially given three games.

Bell finished second in the NFL a season ago in both rushing yards (1,361) and total yards from scrimmage (2,215).

In Bell’s absence, DeAngelo Williams, the veteran free-agent signed in the offseason from the Panthers, is expected to get the bulk of  the work at running back.

 

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Steelers Le’Veon Bell Given Three Game Suspension

The hammer finally came down on Steelers star running back, Le’Veon Bell, on Thursday for his arrest last August for possession of marijuana and driving under the influence (DUI).

The NFL announced that the second year back who finished second in the NFL in 2014 in both rushing yards (1361) and total yards from scrimmage (2215), will be suspended for three games to start the 2015 campaign.

Bell was riding in a car with LeGarrette Blount on Pittsburgh’s McKnight Road mere hours before the two were to board a plane to take the team to Philadelphia for a preseason game against the Eagles the following evening, when a police officer spotted smoke coming from their car and subsequently pulled the vehicle over.

  • Both were charged with possession of marijuana, which is illegal in Pennsylvania. But Bell was also charged with a DUI since he was the one driving.

Blount, now with the Patriots after being released by the Steelers last November for leaving the field prematurely due to frustration over a lack of carries in a victory over Tennessee on Monday Night Football, was given a one-game suspension for his involvement in last summer’s incident.

Bell has said he plans to appeal the suspension, but, regardless, it looks like Pittsburgh will be without its star back and a key component to its offense at some point in the 2015 regular season.

The Steelers signed DeAngelo Williams to be Bell’s back-up, and his services may come in handy sooner rather than later.

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Maurkice Pouncey Calls Out Mike Wallace

Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has no fear about speaking his mind. When the Steelers cut LeGarrette Blount, Ed Bouchette and other journalists hinted that a number of members of the lockerroom were pleased with the Steelers decision. Maurkice Pouncey went so far as to label it a “Blessing in disguise.”

  • Pouncey’s at it again.

In an interview with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, Maurkice Pouncey calls out Mike Wallace in no uncertain terms, labeling him a “Coward.” Here are Pouncey’s full comments as reported by Behind the Steel Curtain’s Chris Carter:

First of all in my opinion he’s a coward. I never want a guy on my team like that, man, to walk out on your band of brothers. And obviously our organization felt that way about some guys and they got those guys out of our football team and I think it was the right move for everybody.

Notice that Pouncey refers to “some guys” one of which would presumably be LeGarrette Blount.

While Mike Wallace dazzled Steelers fans with his long touchdown passes – he and Ben Roethlisberger essentially re-wrote the Steelers record book on QB-WR deep hook ups, he drew the ire of fans for that the perceived as lack of effort and lack of focus.

  • And those fans had supporters inside the South Side.

As the Watch Tower documented, a number of seasoned journalists reported that the Steelers brain trust was concerned that the drop offs in Wallace’s play were due to attitude. Nationally, Peter King once publicly called out Wallace for lack of effort on plays in which he was not the focal point.

The NFL is little different than any high profile, high publicity industry. Most of what the average observer sees is carefully choreographed. Its often hard to tell what is genuine and what is veneer.

But its pretty safe to say that Mike Wallace isn’t very well liked….

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Is Steelers Free Agent Ben Tate Worth Bringing Back?

Our Steelers 2015 Free Agent Focus now focuses its attention on the unlikely Steeler, Ben Tate.

Capsule Profile of Ben Tate with the Steelers

When the Steelers cut LeGarrette Blount, speculation immediately focused on weather or not the Steelers would resign Ben Tate. While some controversy existed as to whether the Steelers were interested or not, the bottom line is that nothing materialized.

In fact, the first carry of the Steelers playoff game vs. the Ravens was made by Ben Tate. He only ran for 2 yards, but the Steelers went to him again, and he gained 7 yards. Then 8 on his third run, when he fumbled.

For the record, the Steelers gave him two more carries on the night, he also caught two balls for 9 yards.

The Case for Keeping Ben Tate with the Steelers

The Steelers need a backup for Le’Veon Bell. They need someone not only to spell him occasionally, but someone capable of carrying the load in his absence. Ben Tate essentially got a 1 game audition for that role, and didn’t do too badly.

Tate is both a veteran running back and one who does not have too much mileage on him. He’s already cut his teeth with the Steelers so they know what he’s like.

The Case Against Keeping Ben Tate with the Steelers

Tate had a strong rookie year in Houston in 2011, but his star has dimmed considerably since then. He was cut not once, but twice in 2014 first by Houston, then by Minnesota. He’s reputed not to be someone who works and plays well with others.

  • Worse yet, he appears to be someone who can’t stand playing second fiddle, even if that suits his ability.

The Steelers have had experience with running backs like that LeGarrette Blount was the most recent example, but Leroy Thompson also fell into that category. When it became clear that Bam Morris was a suitable number two to Barry Foster in the summer of 1994, Tom Donahoe wasted little time in trading Thompson. Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola described the move as a “locker room cleansing.”

The Steelers do need a backup for Bell, but they can do better than Tate.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Ben Tate

The fate of Steelers free agent Ben Tate isn’t exactly a leading story line in Pittsburgh or Steelers Nation. Nor should it be.

The Steelers could do worse for a number 2 back than Ben Tate. But they could also do better.

There are a number of veteran free agent running backs out there worthy of a shot, and the 2015 NFL Draft should give the Steelers a shot a serviceable backup. All of that means that the Steelers have no need to sign Tate any time soon, as they can afford to invest the time seeking a better back.

Thanks for visiting! Click here for more of the Steelers 2014 Free Agent Focus.

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2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Offense

Taken from the grade book who saw his star pupil flirt with mediocrity early on, until breaking out and soaring to achieve his full potential, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Report Card for the offense. Note, these are grades for the entire season, not a composite of each week’s report cards.

Quarterback
Statically speaking, this wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger’s best season, that would have been 2007 by 0.3 of a quarterback rating. Roethlisberger only threw 8 interceptions, and half of those came vs. the Saints and Jets. Beyond statistics, Roethlisberger played and acted as a team leader – not an insignificant role on an offense featuring 9 players under 30. Ben Roethlisberger is clearly in his prime now, and the unquestioned leader of this team. Grade: A

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell succeeded beyond the wildest hopes and dreams of even the most optimistic draft day projection. Between his rushing and catching efforts, Bell accounted for close to 1/3 of the Steelers offense. Bell had 2215 yards from scrimmage on 373 touches – with no fumbles. After Bell the Steelers suffered a significant drop off. LeGarrett Blount did play well, but was a negative influence on the team, and walked out his teammates. Dri Archer may well some day vindicate the faith the Steelers showed in drafting him in the third round, but he did none of that in 2014. Josh Harris looked “OK” with his playing time as did Ben Tate. Will Johnson, in contrast, played quite well as a full back. Grade: B+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller perhaps had a little slow start to 2014, but by mid-season it was clear that he was back to form and was simply Mr. Reliable, although is performance did drop a notch in the playoffs both in the passing and blocking. Matt Spaeth didn’t get many opportunities, but caught 3 of the 4 balls thrown his way, with one for a touchdown he also converted 1 two point conversion. Spaeth was a force in the blocking game. Michael Palmer struggled to get a helmet, but did catch one touchdown. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
This was a banner year for the Steelers wide receiving crops. Early in the year debate centered around why Justin Brown was starting over Lance Moore. By year’s end, Brown got sacrifieced when the Steelers needed to sign Ben Tate, and Moore found himself deactivated for the playoff game. That’s just how strong Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant came on. Bryant sucked up most of the ink, as you’d expect for a player who catches 8 touchdowns in 10 games played, but Wheaton also showed himself to be a treat, and came up with critical catches when the Steelers needed him to. And of course, there’s Antonio Brown, who is clearly one of the NFL’s best receivers right now. Grade: A

Offensive Line
The first accomplishment of this unit was to stay healthy. From 2010 to 2013 the Steelers offensive line resembled more of a M.A.S.H. unit. Even as the Steelers invested high round draft picks in the line, injuries forced the team to continue “plug and patch.” That ended in 2014, as the Steelers line played relatively injury free. Overall this until saw a lot of gains from years past. But for as well as it played, the until struggled to both run block and pass block in the same game a little too often, and they were dominated in the playoffs, which was a disturbing surprise. For that, their grade goes down. Grade: B-

To read the Report Card for the 2014 Steelers Defense, click here.
To read the Report Card for the 2014 Steelers Coaches and Special Teams, click here.

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