Taken from the grade book who saw his pupils take an unrelenting stream of criticism without withering before coming out on top, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Report Card for special teams and coaching. Note, these are grades for the entire season, not a composite of each week’s report cards.
Dri Archer was a failure as a kick returner, although Markus Wheaton was a competent if not spectacular return man for the Steelers. Shaun Suisham saw more kicks returned for the Steelers than the Steelers were able to return, but he did get it into the end zone plenty of times. Brad Wing showed himself to be a good punter, save for the Tampa game. One wonders why the Steelers continue to use Antonio Brown at punter, and then you see what he did in the season finale vs. the Bengals. Shamarko Thomas may not be a worrisome question mark on defense but he was a special teams ace – his blocked punt was play making in its purest from.
Steelers punt coverage was good, and kick coverage solid although the later gave up one touchdown. Overall, while the Steelers special teams might not have been “special” they did complete a fake punt and turn a broken PAT into a two point conversion and blocked a punt in the playoffs. And clearly this until is no longer a liability as it was in 2012. Grade: B
Todd Haley took a lot of heat early in the season, and much of it was justified. At that point in the season, it was beyond evident that center of gravity on the Steelers roster in terms of talent tilted heavily towards to the offense, but the offense struggled, mightily at times.
Who knows. Either way, from that point forward, the Steelers offense performed consistently, and showed itself to be a force to be reckoned with.
- The Killer Bees give the Steelers offensive fire power not seen since the days of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
That is not a comparison Steel Curtain Rising make lightly, and while talent is the prime component here, Haley deserves credit for deploying it effectively.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers struggled, and this was to be expected. Which is not to say that progress was not made there too. It was. Early in the season, no-name backs were looking like Jim Brown rushing against the Steelers. Although the rushing defense faltered a little bit at the end, the Steelers went back to stuffing the run by mid-season.
- Dick LeBeau took a lot of heat all year long and most of it was simply out of place.
LeBeau is a defensive wizard, but even he couldn’t conjure up a spell to protect the likes of Taylor and Polamalu from the effects of Father Time. LeBeau did the best with what he had, and while the defense was far from a strength at the end of the season (see the playoff loss to Baltimore), it was better than it was on opening day.
- Credit LeBeau for that progress.
It would be a mistake to say that Keith Butler inherits a defense with the front seven settled, because Jarvis Jones is still very much a question mark, and there is literally no one opposite him now. The secondary is of course a shambles, with Mike Mitchell still a question mark, William Gay playing well, and two number three corners behind him.
Still, the defense came on strong to finish the season, and that happened with contributions from players named Tuitt, Spence, and Blake which are good signs for the future.
Finally, a word about Mike Tomlin, who took a lot of criticism throughout the year.
Most, although not all, is unfair.
- Really, fans who think Tomlin should go, need to take a good look northwest to Cleveland, north to Buffalo or southeast to Washington to see “How the other half lives.”
Seriously. Mike Tomlin has coached in the NFL for 8 seasons, reached the playoffs 5 times, won one Super Bowl, lost another, and never had a losing season and just coached a team, that as recently as Thanksgiving, most pundits had scratched in at 8-8, to its 4th AFC North Championship.
- Fans who think the Steelers would still hold six Lombardi’s if the Rooneys changed coaches willy-nilly a la John Elway-John Fox (to give one example) need a reality check.
2014 was a growing year for the Steelers and 2015 promises to make a stiffer challenge. Celebration is premature. No future Lombardi shipments have been pre scheduled.
But assuming the Steelers progress continues in 2015, Tomlin will have overseen a major rebuilding project since 2010, and done so without dropping below .500. Just is as important is the way Tomlin did it – by keeping roster spots competitive deep into the season. The result was to get his men focused and playing their best when they needed to – each win of the 4-0 finish got more impressive.
The job done by the coaching staff in 2014 wasn’t perfect – there was far too much inconsistentcy early on and the playoffs left a lot to be desired. But overall, it was pretty damn good. Grade: A-
When he left in free agency in 2013, few fans bothered to turn a head, and chalked it up to rebuilding. When he returned in 2013 after the Steelers 0-4 start, most saw it as a desperation move on the part of the Steelers. Yet as he did in 2012 and as he did in 2013, Will Allen played a vital role in stabilizing the Steelers defense, and helping it establish the type of consistency needed to raise its level of play to keep the Steelers competitive. You won’t see many people commenting on that or praising Allen for playing that role, and that’s why Will Allen is the Unsung Hero of the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers.