Steelers Final Report Card 2010
GERRY DULAC grades the Steelers' overall effort in their 9-7, playoff-less season:
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Ben Roethlisberger set a team record with 4,328 yards passing and was intercepted only 12 times. But some of those picks were as costly as unnecessary. Three times in the red zone he was intercepted in the end zone on first down. He is responsible for some of his 50 sacks, but his ability to make plays on the move and rally his team in the fourth quarter is unequalled. His value is immeasurable.
Running Backs B-
The emergence of Rashard Mendenhall as a 1,000-yard rusher was probably more than anyone expected, especially after he was benched in Week 3. He averaged 4.6 ypc and showed he can be a breakway threat. Willie Parker's contributions were limited to a good first half vs. Cincinnati in Week 3 and a good fourth-quarter in Miami in Week 16. But give him credit for not whining about his limited role.
Wide receivers B+
It was the first time in franchise history the team had three receivers with 70 catches -- Hines Ward (95), Santonio Holmes (79) and TE Heath Miller (76). And rookie Mike Wallace was the most pleasant surprise of the year, showing he can run past any secondary coverage and make big plays. Holmes got off to a slow start, but he has emerged as one of the top game-changing receivers in the league.
Offensive line D
It's hard to see improvement in a line that allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked 50 times, but there was. Problem is, there wasn't enough. In the end, it cost line coach Larry Zierlein his job. The running game averaged 7 more yards per game than last season, but, after a quick start, there were too many failed short-yardage conversions.
Defensive Line C-
There is no question the defense missed DE Aaron Smith, especially late in the season when age and depth conspired to weaken the run defense. NT Casey Hampton stayed healthy and showed he can still be a dominant force with another Pro Bowl season. But the team has to do a better job of developing young talent and rebuilding the depth on the line.
James Harrison made his third Pro Bowl, but he went long stretches without making a big play. Lawrence Timmons did not have the impact expected, but two ankle injuries probably had something to do with that. And two big fourth-down conversions on James Farrior in Cincinnati and Baltimore really hurt. LaMarr Woodley showed he can be one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the league.
Defensive Backs F
It would be easy to excuse some of the big pass plays and lack of takeaways (12 INTs) on the loss of S Troy Polamalu, who missed 11 games. But the combination of the two was a big factor in the midseason collapse. CB William Gay lost confidence, and then his starting job. Ike Taylor was solid, but someone on the corner has to make plays. Nobody was affected more by Polamalu's absence than S Ryan Clark.
Special Teams D
Stefan Logan set a franchise record with 1,466 kick-return yards. His 26.7-yard average was the Steelers' best since 2001. Jeff Reed showed again he is one of the most dependable kickers in the league. But the kick coverage went from No 1 in the league in 2008 to one of the worst. There can be no excuse for four kick returns for TDs in a five-game span, which is why Bob Ligashesky lost his job.
Winning the final three games showed that Mike Tomlin did not and will not lose control of the team. However, some of his bold decisions were factors in losses. The failure of the defense to correct recurring problems cost them in losses to the Chiefs, Ravens and Raiders. And, after a fast start, the offense failed too many times in the red zone, especially against the Bengals.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com.
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