Pittsburgh Steelers: Full 53-Man Report Card Grades Through the Bye Week

Nick DeWittAnalyst ISeptember 27, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers: Full 53-Man Report Card Grades Through the Bye Week

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    After three regular season games, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves at 1-2 and with several issues preventing them from reaching their full potential. Through those games, several players have performed at or well-above expectations.

    Several others, however, have performed far below their expectations and have contributed to two ugly losses.

    Here’s how each player on the team’s roster grades out after three games.

    Follow me on Twitter: @nickdewitt11

Quarterbacks

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    Ben Roethlisberger: A+

    There has been no better player on this team. Roethlisberger has eight touchdown passes against only one interception and is setting himself up for a truly elite season. He has thrived in Todd Haley’s system and has kept the team afloat along with his receivers. The scary thought is that he could be even more dangerous once they get the running game moving again.

     

    Byron Leftwich: A

    Leftwich has looked very good with a hat and clipboard. The best news is that he hasn’t had to take a single snap as Roethlisberger has only limped for a few minutes during the entire season. That can change at any point, however. The good news is that Leftwich is healthy.

     

    Charlie Batch: A

    Batch was a mildly surprising keep for the team as the third quarterback, but he is a coach in uniform and an important piece of the team’s leadership group. Batch hasn’t dressed for a game this year, but his leadership skills alone deserve an A-grade.

Running Backs

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    Isaac Redman: C

    Redman came into the season as the team’s starter for at least the time regular feature back Rashard Mendenhall was on the shelf. He had a good chance to spin that into a regular role, either in Pittsburgh or somewhere else, with a big performance. However, he hasn’t been very good.

    Redman has struggled with injuries and hasn’t been able to generate much behind the team’s patchwork offensive line. While that’s not entirely on him, he does need to start making some gains or the team will suffer.

     

    Jonathan Dwyer: C+

    Dwyer had an impressive preseason and many thought he could eclipse Redman as the team’s starter if he continued that in the regular season. He has been better than Redman, but only by a slight measure. He has been able to get through tighter openings, but, again, the yardage isn’t there.

    This is a make-or-break year for Dwyer, who needs to prove both his health and his effectiveness. If he can do that, he might have a future in Pittsburgh. If not, he’ll be looking to catch on elsewhere.

     

    Chris Rainey: C

    For all of the fanfare surrounding Rainey during the preseason, he has been a bit of a disappointment so far in the regular season. He hasn’t broken a big gain and hasn’t been able to turn the corner in the running game. He also hasn’t been a factor on returns, as many thought he would be. There’s still time and Rainey is only a rookie after all, but I thought we’d be getting more from him.

     

    Baron Batch: C

    The trend with this running game is that no one has been very good. I’m not giving Batch a C because he’s been bad. I’m giving him a C because he’s been okay when on the field. The big issue is we haven’t really seen much of him yet. I’m hoping that will change after the bye. I expect Batch to get a regular turn on third downs once things get settled.

     

    Rashard Mendenhall: I

    I can’t give Mendenhall a grade yet. He seems to be close to returning from his knee injury, but he hasn’t made a single appearance in uniform yet. I’ll give him a A for simply getting back so quickly and working very hard to get back on the field.

     

    Will Johnson (FB): B+

    I questioned whether a true fullback could really have success in an NFL dominated by the pass, but Johnson has been an excellent addition to this team. He has done a decent job as a lead blocker and has helped out the offensive line as much as possible there. He’s also been phenomenal as a receiver and has become one of the team’s secret weapons.

Wide Receivers

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    Mike Wallace: A

    I wasn’t sure how Wallace would do early after missing the entire preseason, but he’s been the team’s big-play threat along with Antonio Brown. He’s showing improvement on his route tree and on working shorter routes. That’s a big step for him after being perceived as just a deep threat before. Wallace is setting himself up for a nice payday.

     

    Antonio Brown: B+

    This would be an A as well if not for two fumbles against Oakland. Those are troubling because Brown has usually been great at ball security. He did recover one for a touchdown, but lost the other one in a key moment that contributed to the team’s loss last weekend. Brown has been a huge part of the success though, so I won’t dock him too much.

     

    Emmanuel Sanders: A

    Sanders is healthy. That alone is a big step up from last season. That he’s once again proven his ability to play at any of the team’s receiver spots and run any of the route trees has been important as well. It allows the Steelers to present a ton of different looks. Sanders has been a great receiver and seems to be back on the track he was on during his rookie season.

     

    Jerricho Cotchery: B

    Cotchery hasn’t had a ton of opportunities yet, but whenever he’s been called upon to run a route or block he’s done an excellent job. I’d like to see more of him in the red zone as the season progresses since he was such a valuable piece down there last year. His steady ability as a possession guy is very important to this team.

Tight Ends

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    Heath Miller: A+

    Wow. If there’s a player who’s been as good as Ben Roethlisberger, it has to be Miller. After a year in which he seemed to disappear at times, Miller has been front-and-center in Todd Haley’s system. He’s been a favorite red-zone target and is as reliable as they come regardless of field position. His blocking has bailed out the offensive line at times as well.

     

    Leonard Pope: B

    Pope plays sparingly, mostly out of the jumbo packages. He’s been targeted once by Roethlisberger and has a reception for seven yards. There’s not much to go on, but I’ll give him a good grade because the team has been productive when he’s been on the field as an extra blocker.

     

    David Paulson: B

    Paulson has played sparingly as the third tight end and is likely only keeping the seat warm for the suspended Weslye Saunders, who will slot in as the second tight end once he returns. He’s a decent blocker and has played a little fullback on certain downs, but he needs more time to develop as an NFL player.

Offensive Tackles

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    Max Starks: B-

    I’m giving Starks some points just for bailing out this offensive line once again. He hasn’t been bad coming off a nasty injury, either. His blocks have been crisp in the passing game and he’s done a good job of keeping Ben Roethlisberger’s jersey clean most of the time.

     

    Marcus Gilbert: B-

    Gilbert has done a serviceable job in his second season as the right tackle, but there’s clearly room for improvement in the running game. Gilbert has also been banged up some, but I give him a lot of credit for trying desperately to play through it to help this team out.

     

    Mike Adams: D+

    I’m not impressed. Adams was given a very high draft grade by the team and it seemed like a perfect match before everyone hit the field. Then there was an awful preseason performance against the Eagles and a nagging injury. Since then, it’s been rough. Adams needs more time before he’s ready to play on Sundays. His blocks are terrible and he can’t get a good jump.

Offensive Guards

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    Ramon Foster: C+

    Foster is starting because David DeCastro is out with a knee injury until at least mid-season. He’s been okay. It’s a similar issue all over the line. Their pass blocking is somewhere between great and good. Their run blocking has been consistently poor. Foster needs to do better one on one.

     

    Willie Colon: B-

    Colon’s blocking has been pretty good. I give him a little leeway because he’s learning an entirely new position. He’s doing well at picking up the nuances of left guard in this scheme and he hasn’t really been bad one-on-one. The problem is the same as before. He commits too many dumb penalties for holding or a false start. That has to stop because it is killing drives.

     

    Doug Legursky: D+

    I can remember when Legursky was thought of as part of this line’s future. Now, I’m just glad he’s not on the field as much. He’s an okay center, but he’s been a disaster at guard. When he briefly stepped in on opening night for Foster, he was awful. Since then, he’s been on the bench.

     

    Kelvin Beachum: F

    I’m still scratching my head on why Trai Essex isn’t here and Beachum is in his spot. He has done nothing during preseason or the regular season to prove himself. In fact, when he stepped in for Marcus Gilbert at tackle for a few snaps, he was so bad that Gilbert limped back onto the field instead of subjecting Ben Roethlisberger to that treatment. It’s time to end this experiment.

Center

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    Maurkice Pouncey: B+

    At some point, I’m hoping we can see Pouncey flanked by a couple of solid guards. That’s the only way we’ll ever know for sure how good he really can be. He’s been great, but he’s always helping someone out and it takes away from him being able to do his own thing. The whole line has disappointed, but he’s still very, very good. The most encouraging thing is that he’s completely healthy again.

Defensive Ends

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    Brett Keisel: B-

    Keisel hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been nearly as good as last season. Part of that might be that he’s kind of on an island with James Harrison out behind him and Casey Hampton struggling next door. Part of it is that Keisel isn’t young anymore and he’s starting to show that in very slight ways. In the end, he’ll be fine.

     

    Ziggy Hood: C+

    I’ve been a champion of Hood for a long time, but my support is waning a little after the early part of the season hasn’t lived up to expectations. Hood has been serviceable. The Steelers don’t expect 3-4 ends to make big plays regularly either. I’m just starting to wonder if we should see what a rotation with Heyward looks like.

     

    Cameron Heyward: B

    Part of the reason I’m souring on Hood is, in much less playing time, Heyward has been better. He has a sack. He’s made three tackles to Hood’s four. I think he needs to be on the field more with this defense already struggling. The Steelers can’t afford to have a soft front.

     

    Al Woods: C

    Woods hasn’t made an impact yet. That may change if the struggles continue up front. So far, he’s the guy who had a great preseason but hasn’t been able to get on the field for whatever reason in the regular season. The C isn’t performance-related, it’s just because we can’t give him anything better yet.

Defensive Tackles

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    Casey Hampton: C

    Much in the same way I’ve lobbied for the Steelers to get younger at defensive coordinator, it’s time to make the difficult decision to let Hampton sit. He’s only made two solo tackles this year and he’s been getting pushed back a lot more than he ever did before. I can’t believe he’s really fully-recovered from his knee problems and that combines with his age to make him a huge concern.

     

    Steve McLendon: C+

    McLendon hasn’t been on the field nearly enough after a preseason where he showed he could hang with the starters. He’s been limited to one solo tackle so far. I get the feeling we’ll be seeing more of him after the bye. The team has to try something different to generate pressure up front.

     

    Alameda Ta’amu: I

    Ta’amu hasn’t dressed for a game yet. It’s hard to give him a grade. You have to wonder if he’ll be in the mix soon on special teams after the team has struggled with coverage on kicks and punts. I also think if Hampton is deemed truly done, he may start dressing as a backup along the line.

Outside Linebackers

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    James Harrison: I

    I can’t give Harrison a grade. I’m also worried because his return is continually being pushed back because of setbacks. I had hoped we’d be seeing him back at practice during the bye, but he’s still nursing the knee and it hasn’t responded well to practice reps.

     

    LaMarr Woodley: A-

    I won’t lay blame on Woodley for how this defense has played. He’s done everything he can and in many ways is playing on an island. He’s been good at getting individual pressures and creating sacks. His hamstring is fully healthy and he’s playing at his best clip since early last season.

     

    Chris Carter: C

    Carter has been the replacement for Harrison and he’s been just about adequate. He doesn’t set the edge well and doesn’t generate anything on the pass rush, but he can make sure tackles and hasn’t been terrible in coverage opportunities. He just isn’t a starter and is forced into that role right now.

     

    Jason Worilds: C+

    You’d think the previously-touted Worilds would be replacing Harrison, but he had his own injury problems and is still working his way back to full power. He’s been in on special teams and some defensive snaps as well and is improving. I think he should be starting there after the bye if Harrison is still out.

     

    Adrian Robinson: I

    Robinson is another guy who’s hard to grade because he hasn’t had any real impact. He had a good preseason and I thought we may see more of him than this, but so far he’s without any statistics. So we’ll give him an incomplete for now until we get to really see him in action.

Inside Linebackers

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    Lawrence Timmons: B

    I’m still of the opinion that the Steelers don’t blitz Timmons enough. He’s a fast guy and he can get through blockers. He’s played very well on the inside, but doesn’t really have any big plays to show for it yet. The good news is that he’s been good in coverage, an area I felt he had room to improve in before the season.

     

    Larry Foote: B+

    I’m pretty impressed. Foote was an afterthought when he returned after a year with the Detroit Lions. Now he’s the second-best defender on the team to LaMarr Woodley. He’s had 18 solo tackles and a sack to go along with a forced fumble. That’s pretty good for a guy who’s been a backup for awhile.

     

    Stevenson Sylvester: I

    Sylvester is still working his way back from an MCL injury, so I can’t grade him until he gets back on the field. He’ll be given opportunities when he does, however. The Steelers desperately need big plays on defense and Sylvester will likely get a chance to show he can create some.

     

    Brandon Johnson: C

    He’s done okay, but he hasn’t really been spectacular. He’s mostly going to get work on special teams. Those units have not been very good, so I can’t give him a great grade because he hasn’t stood out in a good way there. He also hasn’t been part of the problem, so I can’t penalize him too much.

Cornerbacks

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    Ike Taylor: C-

    Can you say head case? Taylor hasn’t been the same since he got burned in overtime in Denver last January. Now, it is compounded by him being asked to do too much while the other corners struggle with simple tasks. Until he gets back on his game, this secondary is in big trouble.

     

    Keenan Lewis: D+

    So much for that Pro Bowl season he predicted. Right now, he’s focused on just keeping his starting job. He hasn’t covered well and can’t make big plays. He makes big mistakes though and gets fooled easily. Part of his problems relate back to this defensive scheme, but the fact is Lewis hasn’t shown he can be a starter.

     

    Cortez Allen: C-

    Allen may be stepping into the starting job, but I’m not giving him any style points either for his work in the nickel. He hasn’t done a great job covering slot receivers and tight ends and he seems to need help from the safeties at times. That doesn’t bode well for a move outside, but he does have better speed and instincts than Lewis.

     

    Curtis Brown: C

    Brown has been just kind of there this season. He’s made a couple of tackles, but he hasn’t stepped up in any situation and I wonder about him if the guys ahead of him are this bad. You’d think he’d get a shot, but he hasn’t yet. Is that on the coaches or is that because he just isn’t any better?

     

    DeMarcus Van Dyke: I

    He was a late addition and I don’t see him sticking for a long period of time unless he can prove he’s better than the four guys above him. I can’t grade him until we see how he plays, but I feel like this team was better off keeping Josh Victorian active.

Safeties

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    Troy Polamalu: C+

    He just isn’t the same guy he was a few years ago. His lack of coverage ability has been showing up more and more. He doesn’t seem to have whatever made him so dangerous as a do-everything guy, either. People seem to have figured his game out. He’s also hurt again. The injuries are troublesome too because he can’t seem to shake them.

     

    Ryan Clark: B+

    I really wish the Denver game had been played in Pittsburgh. Clark has been the team’s best defensive back and had a nice interception last week that set the Steelers up to start off the game. He’s done a good job covering for the problems at strong safety and at the corners.

     

    Ryan Mundy: D

    The hit is bad enough. Any NFL player today knows better than to do something incredibly dumb like that. You can add in the issues with coverage. Mundy is terrible there and he makes no useful contributions. It’s time we got a look at Robert Golden, who has to be better, in my opinion.

     

    Will Allen: C

    Allen is another one of those guys that’s just kind of there. He plays a little special teams and a little defense but doesn’t do anything particularly stellar. He hasn’t been good or bad this year, so he gets the middle grade.

     

    Robert Golden: I

    To say I can’t wait to see him play is an understatement. It has to happen soon. This guy has some great instincts and skills, but he just hasn’t been on the field yet. I’m withholding a grade until he is. I think it will be soon if that secondary continues to be a trouble spot.

Specialists

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    Shaun Suisham: A

    The kickoffs have been pretty good but could use improvement. The field goals have been perfect. When every point counts, you need a steady kicker and Suisham has stepped up and been great so far. He hasn’t been needed as much, thanks to the offense, but I’m impressed by the consistent strength he’s showing with kicks.

     

    Drew Butler: A-

    So far, so good for the undrafted rookie. Butler has shanked one punt. Other than that one mistake in Oakland, he’s been very good and is placing his kicks to keep teams from getting any kind of field position advantage. The coverage in front of him has been so-so. Once it improves, he’s going to be a real weapon.

     

    Greg Warren: A

    The best way to evaluate a long snapper is probably by remembering how often you’ve heard his name. If you only hear it when the announcers explain who snapped the ball for a field goal or extra point attempt, then the guy is good. Warren’s name has been absent. That means he’s doing his job perfectly so far.