Mike Wallace led the team in drops, but was he the Steelers most underachieving player in 2012?
Pittsburgh’s 8-8 finish was its worst under Tomlin, but it very easily could have been better if it were able to have a stronger finish in a few more games. The Steelers lost five of their eight games by only three points.
If the Steelers were able to pull out a couple of those games, they would be entering the playoffs this upcoming weekend rather than making their offseason plans.
Injuries played a major role in the Steelers' lack of success in 2012, but so did the fact that a number of their best players underachieved.
Players who played in fewer than eight games are not included on this list because they lacked enough snaps to fully contribute to the team’s success (or failure) this year. That means players such as Troy Polamalu and Rashard Mendenhall will not be included on this list.
Rookies are also not included since they need a chance to learn the game and prove themselves as quality players. It is not fair to assess players such as David DeCastro, Mike Adams or any other rookie as they are learning the game—even though they may have been expected to start as rookies.
Instead, this list will focus on veterans who were expected to contribute in big ways, but did not meet those expectations.
Here are the Steelers' five most underachieving players of the 2012 season.
James Harrison had his fewest sacks since being named starter in 2007.
James Harrison came into the 2012 season injured and did not start a game until the fifth week of the season. Even then, he did not appear to be in game shape and it took Harrison several weeks to get into the groove of the season.
While Harrison finished the season pretty strong with five sacks in the final seven games, he clearly is not the same player that he used to be.
Harrison only had six sacks on the season and was not the same dominant force in stopped the run. He also failed to consistently get pressure on the quarterback. By no means did he have a bad season given the circumstances, but the Steelers need more from their pass-rushers.
This was supposed to be the year that Emmanuel Sanders took a step forward, and he did a pretty good job, leading the team with 14.2 yards per reception. However, he did not demonstrate that he could be much more than a third receiver.
Sanders caught 41.9 percent of his passes for first downs, but he did have three drops and two fumbles lost. It was a problem that plagued the top three receivers this year.
But what really earns Sanders a spot on the list is his lack of touchdowns. The Steelers needed better production in the red zone and Sanders was only able to put up one touchdown in 2012.
Willie Colon transitioned from right tackle to left guard in 2012 and did a pretty good job of it as he helped lead a resurgent rushing attack by the middle of the season. However, he would wind up on the injured reserve for the third straight year.
Even before getting injured, Colon was inconsistent with his pass-blocking and was a penalty machine.
Colon started 11 games and had 10 penalties (three false starts and seven holding). He also allowed four sacks in those games. His change of position could be used as an excuse for these struggles, but the Steelers need more from their veteran.
Opponents often ran to Ziggy Hood's side this season.
Ziggy Hood came into training camp in probably the best shape of his career after working hard this past offseason (via Pro Football Talk). The problem is that it did not always show on the field.
The Steelers needed a big showing from their defensive line, but Hood disappointed after such a promising offseason.
While he set career highs in tackles, passes deflected, fumbles recovered and tied his career-high in sacks, Hood was not a dominant force on the line.
Teams never shied away at running the ball right at Hood as he struggled to maintain the point of attack for much of the season. Though they ranked high, it was one of the more disappointing Steelers’ rush defenses in recent memory.
Hood is not a bust, but he will not make anyone forget Aaron Smith either.
Besides touchdowns, Antonio Brown's stats were down in 2012.
When it comes to disappointing wide receivers, Mike Wallace is at the top of everyone’s list, but Antonio Brown should be very close.
Brown only played in 13 games this year, but even with fewer games played, he did not look like the same receiver that he was in 2011.
Last season, Brown had to work his way into the starting lineup and managed to have more receptions, yards, average and first downs. After receiving a contract extension this offseason, it was expected that Brown would continue to improve.
Brown got all of the starting reps in training camp, but that did not translate into production this season as he finished with 66 receptions for 787 yards and an average of only 11.9 yards per catch. The only area that he improved in was touchdowns with five on the season.
It was an encouraging sign that Brown had a touchdown in each of the Steelers final four games, but he had two fumbles on the year and lost one of them and dropped four passes.
Beyond his receiving stats, Brown averaged four less yards per punt return than last year, with only 6.8 yards per return in 2012.
Mike Wallace lost focus in 2012 and failed to be the impact receiver that the Steelers needed.
Mike Wallace’s second-half struggles in 2011 carried on to the 2012 season as he had a disappointing season.
Holding out of training camp set the tone for Wallace’s season as he wasn’t able to properly learn Todd Haley’s offense. This was clearly evident in Wallace’s lack of production.
Despite having a career-high 119 targets, Wallace only made 64 receptions for 836 yards for a career-low 13.1 yards per reception. If not for his eight touchdowns, Wallace’s season could have been judged as a complete bust.
Wallace was never able to adjust to the short-passing game early in the year and failed to convert on many of the deep passes thrown his way whether he dropped them or didn’t give a full effort to make a play on the ball.
For the season, Wallace had six drops as he caught 53.8 percent of his passes. However, only 27.7 percent of his catches went for first downs.
Considering that Wallace is supposed to be one of the best deep threats in the league, he disappointed with only nine receptions of 20 yards or more—fewer than both Brown and Sanders.
Pittsburgh needed a lot more consistency from its top receiver, but didn’t get it.
Fourth quarter failures led to Ben Roethlisberger's third missed playoff appearance.
After one of the best starts to his career, Ben Roethlisberger had an extremely disappointing finish to the 2012 season.
Prior to getting injured against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10, Roethlisberger was considered to be an MVP candidate. But in the four games after his return, he cost his team two games with late-game interceptions.
Against the Dallas Cowboys, Roethlisberger threw an interception in overtime which led to the game-winning field goal for the Cowboys. He did the same the very next week, throwing a terrible pick late in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals in what was a must-win game.
The loss to the Bengals officially ended the Steelers season and much of the blame could be placed on Roethlisberger’s shoulders. Not only did he throw the interception to set up the Bengals for a win, but he threw a pick-six earlier in the game—which was Cincinnati’s only touchdown on the day.
In the three meaningful games after his return, Roethlisberger never completed more than 60 percent of his passes and had six touchdowns and four interceptions—he had thrown only four interceptions in his first nine games.
Though his final stats weren’t bad, he did not live up to his expectations during the Steelers most important games of the year. If Roethlisberger played up to his capabilities, the Steelers would be playing this weekend.
LaMarr Woodley failed to be the impact defender that the Steelers needed as he finished with only four sacks.
While the poor offense down the stretch was the main reason the Steelers missed the playoffs, it is a defensive player the tops the list of underachievers in 2012.
LaMarr Woodley was a complete non-factor in 2012 and was the biggest reason why the Steelers struggled to get to the quarterback.
Even with Hood struggling at times in front of him, Woodley is supposed to be the type of pass-rusher that can make plays on his own. That didn’t happen.
Woodley only had four sacks, his fewest since he had four as a rookie in limited action. Besides the lack of sacks, he was never able to consistently put pressure on the quarterback and was invisible for large stretches of time.
Always a streaky player, Woodley never found a hot streak in 2012 and only had one sack over his final five games. That is simply not enough for a player who is supposed to be one of the best on the Steelers' defense.
If Pittsburgh is to get back to having a dominating defense that is capable of getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers, it is going to have to start with Woodley regaining his status as one of the league’s best pass-rushers.
This season will be one to forget for Woodley as he was the biggest underachiever on the Steelers in 2012.