Pittsburgh Steelers: Final Positional Grades for the 2012 Season
Whenever the Steelers miss the playoffs, it's almost always considered a failed season.
But 2012 is a different kind of failure.
There were times where it looked like the Steelers were world-beaters during the year. And then, of course, there were the times that they lost to the Raiders...and Titans...and Browns...and Chargers. But I digress.
Blame whoever or whatever you want this season, but at the end of the day, it was a full team effort that got the Steelers where they are. Whether it be injuries, age, fading production or (and yes, I've heard plenty of fans gripe about this one) Ben Roethlisberger's marriage, they probably all factored in somehow (except maybe the last one).
With that said, and with the 2012 season in the books, let's check out the final grades for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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This season wasn't exactly a banner year for the Ben Roethlisberger or the rest of the Steelers quarterbacks.
After dealing with the hardships of losing offensive coordinator and long-time friend Bruce Arians, Roethlisberger and the offense were put into the hands of Todd Haley. It became pretty evident early on that this wasn't going to be a match made in heaven, and the two often butted heads.
But they did produce some magic this season, leading the Steelers to becoming the No. 14-ranked passing offense in football this season by averaging 236.7 yards per game through the air. That number is even higher in the 13 games that Big Ben actually played in, boosting it all the way to 251.2 yards per game which would have placed the Steelers inside the top-10.
Unfortunately, Big Ben did miss three games, and the Steelers struggled to throw the ball in those contests. Between the efforts of the ageless Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, Pittsburgh couldn't muster a whole lot of offense, much less a viable passing attack.
Roethlisberger also didn't seem quite like himself at the end of the season. Fans were happy to have him back when the Steelers were 7-5 and staring yet another playoff birth right in the face. But Big Ben lost his next three games, two of which consisted of him throwing an interception when the Steelers had a chance to march down the field and win.
All said and done, you obviously would have liked to see a better season from the Steelers quarterbacks. But when your starter misses extended periods of time, you can't expect to win in this league. There's just not enough quality QB's.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Ben Roethlisberger: B
Looking at the numbers from last year, one could actually say that Roethlisberger took a step forward. He threw more touchdowns and less interceptions in less games and kept his completion percentage on par. But he failed more times in the clutch and posted his worst winning percentage since 2006.
Charlie Batch: C+
You can't kill Batch for his efforts and he did come up big to beat the Ravens on the road. But that 1:4 TD:INT ratio killed the Steelers in the game against Cleveland.
Byron Leftwich: D
The Leftwich experiment has to be over in Pittsburgh. He doens't fit the mold for Haley's offense and, frankly, he just isn't that good.
Running Backs: C-
It has been a long time since I've seen a Steelers running game that's been this bad. In fact, this might have been the worst year for Pittsburgh's backfield since the modern era began in the 1970's.
The Steelers finished the season ranked 26th in the NFL in terms of rushing, carrying the ball for 96.1 yards per game and being one of nine teams who failed to rush for more than 100 yards per game. As a team, Pittsburgh averaged just 3.7 yards per carry on the ground in 2012.
Now, a lot of this has to do with injuries and constant shuffling on the offensive line. In the middle of the season, it seemed like the Steelers had found their groove on the ground. But when tackle Mike Adams and guard Willie Colon fell with injuries, the gig was up and the Steelers run game crumbled to pieces.
One pleasant surprise that came out of the backfield this season was third-year running back Jonathan Dwyer. The former sixth-round pick led the team with 623 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns. His hard running style fits the bill of what this team and city have always looked for in their running backs.
However, a not-so-pleasant surprise also arose out of the backfield in the form of a former first-round pick.
Rashard Mendenhall's 2012 season is one that he and everyone in the city of Pittsburgh would like to forget. He was injured, demoted and suspended throughout the course of the year, leading to only 51 carries in six games for the former starter. He had only 182 yards and failed to score a touchdown on the ground.
Pittsburgh has to do a better job of finding some balance next season, and that should come with some continuity on the offensive line. The team has found some good pieces in Dwyer and fullback Will Johnson. Now they just have to add.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Jonathan Dwyer: B+
Dwyer really impressed throughout the course of this season. His running style fits a need for this team and, although he's not a guy who can carry the load, he's a great piece to have.
Isaac Redman: C+
Redman didn't stand out this season and only scored two touchdowns, but he's a hard worker who fights for every yard. He is also the best pass-blocker in the backfield.
Chris Rainey: B-
One could definitely like what the future could hold for Rainey after he posted 102 rushing yards and 60 receiving yards in very limited time. He certainly made the most of his opportunities on the offense, but he just wasn't utilized quite enough.
Will Johnson (FB): B+
Like Rainey, there is much to love about the future for Johnson as the Steelers fullback. He caught 15 balls and a touchdown out of the backfield, and picked up the blocking scheme well.
Rashard Mendenhall: F
To say that the 2012 season was a failure for Mendenhall would be an understatement. In a contract year, he had the worst season of his career. It is almost impossible to see him back with the team next season.
Wide Receivers: C+
Coming into the season, there was a lot of talk about the Steelers "Young Money Crew" of wide receivers. These guys were all young, fast and talented, and they were supposed to make for one of the most lethal passing attacks in the league.
Unfortunately, for both the Steelers and their young receivers, that didn't quite happen.
A lot of people jumped on Mike Wallace early in the season. It's understandable considering his offseason holdout and early drop problems. But, in all reality, Wallace was most likely the top wide out for the team this season. Wallace has now caught at least 60 passes and eight touchdowns in each of the last three seasons, but his 13.1 yards per receptions is an all-time low and has a lot to do with the new offensive scheme.
Antonio Brown only played in 13 games for the Steelers this season after scoring the big offseason contract from the team. But he was probably the team's most consistent receiver. He led all receivers in yards per game with just over 60 and hauled in a team high five passes per game.
The new offensive scheme had a lot to do with the drop-off that all of the Steelers receivers saw, but the fact remains that in a lot of games, they simply didn't play that well. It could be the final game in Pittsburgh for Wallace, but these guys need to get it together next season.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Mike Wallace: B-
In all reality, Wallace's season wasn't that bad. He struggled to pick up the offense early on and had some major drops that cost the team. But he was the team's best receiver at the end of the season and the offensive game plan didn't lend to his skills.
Antonio Brown: C+
Brown got the big-money contract this offseason and big things were expected of him. But he never really performed at the elite level that was expected of him and disappeared in games this season. Still, he was the most consistent wide receiver on the team and I still think he's the best fit for the new offense.
Emmanuel Sanders: C-
Based on his numbers, Sanders season wasn't too bad. He caught 44 balls for over 600 yards and scored a touchdown. But he fumbled three times in big situations and came up small in the clutch.
Jerricho Cotchery: C+
I still really like what Cotchery brings to the table for this team, but there's just not enough balls to go around. If Wallace walks, "Cotch" could see an explosion in production.
Plaxico Burress: B-
Burress only played three games with the Steelers, but he caught three balls for 42 yards and a touchdown in Week 17 against the Browns. If Pittsburgh can't retain Wallace, they may try to keep Plax for depth.
Tight Ends: A-
Since Heath Miller came to the Steel City eight years ago, tight end has been a position of strength for the Steelers.
So it was no surprise this season when Miller exploded for a career year under Todd Haley's new offensive system. Miller caught a team-high 71 passes for a career-high 816 yards and eight touchdowns.
When the offense was collapsing around the Steelers, Miller was there to hold it up. He gave full effort on every play and was the best player on the offense this season, earning him the Steelers Team MVP honors for the 2012 season.
What went a little unnoticed was how well rookie seventh-rounder David Paulson played this season. The former Oregon Duck earned himself the No. 2 tight end job and got some much needed experience.
That experience will come in handy considering that in Week 16, Miller tore three ligaments in his knee and it's unknown whether he'll be ready for the start of the 2013 season. That would be a big loss for the Steelers offense.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Heath Miller: A+
It's rare to give out a perfect grade, but if anyone on this team deserves it, it's Miller. He was the heart and soul of the offense, not to mention the team's most consistent and explosive weapon this season.
David Paulson: B+
Paulson caught only seven balls for 51 yards, but he gained some great experience and played well this season. He's a good blocker and, hopefully, he can step up next season if Miller's not ready.
Leonard Pope: C
Pope's biggest disappointment came from losing out on the No. 2 tight end spot. He only caught three balls this season, but two went for scores.
Offensive Line: B-
Despite facing constant turmoil and turnover across the offensive line this season, the Steelers offensive front managed to put together a coherent and rather successful season.
The line was, again, led by center Maurkice Pouncey, who will be headed to his third Pro Bowl in his first three NFL seasons. He played another great season at center but his best moment may have come playing guard. When the team was down a few guards, Pouncey selflessly moved over a spot to let Doug Legursky play his more-natural position.
The Steelers also benefited from the move of Willie Colon to guard. Colon has played much better inside and has shown how dominant of a run blocker he can be.
Pittsburgh also got a good look at three rookies up front. First rounder David DeCastro didn't see a whole lot of time because of a knee injury that he suffered in the preseason. But he played well when he was on the field and his future looks good. Tackle Mike Adams won the teams Rookie of the Year award and may have been the teams best run blocker this season. Kelvin Beachum showed good potential and growth. He could be a nice spot-starter/positional player for this team in the future.
Even with all the struggles this season, the Steelers offensive line has a very bright future ahead of them. They've got a lot of young, talented guys and may be able to put together their best offensive front in years.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Maurkice Pouncey (C/OG): A
Pouncey had another successful year up front, and again, will be headed to the Pro Bowl. He's the clear-cut leader of the offensive line.
Willie Colon (OG/OT): B-
Colon showed how good of a run blocker he can be, but he's still a penalty machine and continues to struggle with injuries.
David DeCastro (OG): C+
DeCastro recorded only three starts this season but showed his potential. He's got a lot of work ahead of him this offseason.
Ramon Foster (OG): C
Foster was an average player up front for the Steelers this season. He'd be a nice insurance piece behind DeCastro and Colon next season.
Max Starks (OT): B
It was another typical season for Starks in Pittsburgh. He started all 16 games and continued to outperform expectations.
Marcus Gilbert (OT): D
Gilbert only managed to play in five games this season and struggled through plenty of them. He'll need to show improvement this offseason if they Steelers can go forward with him as their left tackle.
Mike Adams (OT): B+
The season started out slow for Adams, but the more he played, the better he got. He developed into a great run blocker and, until the injury, showed great promise on the right side.
Kelvin Beachum (OG): B-
I was highly impressed with Beachum this season. There were obviously times that he got beat this year, but for a seventh-rounder, the Steelers got great value out of the SMU product.
Defensive Line: C
Traditionally, the Steelers defensive line has been a huge strength of the team. Pittsburgh has always had great starters and good depth behind them.
But in 2012, the defensive line proved to be a weakness for the team and the rest of the defense suffered as a result.
Brett Keisel was an anomaly amongst the Steelers defensive linemen and actually had a very good season. He led all defensive linemen with 46 total tackles, and he was third on the team with 4.5 sacks. Keisel's play also forced most teams to run the other way and towards Ziggy Hood.
Hood, didn't exactly have the best season. He had 42 tackles and three sacks, but teams continuously ran at him and he didn't respond. His best stat, however, may have come from the two fumbles he recovered.
The biggest problem the Steelers had up front, however, was at the nose. Casey Hampton has been a stalwart up front for Pittsburgh, but he showed his age this season. Hampton recorded only 26 tackles with just four for a loss.
The Steelers don't just need to get younger up front, but they need to add talent. They've spent two first rounders on Hood and Cameron Heyward to no avail so far.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Brett Keisel (DE): B
None of the defensive linemen played exceptionally well this season, but Keisel was the best of the bunch. The problem is, he's also the veteran of the ends as well.
Ziggy Hood (DE): C-
It was not a banner season for Hood and, so far, he hasn't developed into the first-round pick the Steelers made him a few years ago. Pittsburgh needs Hood to step up in 2013 in a big way.
Cameron Heyward (DE): C+
Heyward didn't play a ton of snaps, which is a problem considering that he, too, is a first-round pick. But he played pretty well given the time he was on the field. He'll need to see more snaps next season.
Casey Hampton (NT): D
This could be the end of the line for Hampton, whether it be with the Steelers or in the NFL altogether.
Steve McLendon (NT): B-
McLendon didn't see a whole lot of snaps at nose tackle, but he made the most of his opportunities. He finished with two sacks on the season.
I truly wish I could have split this category into inside and outside linebackers because they were a tale of two different seasons.
Inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote were outstanding for the team this season and were probably the strongest positional unit on the entire team. Foote led the team with 113 tackles and had four sacks, but Timmons probably had the best season of any Steelers defender. Timmons recorded 106 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions and forced two fumbles.
The outside linebackers, who are traditionally the strong-suit of the Steelers defense, had a very down year in 2012. James Harrison came off knee surgery, and it showed early in the season, but he finished strong and ended the year tied for the team lead with six sacks.
LaMarr Woodly had a terrible season, and that's putting it mildly. Woodley fought through injuries and never quite looked healthy throughout the entire season. He posted only four sacks, which is a career low during the time that he's been a starter.
The Steelers have struggled to get a pass rush going in the last two seasons, and that's got a lot to do with the injuries to Woodley and Harrison. The good news is that they've got two guys inside who can play some football.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Lawrence Timmons (ILB): A
Timmons was the Steelers defensive MVP on the season and played as well as any inside linebacker this season. He should have been headed to Hawaii.
Larry Foote (ILB): B+
Foote played a very good season and his age hasn't seemed to catch up to him. He looks right at home back in the Steelers system.
James Harrison (OLB): B-
He couldn't get anything going early in the season, but Harrison came on later in the year. If healthy, he's still got it.
LaMarr Woodley (OLB): C-
Woodley struggled to stay healthy and it showed on the field. He's got to take some time and get himself healthy so he can return to form.
Jason Worilds (OLB): B
Very quietly, Worilds had a great season, given the amount of time he saw. He was second on the team with five sacks and it looked like he may have made the jump to becoming a good player.
Defensive Backs: A-
Another year has gone by, and again, the Steelers boasted the NFL's best pass defense, allowing only 185 yards per game this season.
That had a lot to do with how with the strong play of cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis. Before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, Taylor was, again, one of the best cornerbacks in the game. In fact, he almost completely shut down A.J. Green in one contest. Lewis has developed into a great corner this season and the team will look to retain him this offseason.
But the guy who gave Lawrence Timmons a run for his money this season as the top defensive performer had to be safety Ryan Clark. Clark finished the season with 102 tackles and two interceptions, and became the clear leader of the defense.
Safety Troy Polamalu missed nine games this season with a calf injury, but played well when healthy. If he's healthy next season, I think he can return to form.
Pittsburgh has a big question on their hands this offseason, and that is whether or not to bring back Keenan Lewis. Cortez Allen stepped up, but we're not sure if he's ready to start yet. Either way, the Steelers secondary continues to be strong under Dick LeBeau.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Ike Taylor (CB): A
Taylor started the season slow but picked it up midway through and is still one of the league's least talked about corners.
Keenan Lewis (CB): B+
He's developed into a sure-fire starting cornerback in the NFL. Now, the Steelers have to keep him.
Cortez Allen (CB): B+
Allen has also developed nicely and could be the team's starting cornerback next year. He had two interceptions and a fumble recovery in his only two starts this season.
Ryan Clark (S): A
Clark had another exceptional season and continues to be a quiet name amongst NFL circles. He'll be a Pro Bowl alternate this season.
Troy Polamalu (S): C+
He didn't handle his calf injury well and missed a lot of time due to that. But he played very well when healthy and helped the defense.
Special Teams: C-
It was an absolutely atrocious year for most aspects of the Steelers special teams unit.
However, there were two bright spots for Pittsburgh's special teams. Kicker Shaun Suisham had a career year this season, missing only three field goals all season. He finished the season hitting 28 of 31 field goals including going 20-20 between 30 and 49 yards. He also hit all 34 of his attempted extra points this season.
Rookie Chris Rainey also had a great season returning kicks for the Steelers. Rainey returned 39 kicks this season for an average of over 26 yards per return, placing him in a tie for seventh in the league in that category.
But the coverage units and punt return team really struggled to get anything going this season and the Steelers will have to do something about it. Mike Tomlin cut ties with former special teams coach Al Everest before the season and current ST coordinator Amos Jones might not be long for his position either.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL GRADES
Shaun Suisham -- A-
- Suisham had a great season. Only gripe was the two missed field goals against the Bengals in crunch time.
Drew Butler -- C+
- Butler had an efficient year for the Steelers but he has to get better at pinning teams deep. Only got 26 of his 77 punts inside the 20 yard line.
Chris Rainey -- B+
- Rainey brought some excitement back to the Steelers kick return game that hasn't been here in a while. Although he didn't take one back for a score, he showed he's got the ability.
Antonio Brown -- D
- It was a terrible season for Brown returning punts that had most fans calling for his removal from the punt team by the seasons end.