Grading Pittsburgh's Positional Units at the First-Quarter Mark

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IOctober 4, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a third quarter touchdown pass between Julius Peppers #90 and Major Wright #21 of the Chicago Bears at Heinz Field on September 22, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Most NFL coaches and players look at the full 16-game season and break it into quarters. The notion is that you look at each quarter on its own and try and "win" each four-game quarter. You do that, and you end up with a very successful season.

Needless to say, the Steelers did not win the first quarter. In fact, going 0-4 to start the year is the antithesis of losing the first quarter of the season.

But just how bad were the Steelers? Depending on the unit you are talking about, pretty stinking bad. However, to understand just how bad, we need to hand out some positional unit grades.

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Roethlisberger has been up and down this season. The last two games, the offense has leaned heavily on his arm, but with that has come turnovers. Roethlisberger has 1,231 yards passing in four games with only five touchdowns. Furthermore, he has accounted for eight turnovers.

In his defense, his offensive line has done very little to protect him, and with the problems at running back, he has been forcing the football. Overall, Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback who just needs a little bit of help around him, and right now he's not getting it.


Running Back

Grade: C

Tough to grade this group since it has been a pieced-together depth chart going all the way back to the preseason. The Steelers have had to re-sign released players and hold things together while waiting for rookie Le'Veon Bell to return from injury.

With Bell back, this group should show great strides toward increased performance. However, being ranked 29th in the league in rushing is bad. Really bad. And so at the quarter turn, this group is still a work in progress.


Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Grade: A

Some may view this grade as too high, but as the season has gone on, this group has greatly improved. The return of tight end Heath Miller has played a significant role in that improvement.

Top wide receiver Antonio Brown is on pace to catch 128 passes this year, which would be astounding. The complementary players for Miller and Brown have all stepped up in key moments. Once some of these rookies are able to find their way into the rotation, this group will be even better.

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 19: Guard David DeCastro #66 of the Pittsburgh Steelers blocks defensive tackle Kedric Golston #64 of the Washington Redskins as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 eludes the tackle during the first half of a preseason game at FedExFi
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Offensive Line

Grade: D+

Grading this offensive line is like trying to grade a group project in a high school social studies class. You know the one. There are five guys in the group, and two of them (tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert) sit back and do nothing, forcing the rest of the group to try to do too much.

The interior of the Steelers line has played well, but it has been so hamstrung by the poor play of the tackles that the overall group has looked dreadful. Hopefully this bye week will bring some answers to what is certainly the worst unit on the team.


Defensive Line

Grade: C

This group, like the offensive line, is challenging to score as a whole. Many of the Steelers linemen have been put in positions where they have been forced to play out of position, and their play has suffered because of it. This group has failed miserably to stop the run and has failed to generate any sacks so far this year.

Going forward, this group needs to get a little more creative with its personnel groupings in hopes of finding a combination that can bolster the run game and support the back seven.



Grade: B-

There were high hopes for this unit going into the season. Rookie Jarvis Jones was going to come in and become half of this dynamic tandem with LaMarr Woodley, and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons was going to continue to dominate. Unfortunately, none of those things have come to fruition after four games.

There is a lot of promise among this group and I expect to see improvement going forward. But right now, there are missed tackles and missed opportunities for sacks and turnovers that are severely limiting this defense as a whole.

Sep 29, 2013; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson (81) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor (24) and free safety Ryan Clark (25) during the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory C
Bob Martin-USA TODAY Sports



Grade: C+

The overall grade for this group might be lower if it weren't for cornerback Ike Taylor. In back-to-back games this year, Taylor was asked to line up and lock down two of the best wide receivers in the league in A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall. Those two performances alone help make up for the fact that this group has played with an overall lack of aggression, some of which can be attributed to scheme.



Grade: B-

Veteran safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are once again manning the starting safety spots for the Steelers. Unfortunately, only one of them is playing like he deserves it. While Polamalu has been exceptional, Clark has been underwhelming. While he leads the team in tackles, Clark has been more often the odd man out.

The dynamic plays and big hits fans have come to expect from Clark simply haven't been there. Polamalu carries this tandem, and moving forward, the Steelers should consider plugging rookie Shamarko Thomas into the starting lineup as part of a rotation, just to see what they have if nothing else.


Special Teams

Grade: B

The Steelers coverage and return teams have been a disappointment in recent seasons, but overall this year both have done well. Kicker Shaun Suisham has hit every one of his attempts this year, and while punter Zoltan Mesko hasn't been elite, he hasn't put his team in bad situations with his punts.

Perhaps the biggest plus this season has been on coverage. There was a time when fans cringed when there was a punt or kickoff because that long return was just moments away. But this year the team has done a much better job covering kicks.