Steelers Report Card: The '09 Model Is Built to Last

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Steelers Report Card: The '09 Model Is Built to Last
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

History tells us that, if anything can sabotage the Steelers in their latest repeat attempt, then it’s most likely to be attitude and/or health problems.

So the best news to come out of their impressive 17-0 shutout of the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night is this: Complacency does not appear to be an option.

Compared to the 2006 team that fell short of expectations, this model is far more focused and together after three pre-season games.

As for health issues, well, that’s in the hands of the football gods for the most part.  But if any team can withstand a spate of injuries, then the Steelers may be the one.

They’re two-deep at most positions, and except for James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, and Hines Ward, anyone can be replaced, at least for the short term.

The good: Overdue to show some improvement, any improvement, the offensive line took a step forward. Along with center Justin Hartwig, the right side of Trai Essex and Willie Colon was consistent in the run and pass games.

In his first extended performance of the pre-season, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed no ill effects of a sore Achilles tendon.

The defense allowed eight first downs and 135 total yards. Led by punt returner Stefan Logan and punter Daniel Sepulveda, the special teams showed well again.

The bad: Penalties continued to be a problem, particularly those at the offensive side of the ball. One hold, one false start, and one delay of game were among the six that were accepted.

The indifferent: In an expanded role, reserve feature back Rashard Mendenhall didn’t disappoint or impress. The question remains whether he can carry a bigger load if necessary. 

 

The grades:

Offense starters

 

QB Ben Roethlisberger: B

Provided sound judgment, confident leadership . . . Completed 15-of-19 passes for 168 yards . . . Threw several balls to the wrong shoulder . . . Fumbled snap.

 

RB Carey Davis: C

Was adequate run-blocker in limited action . . . Did not carry ball from scrimmage again . . . Left game with ankle injury that did not appear to be serious.

 

RB Rashard Mendenhall: C

Forty-eight yards, 16 carries . . . Showed flashes but not enough of them . . . Lost fumble negated fast start . . . Misread hole on at least two occasions.

 

WR Limas Sweed: B

Is this guy related to Plaxico Burress or what? . . . Continued to make difficult catch, shoot himself in leg on easy one . . . Whistled for hold penalty . . . Did enough to claim No. 3 position but just barely.

 

WR Hines Ward: A

Made every play his way. . . Caught team-high five balls, three for first downs . . . Highlight was 19-yard body-bender over middle . . . Flashed trademark smile.  

 

TE Heath Miller: B

Totaled two receptions for 26 yards . . . Made one-hander in traffic . . . Capable of more in pass game . . . Consistent blocker.

 

C Justin Hartwig: B

Easily his best performance of pre-season . . . Was quicker, more active . . . Pulled out of line to make key block on touchdown . . . Is toe problem behind him?

 

G Trai Essex: B

Transplanted tackle moved well for size . . . Active in run game . . . False start was only obvious mistake.

 

G Chris Komoeatu: D

Appeared to be out of step after week layoff . . . Bull-rushed into backfield, fumble was result . . . Occasionally outquicked on pass plays.

 

T Willie Colon: B

Shows signs of consistency. . . Was strong, aggressive in run game . . . Executed kick-out block on touchdown . . . Consistent in pass protection.

 

T Max Starks: D

Performance hasn’t been commensurate with salary . . . Allowed only sack of game . . . Inconsistent in run game . . . Better suited for right side.

 

PK Piotr Czech: C

Replaced Jeff Reed (leg) . . . Made 34-yarder, missed 40-yarder . . . There’s a place for him in the league somewhere.

 

KR Mike Wallace: B

Limited to one return . . . Broke tackle on 24-yarder . . . Has speed, instincts to be factor here.

 

Defense starters

DE Brett Keisel: B

Strong at point of attack . . . Shows potential for career season . . . Memo to front office: Extend contract before start of regular season.

 

DE Aaron Smith: B

Taken out of play by hook block on outside run. . . Effective vs. run otherwise.

 

LB James Farrior: A

Had James Harrison hat trick . . . One sack, one interception, one touchdown . . . Did everything except sell pierogi’s at halftime.

 

LB James Harrison: A

Put consistent heat on quarterback . . . Pancaked receiver on dump-off pass . . . Memo to Bill Cowher: Why didn’t you play this guy earlier?

 

LB Lawrence Timmons: B

Showed improvement in run game . . . Three tackles, one assist . . . Out of position on short cross pattern . . . Left game with ankle injury that was said to be minor.

 

LB Lamarr Woodley: C

Caused wobbler on impressive bull rush . . . Pushed to side on 16-yard run . . . Needs to be more of factor in ground game.

 

CB William Gay: B

First-year starter appears to be comfortable in new role . . . Made one-on-one tackle after short pass completion.

 

CB Deshea Townsend: B

Broke up third-and-5 pass on first possession of game . . . Veteran doesn’t appear to have lost step yet.  

 

CB Ike Taylor: A

Limited No. 1 receiver Lee Evans to no catches . . . Has barely broken sweat in pre-season . . . Few balls thrown his way.

 

S Troy Polamalu: A

Shot gap to make tackle on 2-yard run . . . Only Madden Jinx stands between him and monster season.    

 

S Ryan Clark: B

Totaled two tackles . . . Played well versus run . . . Not tested in pass coverage.

 

P Daniel Sepulveda: B

Averaged 38.0 yards on three kicks, one inside 20-yard line . . . Better yet, none was returned.

 

PR Stefan Logan: A

Averaged 14.8 returns on three returns . . . Made good decisions . . . Earned roster spot.   

 

Selected reserves

QB Charlie Batch: B

Completed 7-of-9 pass attempts . . . Displayed poise, accuracy . . . If he’s not best back-up QB in league, then he’s close.

 

CB Joe Burnett: A

Blocked field-goal attempt to preserve shutout . . . Effective in pass coverage . . . Has play-maker potential . . . Earned roster spot.

 

OT Jason Capizzi: D

Adequate in pass protection, not so much in run game . . . Whistled for false start . . . Remains on the bubble.

 

LB Keyaron Fox: A

Continued to make impression with physical presence. . . Lowered boom on pass receiver . . . Got in face of quarterback on bull rush . . . Was force on special teams once again.

 

LB Arnold Harrison: B

Split one tackle, shared one sack . . . After two injury-shortened pre-seasons, his time may have arrived finally.

 

WR Shaun McDonald: B

Caught two passes in second half . . . Knows how to run routes, rarely drops ball . . . There should be no question about his status as one of top five receivers.

 

RB Mewelde Moore: C

Needed contact and got it in preseason debut . . . Touched ball three times from scrimmage . . . His value as multi-dimensional back cannot be overlooked here.

 

CB Keiwan Ratliff: B

Two tackles, one assist . . . Continued to make strong bid for spot in dime package . . . Ability to play safety is bonus.

 

RB Isaac Redman: C

Showed ability in open field on flare pass . . . Missed assignment led to botched play . . . Inability to play special teams hurts chances for roster spot.

 

A.Q. Shipley: C

Adequate in run game . . . Failed to move pile on failed fourth-and-1 run attempt . . . Is there place on roster for reserve lineman who plays one position?

 

WR Brandon Williams: C

Made unnecessary dive, dropped long ball . . . Executed deft stutter-step move on short pass. . .  Long shot to stick here.

 

LB Donovan Woods: B

Finished with three tackles, split one sack . . . Has lots of physical potential, lacks experience.

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