Pittsburgh Steelers Week 6 Report Card: Grading Each Unit
As the Pittsburgh Steelers move to 4-2 after sneaking past the Jacksonville Jaguars, it's important to look at how each unit on the team has graded out. The Steelers had plenty of good and bad moments against the Jaguars. All will be taken into account in these grades.
Here's a look at how everyone did on Sunday and analysis of how the grades came about.
Offensive Skill Positions
Ben Roethlisberger was earning a solid A throughout the first half as he completed pass after pass and kept finding ways to extend plays. But his work in the second half significantly dented his grade. He looked harried, couldn't hook up on several big opportunities with Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace and simply looked erratic.
Rashard Mendenhall was dominant today, rushing for over 140 yards and scoring another touchdown. He looked healthy and also had his best game in a long time. His runs were forceful and he hit the hole quickly and with speed. There was no evidence of his previous habit of turning from contact.
Isaac Redman also performed well in limited work and was a good change of pace to keep Mendenhall fresh for the entire game. Both players earn high marks this week.
This is another group the started fast but didn't come to play in the second half. There were a lot of plays were the receivers were out of sync with the quarterback. In those situations, blame is shared. The offensive effort in the passing game was mostly a tale of two halves.
Overall Grade: B
Max Starks has been a nice addition, playing a mostly flawless left tackle and giving Ben Roethlisberger and the offense some serious relief after four very difficult games. He had a mostly productive day, but allowed Tyson Alualu to blow by on some key second half plays.
Jonathan Scott played much better at right tackle than he ever has at left, and that trend continued today. Scott was solid and helped open some nice holes in the running game for Rashard Mendenhall's big day. He wasn't bad in the passing phase, either, blocking well against a big defensive front.
The Steelers once again lost the disappointing Doug Legursky on a freak play in the first half. Trai Essex entered the game and subbed in very well. He is a much better guard than tackle and can sub in for short stints without causing trouble. He wouldn't be a good long term answer, however.
Ramon Foster continues to be solid wherever he's inserted. This time, he played at left guard. He helped open some big holes for Mendenhall and was good on the interior pass blocking. The Steelers seem to have corrected the issues with middle rushes that plagued them against Houston. Foster has been part of that and may be playing Chris Kemoeatu out of a job.
Maurkice Pouncey continues to be the best player on the line. His play has gone mostly unnoticed to this point because the players around him have struggled, but he's anchored the line and been the only consistent starter and contributor for each game. Now that the guards have played better, he has not suffered the constant double teams that previously took him out of the game.
Overall Grade: A
Defensive Front (Line and Linebackers)
Ziggy Hood played another solid game at end for Aaron Smith, who's still hurt. Hood was able to get good push on the right side of the Jaguars offensive line and helped create some great opportunities for Lamarr Woodley to get into the backfield.
Chris Hoke subbed in at nose tackle and played a great game, getting good pressure on Brad Meester and keeping the Jaguars off balance. Jacksonville was not able to generate much up the middle.
Brett Keisel had one of the best games of his career and was constantly disrupting the Jacksonville offense. There was almost no production to his side of the field, and he dominated the two rookies on the left side of the Jacksonville offensive line.
The grade is brought down, however, because of the running of Maurice Jones-Drew, who too often was hit at the line but managed to get past the first tacklers and into the second level of the defense. The linemen must wrap up better on those hits or they'll be gashed.
After being criticized for not playing up to his new, huge contract, Lamarr Woodley has come on strong the last two weeks. This time, he was a beast. He was almost always in on the play and chased quarterback Blaine Gabbert around all afternoon, sacking him multiple times.
The interior linebackers were good as well. Larry Foote has been solid so far while replacing Lawrence Timmons, who's on the outside in James Harrison's spot. James Farrior had a big game and was able to get excellent pressure up the middle.
Timmons has been quiet, but has played well and gotten good pressure on the outside. He's definitely better on the inside where he can charge the middle and disrupt the play, but he has held his own.
This unit also could have done better against the run, but made the bulk of the plays in this game.
Overall Grade: B+
Defensive Backfield (Corners and Safeties)
Ike Taylor was OK today, but blew a big coverage that led to Jacksonville's lone touchdown and also committed a bad penalty for holding that was attributed wrongly to Ryan Mundy (never rely on officials to actually know what's going on). This was easily his worst game of the year, but still was a mostly solid effort.
Keenan Lewis and William Gay got the bulk of the time on the other side and were both relatively solid. Their performance must be tempered by the fact that the Jaguars receiving corps, as a group, is serioulsy underwhelming and easily the league's worst. Gay did make some smart plays against the run, however.
This was easily Troy Polamalu's best game of the season. He was everywhere, disrupting the plays in the backfield and timing the snap counts of Blaine Gabbert to perfection. Polamalu did get injured near the end of the game, but seemed like he could have come back in if necessary. His health is, as always, essential to the defense's success.
Ryan Clark continues to be solid every game and has had a quiet but successful season. He was instrumental in taking the tight end away from Gabbert today. That eventually shut down the Jacksonville passing game, which has relied heavily on working over the middle.
Overall Grade: A
Shaun Suisham was 1-for-2 on field goals today and received some good help from the wind on his kickoffs, which were deeper than usual.
The field goals bother me. He missed a long kick into the open end, but there was no wind at the time and the ball was pushed badly to the left. This continues the trend for Suisham to be erratic on kicks within his range. I'm still not sold on him being a solution at kicker and think that eventually, he'll cost this team a game with an easy miss.
Daniel Sepulveda was excellent most of the game in limited duty, but booted a lame duck that set up the Jaguars in excellent field position in a close game. That cannot happen. It's hard to fault Sepulveda, however, as he's been consistently excellent the entire season.
The work of the coverage units was solid, as they kept the Jaguars from creating much on return opportunities.
Antonio Brown was hemmed in the entire game and didn't get a change to create much. The Steelers completely botched a return reverse with Brown and Emmanuel Sanders that robbed them of a chance at prime field position. Also, Brown tended to dance around too much instead of taking available yardage.
Overall Grade: B
Coaching and Strategy
I wasn't happy with the way the team came out and were flat in the second half. I thought that the team was unmotivated and was not taking Jacksonville seriously once they got a 14-point lead. Mike Tomlin simply must do a better job of keeping the Steelers up and on their toes for a full 60-minute game.
The offensive play calling was awful again. Bruce Arians continues his trend of being unimaginative and behind the times. He also tends to go to a run, run, pass strategy with any size lead instead of putting a team away first. The Steelers almost squandered a 17-3 advantage because Arians put the brakes on a productive offense.
Defensively, Dick LeBeau called a masterful game but he must do a better job of getting his unit off on third downs. The Steelers surrendered way too many yards to Gabbert on third down. The run defense continues to be an area of concern, as Maurice Jones-Drew was able to run over the Steelers for 92 yards.
Overall Grade: C+