Steelers Final Report Card/2009: Offense Was Good, Shoulda Been Better

Paul LadewskiCorrespondent IIJanuary 5, 2010

LATROBE, PA - AUGUST 8: Bruce Arians, offensive Coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, talks with Hines Ward #86 during training camp at St. Vincent College on August 8, 2007 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  (Photo By Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Almost across the board, the conventional numbers say the Steelers offense was among the most productive in the league, and for the better part of 80 yards, it was all of that. It ranked among the leaders in points (12th), total yards (seventh overall), and time of possession (third). 

It’s the more obscure indicators that tell the real story of the 2009 Steelers offense, however. What they say is that, given their talent level and reasonable good health, coordinator Bruce Arians and his group underachieved to some extent this season.

Based on the league average of one point for every 15.6 yards gained, the Steelers should have averaged 23.8 points per game. They finished at 23.0, a 13-point difference that was crucial for a team that lost five games by a mere field goal apiece.

Where did the Steelers leave those points on the field? Look no further than the red zone, an area in which they ranked 21st in the league.

The most productive offenses inside the 20-yard line are almost always those with the best front lines. The ability to run the ball consistently is crucial to success close to the goal, and in this regard, the Steelers fell short of the mark. As even some players would admit later, the unit also was too predictable in the way of personnel and formations.

A closer look shows that Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Dennis Dixon combined for more negative yards on sacks (minus 328) and turnovers (minus 223 as computed from the line of scrimmage) than any others in the league. And there is no bigger drive-killer than a sack or turnover. The offense also ranked a mediocre 17th in third-down conversation rate (39 percent).

Overall, give the group a B grade, but it amounts to a kick in the A, really.

The individual grades:

Offense Regulars

WR Hines Ward

Weekly grades: B/B/C/B/A/A/D/A/C/B/B/B/D/B/B/B
Final grade: B-
Comment: Dependable pass receiver (95 catches, 1,167 yards) but not as consistent in other areas. Ill-advised remark about Ben Roethlisberger compromised team chemistry. Was watched closely by referees, result was more penalties. At 33, gritty veteran should have two more productive seasons at least.

LT Max Starks

Weekly grades: B/F/C/B/C/C/C/A/C/D/B/B/F/F/D/C
Final grade: C
Comment: Fared well against average competitive, but more agile pass-rushers posed problems. Not force in ground game, but not liability, either. Paid like left tackle, played like right tackle. Move to natural position would benefit him and team. 

LG Chris Komoeatu

Weekly grades: D/C/B/A/B/B/B/C/D/B/DNP/C/F/DNP/DNP
Final grade: C
Comment: Made mark as physical, Pro Bowl-caliber blocker in run game. Was particularly effective as lead man on counters to right side, not so much in pass game. Injuries reduced his effectiveness in final five games. At 27, he has growth potential if spirit moves him.

C Justin Hartwig

Weekly grades: F/C/B/A/B/B/B/A/D/B/B/B/F/C/D/B 
Final grade: C+
Comment: Most consistent member of the front line. Rarely had subpar performances in consecutive games. Not a brawler, but he held his own against jumbo nose tackles for most part. At 31, how much tread does he have left?

RG Trai Essex

Weekly grades: C/B/C/B/D/D/C/C/F/C/C/B/F/D/D/B 
Final  grade: C-
Comment: Average starter for also-ran, above-average reserve for contender. "Tweener" lacks physical strength to be quality tackle, agility to be standout guard. His value as experienced two-position player cannot be underestimated, though.

RT Willie Colon

Weekly grades: D/B/C/A/C/C/A/A/F/D/B/B/D/F/F/D
Final grade: C
Comment: Had commendable first half, mostly forgettable second one. Provided consistent forward push on run plays. Spotty in pass protection. Unforced mistakes were fewer in number, but focus still drifted at times. Move to right guard is reasonable alternative.

TE Heath Miller

Weekly grades: A/B/B/A/A/A/A/C/C/D/C/D/C/C/B/A
Final grade: B
Comment: At his best, there was no better player. But despite a career-high 76 pass receptions, more should have been expected here. Too many drops, too many penalties, too many missed assignments. Did contract extension affect his focus?

WR Santonio Holmes

Weekly grades: A/D/F/C/B/A/C/A/B/B/A/A/B/B/B/D
Final grade:  B-
Comment: Had 79 passes receptions, 1,248 yards, but mental lapses reduced effectiveness. Failure to read blitz against Bengals resulted in one of most crucial plays of the season. Especially dangerous after the catch. Had too few chances on punt returns.  

WR Mike Wallace

Weekly grades: B/C/A/B/B/B/A/A/D/D/D/C/F/A/A/B
Final grade: B-
Comment: Had no competition for team Rookie of Year honors. Quick learner who rarely seemed out of place. Provided much-needed deep threat. Pass routes could use work, but they should come in time. Had five-game lull as expected but finished strong.

QB Ben Roethlisberger

Weekly grades: A/B/A/A/B/B/B/B/D/A/DNP/A/B/A/B/A
Final grade: B+
Comment: Unlike ’06 disaster, don’t blame this dive on him. Played at high level in 14-of-15 games, sat out one other. Twenty-six TDs, 12 interceptions, 4,328 yards. Silenced critics who said he couldn’t be prolific pocket passer. Sacked 50 times, but wasn’t carted off field on gurney even once.

RB Rashard Mendenhall

Weekly grades: C/B/INC/A/A/D/D/A/C/A/B/A/C/B/F/C
Final grade: B-
Comment: His emergence as go-to guy in run game was most positive development of season. Combined speed and power for 1,108 yards on ground. Hit hole quicker, juked less. Master of spin move but fumble waiting to happen. Raw talent who should get better with experience.

RB Willie Parker

Weekly grades: D/C/B/DNP/DNP/D/INC/INC/INC/B/C/C/INC/B/B/A
Final grade: C+
Comment: Soon-to-be free agent was slowed by injuries. Even so, he could have done more if given chance. The 29-year-old showed enough in final games to believe he could be bargain for some team next season.

RB Mewelde Moore

Weekly grades: B/C/C/A/B/B/B/B/B/C/D/C/D/B/INC/INC
Season average: C+
Comment: Normally reliable veteran was replaced by Mendenhall as third-down specialist late in season. Wasn’t as effective in blitz pick-up in obvious pass situations. Still only 27, but his future is uncertain future here.

(For the final Steelers defense grades and analysis, see Paul Ladewski's story in Bleacher Report on Monday.)


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.