By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, January 12, 2012
The combination of 12 wins, a playoff appearance and a gallant effort in the Wild-Card round would constitute a successful season for many franchises.
Not this one.
The standard here, as you may have heard, is considerably higher.
Injuries or no injuries, a season that ends without a parade is deemed a disappointment at Steelers headquarters. One that ends without a playoff win is considered a flat-out failure.
Which is at it should be, for what is true in the classroom is true on the football field: High expectations create the environment for high achievement.
No franchise sets the bar higher. None owns as many Super Bowl trophies.
With that in mind, it's report-card time. Let's start with an explanation of the grading policy, in hopes of avoiding angry calls from parents.
Several injured players got incompletes. Grades are based on reasonable expectations coming into the season:
A — Far exceeded expectations
B — Exceeded expectations
C — Met expectations
D — Fell short
F — Stunk
So if a star player gets a C and Isaac Redman gets an A, it simply means the star met high expectations while Redman exceeded moderate ones.
Let's get to it ...
Ben Roethlisberger, C- Typically good numbers. Tons of courage. Gave his team a chance. But his last-drive magic has been missing in two straight postseason games.
Rashard Mendenhall, D Had him pegged for his best year. Didn't happen. Tiptoed too much, though he was coming on before tearing ACL.
Isaac Redman, A Delivered in short yardage, and when his name was called in playoffs.
Mewelde Moore, C Huge in Indy, New England wins. Quiet otherwise.
Mike Wallace, C- Drew more defensive attention. Numbers dropped from 2010. Has 141 total receiving yards in four playoff games.
Antonio Brown, A Set franchise record for all-purpose yards, became Ben's favorite target.
Hines Ward, D Decline was coming one of these years for franchise legend. As with Marvin Harrison, it came quickly.
Emmanuel Sanders, C- Salvaged up-and-down campaign with stellar playoff.
Jericho Cotchery, C Produced when called upon.
Heath Miller, C As always, dependable receiver and blocker. Not built in mold of sleek modern tight end. Just gets job done.
David Johnson, C- Decent lead blocker. Franchise will survive if not re-signed.
Weslye Saunders, B Played more than anticipated, early candidate for breakout in 2012.
Max Starks, A Nothing was expected because he was sitting around in Arizona when his phone rang. Stepped in admirably.
Marcus Gilbert, A Ticketed for rookie backup duty, forced into action. Showed enough promise to make you wonder if he could protect Ben's blind side.
Chris Kemoeatu, F Penalties, pass-blocking issues cost him starting job. Worth $4.4 million cap hit in 2012?
Doug Legursky, B Versatility helped. Errant snap in Denver hurt.
Ramon Foster, B- Quietly performed.
Maurkice Pouncey, C- Less dominant than in 2010. Warning: Do not inform him of this grade via Twitter.
Ziggy Hood, C- Wanting more from '09 first-rounder.
Brett Keisel, B+ Easily led club in combined QB hurries/pressures.
Cameron Heyward, C+ Showed flashes.
Casey Hampton, C- No longer dominant, $7 million cap hit next year.
Steve McLendon, B+ Who thought he'd even play?
Lawrence Timmons, D For the money ($10M cap hit next season), way more splash plays required.
James Farrior, C+ Avoided Hines-like slippage in reduced role.
James Harrison, C- Nine sacks in 11 games, but Ryan Clady owned him last Sunday.
LaMarr Woodley, C- Quiet at first, then torrid, should have rested hamstring until playoffs.
Jason Worilds, D Unlike, say, Gilbert, Worilds failed to fully seize opportunity.
William Gay, B- Fans didn't want him. Won job, fared OK.
Keenan Lewis, C Was projected to contribute and did.
Ike Taylor, C- Aced every test until final, which he failed in historic fashion.
Troy Polamalu, C- We've come to expect superhuman feats. He delivered again, though not on level of 2010.
Ryan Clark, B+ Had his best year, first safety to lead Steelers in tackles.
Ryan Mundy, C+ Solid backup.
Shaun Suisham, C Do not doubt The Mighty Suisham, who came on late and had perfect playoff.
Jeremy Kapinos, A His job now.
Mike Tomlin, D Led banged-up team to 12 wins but only one of high quality (New England) before perhaps worst playoff loss in franchise history. Questionable late-game management against Baltimore, Denver. Usage of injured stars Roethlisberger (leaving him in late at San Francisco and Cleveland), Woodley (came back too soon) and Pouncey (kept him in all game against Cleveland?) was ill-advised.
Bruce Arians, D The Steelers didn't score enough again, largely on account of more mediocre red-zone play. However, I'm giving Arians a pass on the playoff game. Nine of 11 drives should have resulted in points, except for player malfunction (dropped passes, errant snap, Ben's fumble/sack on final drive, etc.). The players were the problem, not the plan.
Dick LeBeau, D Regular-season ranking (1st overall) was great, but this unit did not attack passers, produce turnovers or stop the run near to the level of LeBeau's best. The Denver game was a mile-high meltdown, one where LeBeau and Tomlin stubbornly dared Tim Tebow to beat them even after he repeatedly proved he could.
So he did.