The first four games of the 2016 National Football League season are in the books at the Pittsburgh Steelers sit at 3-1 following their 43-14 win over Kansas City Sunday night. As is my custom here at SCB, I like to look at the team every four games and give you a grade on what I’ve seen so far in in the season.
Quarterback (B+) Through four games, Ben Roethlisberger has 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions. his QB rating of 100.8 currently ranks him eighth in the NFL but that’s a bit misleading as their as a few guys who haven’t played nearly the snaps he has. The weight he lost in the offseason is apparent. His feet are better and he’s scrambled several times for positive yards in needed situations. The challenge will be keeping that weight off through the season because right now, when he sets up and throws in a clean pocket he’s unstoppable.
Running Backs (A) Granted, DeAngelo Williams didn’t do much in Philadelphia but then again who did? He’s been spectacular as always in place of Le’Veon Bell and then Bell shows up and has a fantastic performance of his own. Sky is the limit for these guys.
Wide Receivers (B) AB is AB so let’s move on… Sammie Coates is emerging. Right now I think he’s limited to only a few things on the route tree but he’s improving all the time. He may have elevated himself to the number two after Sunday evening. Eli Rogers has shown he can be an effective slot receiver but needs to get healthy. Despite his TD catch last night, Markus Wheaton needs to do more and the three drops last week don’t help.
Tight Ends (B-) If I graded this purely on receiving I’d give them a higher grade because between Jesse James, Xavier Grimble and David Johnson they’ve exceeded expectations. The problem is that the blocking is horrendous and has to get better both in run blocking and in pass protection.
Offensive Line (C-) I think this unit played significantly better as the game wore on Sunday night but there isn’t one guy on this group who I can say has been consistent through the first four games. David DeCastro has struggled mightily and Maurkice Pouncey is still getting himself back into form in my opinion. Marcus Gilbert is now dealing with an ankle injury and Alejandro Villanueva is a great story but has been woefully inadequate at times. The one positive is that I really liked what B.J. Finney did. He gives them more flexibility at left guard in terms of pulling and trapping than with Ramon Foster.
Overall (B) It appears that the loss in Philly was an aberration for this group but they can’t afford that to happen more than once a season and it’s already been here and gone with 12 games to go. If the three ‘B’s’ stay healthy then the Steelers’ offense will in fact put up serious numbers but it still all starts up front and the offensive line must find consistency.
Defensive Line (B) Cam Heyward (3 sacks vs the Chiefs) and Stephon Tuitt are a dynamic duo along the front line for the Steelers but they need help. Rookie Javon Hargrave, Daniel McCullers and Ricardo Mathews have to step up and give these guys a breather more often. I like what both Hargrave and Mathews can do they just need to be more consistent and gain the courage and confidence of John Mitchell, their position coach.
Outside Backers (C-) Did you ever think you’d hear the Steelers’ outside linebackers have ZERO sacks through four games? Ya, me either but that’s the case and it has to get better. Bud Dupree is still several weeks away from a possible return so the pressure is going to have come from Arthur Moats, James Harrison and Jarvis Jones. Anthony Chickillo is a great motor guy but he isn’t getting to the QB either.
Inside Backers (B-) Lawrence Timmons has been better this year than last and that’s good. Vince Williams has proven he can be a more than dependable back up and I like what L.J. Fort can bring to the unit as well. When healthy, Ryan Shazier is a force but but he just isn’t on the field often enough. This group will be tested in the coming weeks by backs and tight ends seeing lots of balls thrown their way.
Secondary (B-) This unit was much better against the Chiefs and part of the reason why was that they tackled better. As good as Ross Cockrell was against A.J. Green I’m still weary of his coverage skills. The use of Sean Davis in the slot doesn’t do much for me but I don’t think William Gay has been much better either quite frankly. Mike Mitchell on the back end is what you want in terms of a hitter who will intimidate receivers but he has to be smart too. Rob Golden has been better than last year but needs to get healthy. Artie Burns has played more already than I figured he would all season. He’s incredibly raw and it shows but he also has wicked athleticism.
Overall (B-) Right now the Steelers’ D ranks 27th in the league overall but that’s a bit misleading. Yes, they were torched by the Eagles but a lot of the yards they gave up in weeks one and two were when the team was ahead and they’d played off. The run defense ranks sixth which means teams will throw more too. If Senquez Golson comes back and contributes and Justin Gilbert can make the most of his plays then this defense can be better on the back end. On the front end, it’s all about pressure.
Special Teams (B+) Jordan Berry has been very good in the punting department. His kicks inside the 20 yard line were a huge factor in the win over Cincinnati. Other than a blocked field goal, Chris Boswell has been his usual consistent self. The only concern is the lack of a return game which has been non-existent to this point.
Team Overall (B) The win over Kansas City has made the nightmare in Philly seem as though it never happened but the reality is that it did. The question is whether that was just a blip on the radar or a sign of potential issues down the road. With the three ‘B’s’ anything is possible as long as the defense can stay respectable. 3-1 over the next three quarters of the season means a 12-4 season so I think we’ll take that but improvements to the defense and offensive line play are a must.