The first eight games of the 2016 NFL season are in the books for the Pittsburgh Steelers and it’s now time for my grades on the first half of the season. You can see my quarter pole grades here.
Quarterback (C+) Quarterback Landry Jones started one game and played decently against New England but not well enough to win. Ben Roethlisberger has been a man of extremes so far. He’s either been hotter than a firecracker or as cold as an ice cube. I don’t put all of that on him because other players have yet to step up around him at times. That said, he has to play better and be more consistent if this team is going to make the playoffs.
Running Backs (B) Both DeAngelo Williams and Le’Veon Bell have performed well so far through the season. Even when the running game wasn’t there this past Sunday, Bell still chipped in with a lot of receptions and receiving yards.
Wide Receivers (C+) Antonio Brown is struggling. He’s facing consistent double-teams every week and his quarterbacks are finding it difficult to get the ball to him. His counterparts have to do more. Markus Wheaton has been relegated to being a healthy scratch and Darrius Heyward-Bey is now out for an extended period with an ankle injury. That leaves Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers and they can’t wait until the fourth quarter to open up things for Brown.
Tight Ends (C) Let’s face it; the Steelers tight ends are average. Jesse James is limited in what he can do in both blocking and tackling and it has hurt the offense. Xavier Grimble and David Johnson are complimentary players at best and Ladarius Green continues to be the invisible man.
Offensive Line (D+) No unit is struggling more than this one. All-Pro David DeCastro is having a very difficult go of it this season. He is constantly getting beaten with a straight bull rush week in and week out. Alejandro Villanueva is just not capable of being a consistently good left tackle and Marcus Gilbert has battled injury. With Maurkice Pouncey questionable because of an injury to his hand, the line is incredibly unstable right now.
Overall (C) A lot of this overall grade bears the mark of Todd Haley but I’ll address him later. This offense needs to find its way. It seems lost and has no identity right now. We can blame injuries all we want to but that’s something everyone deals with. Drastic improvement is needed.
Defensive Line (C+) This unit is defined by Cam Heyward. When he is in there, they are an easy B or B+ for me. When he’s out, they are more like a D or D+. Since we’ve seen a little of both over the last four games, this grade seems fitting. It wasn’t a surprise that Stephon Tuitt played well Sunday with Heyward back in the lineup. Rookie Javon Hargrave is doing fine. He’s being asked to do a lot already in terms of playing both on the nose and in the nickel packages. Ricardo Mathews has been a step up from Cam Tomas but not that big of a step.
Outside Backers (C-) When James Harrison is your best and most consistent outside backer halfway through the season then you got issues. That is not a knock on Deebo but rather, it’s an indictment of how inconsistent everyone else has been. Anthony Chickillo struggles against the run and while Jarvis Jones has shown flashes, he still isn’t getting to the quarterback.
Inside Backers (B-) When Ryan Shazier is healthy, the unit is a full grade better. His ability to sniff out plays and make tackles is very sound. Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams still struggle to cover receivers and are two-down backers at best. I do love Williams’ ability to tackle though. He’s one of the best on the team.
Secondary (C) Mike Mitchell is wearing on me again and last week was a perfect example of why. His tackling is sub-par as was illustrated on two plays made by Steve Smith and Mike Wallace. Artie Burns is arrow up right now. Yes, he got beat by Wallace, but he made a lot of plays too. Ross Cockrell and William Gay are both steady but not flashy to this point while Sean Davis and Rob Golden continue to be question marks at safety.
Overall (C+) I could easily give this unit a higher grade but I won’t because its been inconsistent. Keith Butler has struggled between blitzing and playing it safe. Last week he brought more pressure and it paid off at times. It looks like a week to week proposition.
Special Teams (B) I’m not a fan of Special Teams’ coach Danny Smith who authorized that ridiculous onside kick attempt and also didn’t coach Sean Davis up well enough to make a block which resulted in a blocked punt and touchdown. Jordan Berry could be looking at a Pro Bowl berth if he continues to pin teams deep with his accurate punts. Chris Boswell had a little hiccup in the Patriots’ game but otherwise has been fine.
Team Overall (C) When you’re 4-4, you’re average. Therefore they get a ‘C.’ Todd Haley coached what was one of his worst games last week and he continues to prove to me that he isn’t the offensive genius everyone thinks him to be. Mike Tomlin should be feeling some heat. This team is underachieving and that goes back to him like it or not. If this team doesn’t make the postseason he will be forced to make changes to his staff and perhaps make changes in his style as well.