We have reached the halfway point of the season and the Pittsburgh Steelers sit at a fortunate 5-3, playing their best football of the season heading into Monday night’s matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Considering all of the injuries and early season losses to the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders, the Steelers are fortunate this season didn’t get away from them and in turn, now have the opportunity to position themselves nicely in the AFC during the second half of the season.
With that being said, let’s take a look back at how they fared during the first half in my mid-season report card
Quarterback- Ben Roethlisberger has had a fantastic start to the season, one that is definitely Pro-Bowl worthy. His overall numbers have been great completing 67.1 percent of his passes for 2,203 yards, 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He has a 101.1 quarterback rating and has been even better on third down. It’s easy to stay the Steelers wouldn’t be where they are without him. Grade: A-
Running Backs- They have come on the past three weeks and the combination of Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer look to play a major role in the Steelers’ offense the rest of the season. But they are still only 23rd in the league in rushing and averaging only 3.9 yards per carry through eight games so that hurts their overall grade. I would expect by the end of the year for it to improve a lot. Grade: C
Wide Receivers- Antonio Brown leads the team in catches (42) and Mike Wallace leads the team in yards (525) despite having a case of the drops. In addition to Brown and Wallace, Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders have made big plays all season. The big play is practically gone from the Steelers’ attack, as they have had only five completions over 30 yards this season, but these guys have stepped up nonetheless. Grade: B
Offensive Line- There has to be something said for the way they struggled to run block the first five games of the season, but they are coming along very nicely. While they did struggle run blocking, the pass protection has been very good in six of the eight games. Roethlisberger has been sacked only 17 times and he’s getting hit a lot less. This unit is taking serious strides and if they keep it up could play a key role in the Steelers success down the stretch. Grade: C+
Defensive Line- Another unit that got off to a very slow start, but has really picked things up over the course of the past three weeks. Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton are starting to make plays and Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon have had their moments as well. I don’t get too involved in ranking defenses until every team has had their bye week to even things out, but the Steelers are the No. 1 ranked defense right now and that says something. They are allowing only 88.6 yards on the ground per game, which is more Steelers-like than what we saw early in the season. Grade: B-
Linebackers- James Harrison started the season injured and LaMarr Woodley also suffered an injury during the first half of the season. Woodley has rebounded to play some good football while Harrison has been invisible since his return. But in the meantime, inside backers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons have been very consistent all year. But the big play is missing and the pass rush isn’t there on a consistent basis, which was big in three losses. Grade: B-
Secondary-Keenan Lewis and Ryan Clark have played at a very high level, which helps to offset some of Ike Taylor’s early season struggles. However while they need to be held accountable for their performance in the three losses, they have been outstanding as a group during the past three weeks. However the big pay is missing here as well as the secondary has only three interceptions on the season. But they are getting the job done for the most part. Grade B
Special Teams- The kicking game has been outstanding and for the first time this season, the return game played a big role in the win vs. the Giants. But for seven weeks, the countless special teams’ penalties hurt this tam and even took two touchdowns off the board. Hopefully that is behind them. Grade: B-
Offensive MVP- Roethlisberger. He means that much to this team and his play has been MVP worthy as this is likely a one or two win team without him. Just look at how good he has been on third down. He hasn’t been given the opportunity to make those big plays that only he can make, but getting rid of the ball quicker has worked out fine. An honorable mention here goes to the entire offensive line.
Defensive MVP- Clark. Even during the early struggles for the defense, Clark has been very good every week. He missed the opener against the Broncos, but is still second on the team with 52 tackles and tied for first with 40 solo stops. He will do some stupid things that leave you shaking your head at times, but he also has played some very good football from week-to-week.
Unsung Hero- Shaun Suisham. The Steelers kicker has been the model of consistency, connecting on 17-of-18 (94.4 percent) field goal attempts and has quietly been a weapon for this team.