Pittsburgh Steelers: Brad Wing

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
PITTSBURGH -- Another round of high marks after the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 20-12, to clinch their first playoff berth since 2011.

 Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger leads the AFC in passing yards (4,635), but he has been at his best during this three-game winning streak when the 11th-year veteran has patiently taken what defenses have given the Steelers. Game manager is often a back-handed compliment or even an indictment when it is conferred on quarterbacks. Roethlisberger’s past three games are proof that the title can also be the ultimate compliment. Grade: A

Running backs: Le’Veon Bell ran against a defense determined not to let the second-year man beat it for the second week in a row. Bell grinded out 63 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries but he opened up the middle of the field for tight end Heath Miller, who caught seven passes for 68 yards. Grade: B-

Receivers: Miller and Antonio Brown each caught a game-high seven passes. Brown had what is a quiet game for him but still led the Steelers with 72 receiving yards. The two-time Pro Bowler also worked to get free in the end zone on his 3-yard touchdown catch. Martavis Bryant caught a 44-yard pass on the third play of the game but was shut out the rest of the way. Grade: B-

Offensive line: The Steelers averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, but the Chiefs loaded the box. The line largely neutralized Chiefs outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Houston recorded his NFL-leading 18th sack but that was the only time that Roethlisberger got sacked. Grade: B

 Defensive line: Chiefs Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles managed just 29 rushing yards and averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt forced the only turnover of the game when he belted Charles from behind after a 3-yard catch. Defensive end Cameron Heyward recorded 1 sacks, and he and Tuitt consistently generated inside pressure when the Steelers were in their nickel package. Grade: A

Linebackers: Outside linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds combined for 3 sacks and Harrison absolutely owned Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher. Inside linebacker Vince Williams recovered the fumble that Tuitt forced and Lawrence Timmons made tackles all over the field. The inside linebacker recorded a game-high 13 stops. He also made a key play in the end zone when he did not bite on a double move by Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and forced an incomplete pass. Grade: A

Secondary: Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith took advantage of soft coverage to dink and dunk his way to 311 passing yards and his first 300-yard game this season. The Steelers were just OK at tackling after the catch, and a missed tackle by cornerback William Gay resulted in a 33-yard catch and run by wide receiver Albert Wilson, the Chiefs’ longest play of the game. Cornerback Antwon Blake recorded seven tackles and made a huge pass break up in the end zone when Smith tried to hit wide receiver Dwayne Bowe with a back-shoulder throw. Grade: C

Special teams: The Steelers gave up a first down on a fake field goal, though the defense still ended up holding Kansas City to a field goal. Brad Wing boomed a 56-yard punt after an earlier 34-yard punt, and the Steelers’ kick coverage units were superb. The Chiefs averaged just 20.8 yards on five kickoff returns, and the dangerous De’Anthony Thomas did minimal damage as a returner. Grade B-

Coaching: Mike Tomlin has his team peaking at the right time. The Steelers are playing their best football as they chase an AFC North title and a home game in the playoffs. The Steelers didn’t abandon the run even with the Chiefs intent of stopping it, keeping the middle of the field open for Miller. The defense shut down the run, got to the quarterback early and often and forced the Chiefs to settle for field goals when they got close to the Steelers’ end zone. That is how it is supposed to work in Dick LeBeau’s defense. Grade: A

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
ATLANTA -- Here are the marks after the Pittsburgh Steelers improved to 9-5 with a 27-20 win against the Atlanta Falcons.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger showed sublime patience for the second week in a row, taking what the defense gave the Steelers. He didn't miss many throws even with the Falcons blitzing early and often. Roethlisberger again threw for well over 300 yards while completing just over 77 percent of his passes. Grade: A

Running backs: The Falcons held Le'Veon Bell to 47 yards -- his second-lowest total this season -- and just 2.4 yards per carry. The Falcons were determined to shut down the run and left very few openings for Bell. He did score a 13-yard touchdown on the Steelers' favorite running play, following blocks by pulling right guard David DeCastro and Will Johnson, who had lined up as a tight end, into the end zone. Grade: C+

Receivers: Antonio Brown caught all 10 passes thrown his way and finished with 123 receiving yards. The two-time Pro Bowler showed tremendous footwork in making a 28-yard sideline grab near the end of the first half, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Bell. Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller each made timely grabs and Bell chipped in 72 receiving yards. Grade: A-

Offensive line: The Steelers did not get enough of a push against a defense that had been allowing just under 123 rushing yards per game. But the Steelers ran the ball when they had to and the line allowed just one sack in a noisy stadium and against a defense that blitzed Roethlisberger on 40 percent of his throws. Grade: B-

Defensive line: The Steelers allowed 4.9 yards per carry and did not get enough of an inside rush when they played their nickel package. Defensive end Cameron Heyward had one of the Steelers' four quarterback hits, but Ryan had too much time to throw and was not sacked in a game for the first time this season. Grade: C+

Linebackers: Vince Williams and Sean Spence continued to play ahead of rookie first-round pick Ryan Shazier at weakside inside linebacker and they showed why at the Georgia Dome. The two combined for 10 tackles, and Williams made the biggest stop of the game when he buried Harry Douglas after a third-down catch in the fourth quarter, 2 yards short of the first-down marker. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds got robbed of what could have been a game-changing sack in the second quarter. Grade: B

Defensive backs: William Gay starred for the defense, returning a pick 52 yards for a touchdown and setting a franchise record with his third interception return for a score in a season. Gay also broke up two passes but it was a pretty rough day for the rest of the Steelers' cornerbacks, especially nickel back Antwon Blake. The Steelers did not get enough out of their safeties as neither Troy Polamalu nor Mike Mitchell broke up a pass. Grade: C+

Special teams: Shaun Suisham made both of his field goal attempts. Brad Wing averaged 43.0 yards per punt and dropped two of his three kicks inside the 20-yard line. Antonio Brown returned a punt 31 yards and Markus Wheaton averaged 25.0 yards on both of his kickoff returns. Take away a 43-yard kickoff return by Devin Hester -- and that was erased by Gay's interception -- and the Falcons' return man did very little. The Steelers would take a performance like this one from their special teams every week. Grade: B+

Coaching: The Steelers handled the Falcons' blitz and stuck with the run enough to make the passing game effective from start to finish. The defensive statistics weren't pretty but the Steelers consistently made stops and twice forced field goals. The Steelers did not play to lose at the end of the game and Mike Tomlin won a key challenge. Grade: A-

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
CINCINNATI -- The Pittsburgh Steelers received high marks in their 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Here are the grades:

QUARTERBACK: So much for Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road. Roethlisberger threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns and outdueled Andy Dalton, who played well except for a lost fumble. A slow start – Roethlisberger threw for just 19 yards in the first quarter – knocked this grade down a bit. Grade: A-

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLe'Veon Bell found the end zone for the first time in six games on Sunday in Cincinnati.
RUNNING BACKS: Le'Veon Bell showed why he can stake a claim to the best running back in the NFL right now. His uncanny patience and ability to set up his blocks allowed the second-year man to rush for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He also chipped in with 50 receiving yards and a score and still doesn’t hesitate to do dirty work such a picking up blitzes. Grade: A

RECEIVERS: Antonio Brown caught nine passes for 117 yards and a touchdown and made some timely, chain-moving grabs. He also became the first player in Steelers history with at least 1,300 receiving yards in the first 13 games of the season. The Steelers are still too reliant on Brown in the passing game but rookie Martavis Bryant had a huge 94-yard touchdown catch, his seventh scoring reception in seven career games. Grade: A-

OFFENSIVE LINE: The Steelers dominated the line of scrimmage, allowing Bell to average 7.1 yards per carry. The line also allowed Roethlisberger enough time to throw for the 11th-year veteran to take control of the game after the first quarter. The Steelers were particularly effective running left behind pulling right guared David DeCastro. Tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth also merit mention here with the contributions each made as blockers. Grade: A

DEFENSIVE LINE: The return of nose tackle Steve McLendon helped the Steelers limit the Bengals’ 1-2 punch of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill to 63 yards on 14 carries. Take away Dalton’s 20-yard touchdown run off a read-option that completed fooled the Steelers and the Bengals managed just 3.3 yards per carry. Grade: B-

LINEBACKERS: Arthur Moats played his best game as a Steeler, notching a pair of sacks and making one of the plays of the game when he wrested a loose ball away from Dalton after a botched exchange between the Bengals quarterback and Hill. The Steelers need their edge pass rushers to generate more pressure on the quarterback, but the linebackers made plays when the defense needed it: Grade: C+

SECONDARY: Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green had his way with the Steelers and had catches of 56 and 81 yards on the way to 224 receiving yards. The Steelers are just trying to get by at cornerback, and safeties Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell have to play better on the back end. Cornerback William Gay had a nice bounce-back game after struggling the previous week against the New Orleans Saints. An illegal hands-to-the-face penalty on outside linebacker Jason Worilds nullified a nifty interception Gay made in the second quarter. Grade: D

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Brad Wing improved after a shaky start, but the Steelers need more from the first-year player. Shaun Suisham made both of his field-goal attempts, including a 44-yarder that pulled the Steelers within a point of the Bengals early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers did not get much out of their return game and yielded a couple of significant punt returns to the Bengals: Grade: C

COACHING: The Steelers stayed the course with their running game and their success on the ground set up Roethlisberger’s 94-yard touchdown pass. Coach Mike Tomlin played to win when he gave the green light for the deep ball that Roethlisberger threw with the Steelers backed up on their own 6-yard line and leading by just seven points in the fourth quarter. Grade: A

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

November, 4, 2014
Nov 4
PITTSBURGH -- A weekly look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers must fix:

The Steelers are primed for a letdown when they take a three-game winning streak into MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

The New York Jets have lost eight consecutive games, and their season appears to have reached the point of no return. But special teams could help the Jets spring one of the upsets of the season if the Steelers are as lacking in that phase of the game as they were in a 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers gave up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Jacoby Jones after yielding a 25-punt return to Jones earlier in the game. Jones went untouched after Shaun Suisham came within a yard of booting the kickoff out of the end zone.

The three Ravens touchdowns were set up by two special-teams breakdowns and a lost fumble. Brad Wing, who has been inconsistent in his first NFL season, didn't help the coverage team with the low punt that Jones returned 25 yards in the first quarter.

Wing netted just 36.5 yards on six punts, and the Steelers need the Aussie to be better starting Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Their more immediate concern in the return game is on kickoffs.

Percy Harvin, whom the Jets traded for late last month, is a dynamic kickoff returner. The versatile wide receiver returned a kickoff 65 yards in a 24-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

If the Steelers play down to the Jets' level in the 1 p.m. ET game, a play on special teams could make the difference.

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 3, 2014
Nov 3
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers generally received high marks after beating the Baltimore Ravens, 43-23, on Sunday night at Heinz Field.

QUARTERBACK: Ben Roethlisberger has thrust himself into the midseason MVP discussion after throwing for an NFL record 12 touchdown passes in the last two games. Roethlisberger missed a couple of early throws before finding his groove and burying the Ravens with 340 passing yards and six touchdowns. Grade: A

RUNNING BACKS: The Steelers managed just 55 rushing yards and averaged 2,5 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount had some nice runs but managed just 23 yards on 10 carries. Le'Veon Bell was not a factor in the running game, though he did catch five passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. Grade: C

[+] EnlargeHarrison
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJames Harrison was part of a linebacking corps that had its best game of the season on Sunday.
RECEIVERS: Antonio Brown should be in the MVP discussion after catching 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, and he continues to get help. Rookie Martavis Bryant caught two more touchdown passes, giving him five in three games. Markus Wheaton hauled in a 47-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to give the Steelers a double-digit lead near the end of the first half. Six different receivers have caught at least one touchdown pass in the last two games. Grade: A

OFFENSIVE LINE: It endured a hideous stretch at the beginning of the second quarter when the Ravens sacked Roethlisberger on three consecutive plays. The line did not allow a sack the rest of the way, but it did not provide much running room for the running backs. The Steelers had some success running behind right guard David DeCastro but too many runs had no chance because of the lack of push up front. Grade: C

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Steelers held the Ravens to 63 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry, and their success in stopping the run started up front. Nose tackle Steve McLendon played well after missing the previous two games because of a shoulder injury. Rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt flashed as a pass rusher when the second-round pick got some snaps. Grade: B

LINEBACKERS: The unit played its best game of the season. Right outside linebackers James Harrison and Arthur Moats combined for three sacks and five quarterback pressures and left outside linebacker Jason Worilds intercepted a pass that set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons had a game-high 11 tackles and a sack. Grade: A-

SECONDARY: Cornerback Brice McCain gave up an early 35-yard touchdown catch to Torrey Smith but the defensive backs settled down after that. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had just one other completion that was 20 yards or longer despite throwing or 303 yards. Nickel back Antwon Blake broke up a pair of passes. Grade: B-

SPECIAL TEAMS: This unit’s biggest contribution came on a botched hold that Brad Wing salvaged when he completed a pass to tight end Matt Spaeth for a 2-point conversion. That’s all you need to know from a game in which the Steelers gave up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Wing netted just 36.5 yards on six punts. Grade: D-

COACHING: Mike Tomlin has pushed all of the right buttons during a three-game winning streak, and he won a key challenge that forced a Ravens punt in the third quarter. The defense continued to attack after battering Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck the previous week, and maligned offensive coordinator Todd Haley must be doing something right. The Steelers are averaging 41.3 points in their last three games. Grade: A

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

Here are the Pittsburgh Steelers' marks after a 30-23 win against the Houston Texans.

QUARTERBACK: Ben Roethlisberger overcame a slow start to complete 23 of 33 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. A third scoring pass was taken away by a questionable reversal of a touchdown on the field. Roethlisberger is 6-0 on "Monday Night Football" games at Heinz Field. Grade: B+

RUNNING BACKS: The Steelers didn't do much on the ground, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. Le'Veon Bell managed just 57 rushing yards but a 43-yard catch and run in the second quarter jump-started the slumbering Steelers. Bell's superb all-around play loomed large in the come-from-behind win. Grade: B-

RECEIVERS: A lot to like here. Antonio Brown continues to dominate. Rookie Martavis Bryant showed he could be the deep threat the Steelers need to complement Brown. Darrius Heyward-Bey made a critical third-down catch in traffic. No catches, however, for the disappearing Markus Wheaton and just one for tight end Heath Miller. Grade: B

OFFENSIVE LINE: The Steelers had to adjust after losing starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second quarter to a concussion. Mike Adams, Gilbert's replacement, played well enough against All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt. And the line held up when it had to despite not opening many running lanes and not consistently giving Roethlisberger enough time to throw. Grade: C

DEFENSIVE LINE: Texans running back Arian Foster gashed the Steelers for 73 rushing yards in the first quarter but didn't do much on the ground after that. Defensive end Brett Keisel made two huge plays during the frenzied sequence in which the Steelers turned a 13-0 deficit into a 24-13 lead. Grade: B-

LINEBACKERS: Jason Worilds played his best game of the season and his fumble recovery late in the second quarter led to the touchdown that gave the Steelers a lead they would not relinquish. Lawrence Timmons was a beast, registering 12 tackles and a sack despite vomiting during the game. The Steelers still aren't getting enough pressure on the quarterback from their outside linebackers but they are getting better. Grade: B+

DEFENSIVE BACKS: The Steelers were shaky in coverage and when Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had time to throw he usually hit an open man. Strong safety Troy Polamalu got caught out of position on an early 33-yard run by Foster but he later recovered a fumble after free safety Mike Mitchell ripped the ball out of Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins' arms. That turned out to be a huge play as the Steelers needed a turnover in the worst way at that point of the fourth quarter. Grade: C-

SPECIAL TEAMS: The kick coverage teams were superb, Shaun Suisham was perfect on three field goal attempts and punter Brad Wing continues to get better. The Steelers need more out of rookie Dri Archer on kickoff returns. Allowing a successful fake punt to the Texans when the Steelers should have been on high-alert for one knocks this grade down. Grade: B+

COACHING: Mike Tomlin should have played to win and gone for it on fourth and inches in the third quarter when the Steelers had the Texans on their heels. It's amazing how much smarter defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is when his unit produces timely turnovers. Ditto for offensive coordinator Todd Haley when his players execute. Grade: B.

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
The Steelers' report card is a mess after a 31-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Here are the marks:

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger admittedly did not play well against a team he normally owns. He led the Steelers to one meaningless touchdown, and his passer rating of 64.4 was almost doubled by Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (113.0). Grade: D

[+] EnlargeDonte Whitner
AP Photo/David RichardTaunted by the Browns? It was that kind of day.
Running backs: The Steelers controlled the game in the first quarter by running the ball successfully, and they finished with 138 rushing yards and averaged 4.3 yards a carry. The Steelers ran the ball three consecutive times inside the Browns’ 10-yard yard line early in the game but couldn’t score a touchdown: Grade: B-

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown showed up, catching seven passes for 118 yards and drawing a pass interference penalty that put the Steelers in position to score an early touchdown. The Steelers, however, are still too reliant on Brown as Markus Wheaton had just 33 receiving yards despite getting 11 targets. Lance Moore caught a touchdown pass but also had a drop: Grade: C-

Tight ends: Heath Miller was a non-factor in the passing game as he caught two passes for 19 yards. The 10th-year veteran also missed a block on a misdirection pitch early in the game and Le'Veon Bell was dropped for a short loss when the Steelers needed a yard for a first down. Grade: D

Offensive line: It couldn’t impose its will on a depleted Browns front seven in critical situations, most notably on the three running plays near the Browns’ end zone early in the game. What looked like a blown assignment on third down from the Browns’ 2-yard line left Cleveland linebacker Craig Robertson free to stop LeGarrette Blount well short of the end zone. Grade: D

Defensive line: The Browns exploded for 157 rushing yards in the final three quarters, and the Steelers' problems with stopping the run started up front. This unit continues to struggle with zone-blocking teams, and it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being any more than an average run defense this season and that’s if they make significant improvement. Grade: D

Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 10 tackles, but he struggled against the run, too. The Steelers didn’t get any quarterback pressures from their outside linebackers. Arthur Moats, who has been starting at right outside linebacker for the injured Jarvis Jones, did not record a tackle. Grade: D

Cornerbacks: The inconsistency of Cortez Allen continues. The fourth-year veteran struggled in pass coverage a week after playing his best game of the season. None of the Steelers’ three cornerbacks broke up any passes. They are not getting enough help from the pass rush, but this group has to play better. Grade: D

Safety: The play of Mike Mitchell was one of the few positives for the Steelers. Mitchell forced a fumble and also prevented a pair of catches with jarring hits that separated the receiver from the ball. Troy Polamalu had eight tackles, including one for a loss. But he appeared to be the one who blew the coverage on Browns tight end Jordan Cameron's 45-yard catch early in the second quarter. Grade: C+

Special teams: A botched hold on a field goal attempt helped turn the game in the Browns’ favor. Dri Archer consistently comes up short of the Steelers’ 20-yard line on the kickoffs he is able to return, and he has been a disappointment on special teams. Brad Wing posted a net average of 42.1 yards on seven punts. Grade: D

Coaching: The Steelers fell apart in the second quarter and coach Mike Tomlin couldn’t pull them out of their tailspin. Something is really off and it is incumbent upon Tomlin to pull the Steelers together. Todd Haley has to get much more out of an underachieving offense. His approach simply isn’t working. Grade: F

CLEVELAND -- Ben Roethlisberger beat the Cleveland Browns in 18 of his first 19 starts against them, including once while playing on only one good leg. He has so gleefully tormented the team that passed on drafting him in 2004 that what transpired Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium is proof something is very wrong with Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger completed just 21 of 42 passes in a 31-10 loss to the Browns and he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to one touchdown -- a late, meaningless one at that. The 11th-year veteran struggled with his accuracy so much, and in weather that was ideal for football, that Roethlisberger may have had trouble hitting Lake Erie even if he had been standing on its shores.

He was that bad in the loss that dropped the Steelers to 3-3, and he knew it.

“I hold myself to a higher standard and I’ve got to be better,” Roethlisberger said.

That is two games in a row Roethlisberger has not played well. That and the continued disconnect between the yards the Steelers are piling up and the meager numbers they are posting on scoreboards are sure to renew questions about the union between Roethlisberger and third-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Something is amiss with an offense that has managed just 20 points in the past two weeks, and the Roethlisberger-Haley dynamic is usually where disgruntled fans point first when the Steelers struggle.

The play calling has been curious with the Steelers becoming pass-happy when they were inside the Jaguars' 20-yard line last Sunday and then going to the other extreme against the Browns.

Haley has to take his share of blame for the offense's struggles but certainly not all of it.

A blown assignment up front on an early third-down run from the Browns' 3-yard line left LeGarrette Blount no chance to score, and the Steelers had to settle for a field goal.

On a third down from Cleveland's 17-yard line in the second quarter, Roethlisberger threw a pass that Markus Wheaton clearly was not expecting. The incompletion forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal attempt that holder Brad Wing botched.

The game turned on those two plays as the Steelers had been in command before the ill-fated field goal attempt. Yet the Steelers might not have had to attempt a field goal had Roethlisberger and Wheaton been in sync, something they weren’t all day.

Roethlisberger threw 11 passes Wheaton’s way and he caught only four of them.

“I think we had a good plan,” Roethlisberger said. “We came in with the right attitude and mindset. I didn’t play well enough. It’s very frustrating. We’re all frustrated but we’ll stay together.”

Such solidarity following a bitter loss was the one place where all of the Steelers’ offensive players were actually in the same place -- at least publicly.

Roethlisberger took the blame for the loss. Wheaton said Roethlisberger covered for him in regard to the communication issues the two had against the Browns. Running back Le’Veon Bell said to point the finger at him for the offense’s struggles.

“I think I’m frustrated like we all are because we are capable of moving the ball and possessing the ball, but the points aren’t reflective of that,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

When asked if the Steelers are going about playing offense the right way -- a thinly veiled reference to whether Haley is the right coach to lead it -- Tomlin said, “I am sure of it but we are not executing. We’ve got to look at all areas.”

They have to start by looking at how to get Roethlisberger to play better.

The Steelers' plan of remaining competitive while they rebuild a once fearsome defense hinges on Roethlisberger keeping them in games because he is a top-tier quarterback.

He has looked like anything but a franchise quarterback the past two weeks.

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 6, 2014
Oct 6
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here are the marks from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 17-9 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/John RaouxQB Ben Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to a 3-2 overall record this season.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger admittedly didn't play one of his better games despite completing 72 percent of his throws and registering a passer rating of 103.1. His four sacks were mostly a result of Roethlisberger holding onto the ball too long. He didn't try to push the ball downfield enough while also losing a fumble deep in Jaguars' territory. Grade: C+

Running backs: Le'Veon Bell averaged 5.5 yards per carry in rushing for 82 yards and the second-year back had 118 yards from scrimmage. No back this side of Dallas' DeMarco Murray has been better than Bell this season. LeGarrette Blount had three carries for 18 yards on the Steelers' only touchdown drive of the game. Grade: B-

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown made a heck of a catch on a 30-yard grab in the third quarter when the Steelers badly needed someone to make a play. Markus Wheaton caught just one pass for 17 yards and had a bad drop on the Steelers' first possession of the game. Justin Brown played his best game, catching all three passes thrown his way and holding onto the ball after taking a nasty hit on one of them. Grade: C+

Tight ends: Heath Miller jumped-started the offense with a 27-yard catch on the Steelers' only touchdown drive and Michael Palmer -- go figure -- scored the only offensive touchdown of the game. The tight ends helped the Steelers rush for 111 yards and average 4.0 yards per carry. Grade: C+

Offensive line: A very nice response from this group after it did not play particularly well in a 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Roethlisberger had tons of time to throw and the line opened enough running lanes for Bell and Blount. Center Maurkice Pouncey played really well and helped control Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who registered 12 tackles and a sack but made a lot of stops down the field. Grade: B

Defensive line: The Steelers played a lot of nickel but still held up well against the run, allowing just 56 yards on the ground and 3.7 yards per carry. The Steelers have been very good against the run for three consecutive games allowing 161 rushing yards and 3.6 yards per carry during that span. Grade: B

Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons tied for a team-high seven tackles and really helped snuff out the Jaguars' running game. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds came alive with a sack and a game-high three quarterback pressures. The Steelers did not get a whole lot from the rest of their linebackers though James Harrison's tackle for loss on first down came the play before Brice McCain intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown: Grade: B-

Cornerbacks: McCain, Cortez Allen and William Gay played a terrific game collectively, combining for all six of the Steelers' pass break ups and both of their interceptions. McCain's 22-yard interception return for a touchdown was the play of the game but Allen may have played the best of anyone on the Steelers' defense. The fourth-year veteran registered seven tackles, broke up three passes and recorded his second interception of the season. Grade: A-

Safeties: Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell combined for nine tackles and were solid in run support. Five games into the season, however, the two have one pass broken up and no interceptions between them. Mitchell seems to get better as he gets more comfortable in a new scheme and with new teammates: Grade: B-

Special teams: Three of the Steelers' seven penalties came on these units, including two by special teams captain Robert Golden. Dri Archer finally got to return a couple of kickoffs but he averaged a paltry 18.0 yards on two returns. Brad Wing netted 38.6 yards on five punts and boomed a 53-yarder. The kick coverage teams were solid. Grade: C

Coaching: The Steelers were much more disciplined after getting penalized 13 times for 125 yards the previous week. They had just one penalty on defense and seven overall for 50 yards. The offensive game plan was puzzling. The Steelers seemed content to throw underneath against a pass defense that had been strafed in the season's first four weeks. Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL and he didn't get a touch the six plays the Steelers ran inside Jacksonville's 10-yard line. Grade: C+
PITTSBURGH – Mike Tomlin, who pulled rank on offensive coordinator Todd Haley during a critical juncture last Sunday in a 27-24 loss, said the Steelers didn’t play conservatively when they needed just one first down to close out the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With the Steelers facing a third-and-5 from their own 19-yard line and 1:35 left in the game, Tomlin called a run-pass option. The Steelers ran the ball on the play and Le'Veon Bell was dropped for a 2-yard loss.

That started a most unfortunate sequence for the Steelers as Brad Wing managed just a 29-yard punt. Two plays later the Steelers gave up a 41-yard reception to wide receiver Louis Murphy.

The Buccaneers scored the game-winning touchdown two plays after Murphy’s catch and run.

“I felt really good about the play,” Tomlin said of his third-down call, “and particularly in that circumstance, because it was a run-pass option, it gave us an opportunity to be successful regardless of what they did.”

Tomlin said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger opted for the handoff to Bell because the Buccaneers were playing man coverage and did not load up the box to stop the run.

“Essentially we had five-on-five blocking plus the ball carrier, and usually you like those odds,” Tomlin said.

Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy blew up the run with penetration and Bell had nowhere to go after reversing course.

Tomlin did not second-guess his call.

“When you lose you’ll always look back at those moments and analyze what you could have done better. I don’t live in my fears in those circumstances,” the eighth-year coach said. “I like to be aggressive. I felt comfortable with that call because it was a run-pass option.

“We didn’t execute the play correctly so whether we ran it or passed it, if you don’t execute it, you’re not going to have an opportunity for success. They executed it in that circumstance and we didn’t.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers tumbled seven spots in the ESPN NFL Power Rankings, dropping from No. 11 to No. 18 after a 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The two teams the Steelers trail in the AFC North are also far ahead of Pittsburgh in the power rankings.

The Cincinnati Bengals remained at No. 2 after their bye week and the Baltimore Ravens jumped from No. 13 to No. 7 after drilling the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers’ opponent this Sunday, are No. 31, ahead of only the Oakland Raiders in the rankings.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin assessed his team at the quarter point of the season on Tuesday and said the Steelers have played every bit like a 2-2 squad.

“You're minus in turnover ratio and one of the most penalized teams in football, we probably should be thankful that we’re 2-2,” Tomlin said.

A few notes:
  • The Steelers terminated the contract the contract of punter Adam Podlesh on Tuesday, shortly after Tomlin gave Brad Wing a vote of confidence. Podlesh did not report to training camp because of a family issue, and he hadn’t been with the Steelers since offseason practices. Tomlin said he is confident Wing will bounce back after a 29-yard punt late in the fourth quarter against the Buccaneers proved costly. “We can’t wait for him to have an opportunity to go back out and show what he is made of and rebound from that,” Tomlin said. “One thing he has done since we have had him, he has always had the opportunity and shown the capability of rebounding from negative punts.”
  • Two plays after Wing’s punt set up the Buccaneers’ at the Steelers’ 46-yard line, Mike Glennon and Louis Murphy connected on a 41-yard catch and run that led to Tampa Bay’s game-winning touchdown. Tomlin said the Steelers were in a zone and that everything from not enough of a pass rush to poor angles taken after the catch contributed to the longest play of the game by either team. “Usually when you fail in that manner it’s a combination of failure at all three levels, and really it was,” Tomlin said.
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers punter Brad Wing is hoping history -- or at least a variation of it -- does not repeat itself over the next couple of days.

His father, David, tried out for the Detroit Lions as a punter in 1990 but did not survive the final cut. Kevin Colbert was the Lions' pro scouting director at the time.

Now, as the Steelers' general manager, Colbert will have an even bigger say as to whether a Wing, 23, punts for his employer.

"Hopefully it's not double trouble," Brad Wing said with a smile late Thursday night.

Wing's status is intriguing because he is a near lock to make the 53-man roster, which has to be finalized by 4 p.m. ET today. It is what might happen after late Saturday afternoon that will have Wing all but jumping any time his cell phone rings.

Drew Butler made the 53-man roster last year after presumably winning the punting competition he had waged with veteran Brian Moorman. A couple of days later, the Steelers claimed Zoltan Mesko off waivers and cut Butler.

That is not the only reason why Wing will be on edge for the next couple of days.

The former LSU standout did not seize the punting job even though he had no competition in training camp and the preseason with veteran Adam Podlesh out because of a family matter.

Wing displayed excellent hang time and six of his 29 punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. But inconsistency also plagued the Aussie, and a 25-yard punt in the Steelers' final preseason game cannot be ignored even though Wing otherwise made a strong closing argument.

"I had a few I wish I could have back," Wing said after the Steelers' 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. "It seems like I'm saying that every week. I'm just going to continue to work to eliminate the bad ones. Hopefully I've shown enough and hopefully they have enough trust and confidence in me that I can go into the regular season with them."

Coach Mike Tomlin, who showed little patience with Mesko and his one bad punt a game last season, has given Wing several votes of confidence.

Will it be enough for him to stick on the 53-man roster after the Steelers have had a chance to see which other punters surface on the waiver wire today?

"All I want to do is just be here and play football," said Wing, who didn't make the Philadelphia Eagles last season. "I'm still very young and I think they know that. I don't think I've reached my full potential."

PITTSBURGH -- It certainly looked like a fourth preseason game, from the swaths of empty seats at Heinz Field to the uneven play with many starters from each side playing sparingly, if at all.

Carolina parlayed a big pass play into the game’s only touchdown ,and the Panthers beat the Steelers 10-0 Thursday night with the specter of final cuts looming for fringe players on each side.

Landry Jones started at quarterback and completed 14 of 18 passes for 97 yards before giving way to Brendon Kay midway through the third quarter. Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, didn’t lead any scoring drives but probably did enough to make the 53-man roster as the Steelers’ No. 3 quarterback.

No Steelers player battling for a roster spot made a particularly compelling argument to stay with the team beyond 4 p.m. ET Saturday, the NFL deadline for finalizing 53-man rosters.

Brad Wing looked like he was on his way to nailing down a roster spot after pinning the Panthers deep in their own territory several times. Then the Aussie unleashed a 25-yard clunker, something that will make the coaches ponder whether Wing is consistent enough to be trusted.

Players such as Wing have made their final argument as far as making the team.

The Steelers’ coaches and front office personnel will meet on Friday to start paring down the roster and could make some cuts then, with the rest coming on Saturday. The Steelers have to cut 22 players to get to the 53-man limit by late Saturday afternoon.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ fourth preseason game:
  • It was a very nice bounce-back game for starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones after the second-year man struggled a week ago in Philadelphia. Jones made his presence felt early against the pass and the run, and the Steelers coaches had to love his hustle after a snap sailed over the head of Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson in the second quarter. Anderson tried to pick the ball up, and when he couldn’t get a handle on it Jones made a diving recovery. He then got up and started to rumble downfield, drawing a personal foul penalty when former Steelers center Fernando Velasco dragged Jones down by his hair. Jones recorded three tackles, including one for a loss, and the fumble recovery before calling it a night.
  • If the Steelers only keep five wide receivers Justin Brown might be headed back to the practice squad. The wide receiver who created such a buzz during offseason practices caught five passes for 32 yards in four preseason games despite playing more snaps than any other Steelers skill player. Hard-charging Darrius Heyward-Bey caught six passes for 44 yards against the Panthers and solidified his spot on the 53-man roster even if the Steelers only keep five wideouts. His speed and experience -- and his production in the Steelers' final two preseason games -- will make Heyward-Bey too difficult to cut
  • David Paulson and Rob Blanchflower needed to beat Michael Palmer for the No. 3 spot at tight end, and neither was able to do it. Palmer had a couple of nice blocks early when the Steelers were able to run the ball, and the fifth-year veteran is solid on special teams. He solidified his spot on the 53-man roster, and Blanchflower looks like a strong candidate for the practice squad.
  • Cornerback Antwon Blake had played well before getting beat badly on a 53-yard catch by wide receiver Philly Brown, setting up the Panthers’ only touchdown. Blake will make the Steelers as a core special-teams player but Brice McCain has clearly established himself as the No. 4 cornerback assuming the groin injury he suffered against the Panthers isn’t serious.
  • The Steelers showed an interesting defensive look late in the second quarter. Josh Mauro, Roy Philon, Daniel McCullers and Ethan Hemer were up front with Vince Williams and Terence Garvin as the only linebackers in the game. However, Shamarko Thomas played close enough to the line of scrimmage that it looked like the Steelers had their big nickel package on the field with four down linemen.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin praised Darrius Heyward-Bey on Tuesday and said he particularly likes what the veteran wide receiver has done on special teams.

That clinches it for me: the Steelers will keep six wide receivers when they finalize their 53-man roster at the end of the week.

Look for Heyward-Bey to join Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant and Justin Brown in making the team.

Heyward-Bey, who signed a veteran minimum contract with the Steelers in March, had a quiet training camp in part because he missed significant practice time after sustaining a concussion.

Heyward-Bey flashed in the Steelers' 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, catching three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.

"He's done some really good things of late, after he came back from his concussion," Tomlin said. "I'm just as pleased with he's providing us from a special teams standpoint as I am what he's doing at wide receiver. I really like some of the things he's shown us in the kicking game, some things that, quite frankly, I didn't know he had in terms of his willingness and ability to cover punts, his willingness and ability to block for punt returners. It's attractive."

Here are some other takes from Tomlin's news conference:
  • Tomlin said running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount will play Thursday night against the visiting Carolina Panthers. The eighth-year coach has not ruled out playing any of his starters even though quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on Monday he does not expect to play in the Steelers' final preseason game. "If they need to work they're going to get it, whether it's individual or collective," Tomlin said of the game against the Panthers. "That's just my approach to preparation."
  • Defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers last Wednesday, will play against the Panthers. And Tomlin strongly hinted that Keisel will play an extended numbers of snaps on Thursday. "I'm interested in taking him to the deep end of the pool to see if he can swim a little bit," Tomlin said. "We'll see how he does."
  • Tomlin said third-string quarterback Landry Jones will play extensively against the Panthers and may start the game. Jones might be battling for a roster spot after playing poorly in an Aug. 16 game against the Buffalo Bills and not getting any snaps last Thursday night in Philadelphia. When asked what he needs to see from Jones, Tomlin said, "Just consistent, above the line play in all areas. That's about as straight of an arrow as I can fire."
  • The Steelers do not plan on bringing in another punter against the Panthers. Brad Wing has been the team's only punter since the start of training camp with Adam Podlesh out because of a family issue. Wing's net punting average in three games is only 35.8 yards, but Tomlin gave him a vote of confidence. "I like what Brad has done," he said.

Adam Podlesh out for rest of camp

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have placed veteran punter Adam Podlesh on the reserve/did not report list, adding more uncertainty to what the Steelers will do at a position that has been a revolving door under coach Mike Tomlin.

“Adam has decided not to report to training camp at this time due to family obligations,” general manager Kevin Colbert said Tuesday in statement released by the Steelers.

Podlesh did not report to camp on July 25 because his wife was due to give birth, and he has yet to practice with the Steelers due to complications from his wife’s pregnancy. Podlesh signed a one-year, $855,000 contract with the Steelers in May after punting the three previous seasons for the Chicago Bears.

Brad Wing is the only punter at camp, though the Steelers have an open spot on their roster if they want to bring in another punter while Podlesh is out.

Wing, who signed a reserve/future contract with the Steelers last January, has been impressive in camp but he produced mixed results in the preseason opener. Wing averaged just 36.4 yards per punt in the Steelers’ 20-16 loss to the New York Giants last Saturday night.

He boomed a 54-yard punt and also had a 46-yard kick that led to a turnover. Wing got enough hang time on the 46-yard punt for running back Tauren Poole to position himself right in front of Giants return man Charles James II.

James muffed the catch and Steelers outside linebacker Howard Jones recovered the fumble that led to a Shaun Suisham field goal.

The Steelers break training camp on Friday and play the Buffalo Bills the following night at Heinz Field. Podlesh's status means the coaches will only see him punt in two preseason games at most and that is only if he practices early next week when the Steelers return to team headquarters.