Grading Every Pittsburgh Steelers Starter's 2013 Regular Season
The Pittsburgh Steelers put a bow on their 2013 season with a victory, but their late-season rally came up just short. It was a heartbreaking way to end such an up-and-down year, but that is why we love football.
Looking back on the season, there are many good players to build on for next season. On the other side of that coin are those players who seemed more like a liability each week.
Time to hand out some final grades for the 2013 season.
All stats provided by NFL.com unless otherwise specified.
Sometimes it doesn't seem like Steelers fans know just how good they have it. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had his best overall year in the NFL in 2013.
His 4,261 yards, 64.2 completion percentage and 28 touchdowns to 14 interceptions were outstanding. The rub against Roethlisberger has been when Roethlisberger throws for big yards, the Steelers lose.
Roethlisberger threw for at least 300 yards five times this season, however the Steelers were only 1-4 in those games. None of that changes the fact that Roethlisberger looked more comfortable in the offense than he has in years.
Big Ben was in a position to utilize the no-huddle much more extensively this season, and that really played to his strengths.
Roethlisberger is just 31 years old and is hitting his career arc. If this season is any indication, 2014 could be even better.
It was unfortunate that the Steelers were unable to have running back Le'Veon Bell available for the first three games of the season.
If he'd been able to advance his development that much more, he'd have been able to come even further in his first season.
Bell's mix of power and quickness is already elite among NFL backs. Bell showed excellent lateral agility and surprising speed when he took runs to the outside.
Another strength of Bell's game is as a receiver out of the backfield. Bell finished the year with 45 catches. This is made more impressive when you consider just how many weapons Roethlisberger had at his disposal.
As the season progressed, Bell learned better patience and allowed plays to develop much better. This was illustrated by his ability to get tough yards up the middle just by waiting half a beat for the cutback to open up.
Bell's 860 rushing yards on the season and 1,259 yards in 13 games put him among the top in the league in total offense. This gives all Steelers fans great hope for a full season out of Bell next year.
The Steelers utilized a significant number of three-wide sets during the season.
The wide receiver trio of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery became the three-headed monster of the Steelers passing offense.
It seemed that each week either Sanders or Cotchery assumed the role as Roethlisberger's second target. Cotchery was his guy near the goal line with 10 touchdowns and Sanders more of his possession guy.
Both Sanders and Cotchery had their ups and downs over the course of the year. With both entering free agency this offseason, it will be interesting to see if either earned new deals with their solid play.
However, both were just sidekicks to the star of this show in Brown.
After wide receiver Mike Wallace left via free agency, Brown elevated his game to among the very elite in the league. Whether it was a shallow crossing route or a deep post, Brown made plays.
Brown's numbers on the season were staggering. His 110 receptions, 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns are as good as it gets. Brown was Roethlisberger's go-to guy all season long.
Antonio Brown: A
Emmanuel Sanders: B
Jerricho Cotchery: B
There are few players more beloved among the Steelers faithful than tight end Heath Miller.
This season Miller was less involved in the passing offense in a dynamic fashion, but was still steady and reliable.
Miller hauled in 58 catches, half of which resulted in first downs. Miller might not be an elite athlete in the mold of some of the current NFL tight ends, but he is still big and physical with sure hands.
An underrated part of Miller's game is his run blocking.
Because the Steelers opted to use fewer sets involving the fullback or extra offensive linemen as the season progressed, Miller's role became more defined. Even at 31, Miller can still set the edge on a defensive end.
Injuries have pulled the Steelers offensive line apart all season long. The final incarnation of the group really came together toward the end of the season and played even better than expected.
The best offensive lineman on this team is guard David DeCastro.
In fact, DeCastro might be one of the best guards in the entire league. His ability to pull and move in space is exceptional.
The Steelers finally settled in with tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert during the home stretch, and both played very well.
These two are both much better in pass protection as opposed to run blocking, proven by the fact that the Steelers line only allowed seven sacks in the final seven games of the year. Much of that brings great credit to these two.
The final two linemen on this list are guard Ramon Foster and center Cody Wallace.
Neither is terribly athletic, but both play with nice power and leverage. Over the past three games, when running back Le'Veon Bell was getting yards inside, there's a good chance it was behind these two.
David DeCastro: A
Kelvin Beachum: B
Marcus Gilbert: B
Ramon Foster: C+
Cody Wallace: C+
In a base 3-4 defense, the role of the defensive front is at times to be cannon fodder for the linebackers. However, this year the Steelers defensive front stepped up their game in spots.
The Steelers used defensive ends Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward along with defensive tackle Steve McLendon.
The star of the show was Heyward.
Going into the year, this was supposed to be make-or-break for him, and he showed up huge. It seemed like every week Heyward was the guy making the big play. There has been a long history of great 3-4 defensive ends on the Steelers, and Heyward has a chance to be right up there with them.
Looking at Keisel's season as a whole, he played well. His role was less about the big plays like what Heyward did, but he did get a sack in each of his final two games to finish the season on a high note.
Finally we turn to McLendon.
If there has been a weak link on the line, it's with the big nose tackle. His inability to win at the point of attack has allowed far too many running backs to find their way to easy yardage. This is one position the Steelers have to consider upgrading in the offseason.
Cameron Heyward: A
Brett Keisel: B-
Steve McLendon: D
Over the course of the season, the Steelers have had to cope with several injuries among their linebacking corps. For all the talent on the roster and hope in preseason, the play across the board was lower than expected.
The best linebacker on the Steelers' roster was inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
Timmons was a tackling machine all year long with 126 total stops. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau moved Timmons all over the field. He excelled in both coverage and run-stopping, but was somewhat underused as a pass rusher.
On the outside, the Steelers rotated three primary players: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Jones, as a rookie, struggled for a great deal of the season, but in his final game of the year really showed some flashes.
Woodley once again underwhelmed, only to finish the season early due to injury. At this point, it is hard to justify bringing Woodley back short of a massive pay cut.
Worilds on the other hand has been a pleasant surprise.
Once he was plugged in on the left side, he showed lots of promise as a pass-rusher. Worilds is a free agent, so he and Woodley are linked as far as who will stay or go.
The other inside linebacker this season was rookie Vince Williams.
Williams was often the odd man out in the grand scheme of things because the Steelers used so much nickel coverage. As a result, Williams was often relegated to the sidelines. However, when he was on the field, he showed great promise and just needs more reps to develop.
Lawrence Timmons: A
LaMarr Woodley: C-
Jason Worilds: B
Jarvis Jones: C+
Vince Williams: C+
Of all the units on this team that struggled due to age, the defensive secondary would be at the top.
Cornerback Ike Taylor and safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark all showed their age at times this season.
The other two "starting" cornerbacks this season, Cortez Allen and William Gay, both had their moments. Allen in particular seemed to improve as he got healthy over the course of the season. The team should expect big things from him in 2014.
Gay was signed as a free agent and really showed his strength in run support. While not a big guy, he was fearless and never afraid to stick his nose into the play, making many big tackles. On the flip side, his coverage was less than rousing.
Back to the three old men of the secondary.
All of them had seasons marked by tremendous efforts and some horrendous ones. For all three, their time with the Steelers could be drawing to a close. Of the three, all should take cuts in pay, and really only Polamalu played well enough over the entirety of the season to be excited for next season.
Ike Taylor: C
Ryan Clark: D
Troy Polamalu: C+
Cortez Allen: C+
William Gay: C
It's amazing that other than the game against the Oakland Raiders, kicker Shaun Suisham has been absolutely perfect.
Suisham missed two of his three tries against the Raiders. Inexplicably, he did not miss a single kick before or after.
Things are slightly less perfect for punter Mat McBriar.
In fact, over the entirety of the season, McBriar could be considered very much average in his duties. McBriar's best play of the season was his 30-yard completion to tight end David Paulson on a fake punt against the Green Bay Packers.
Shaun Suisham: A
Mat McBriar: C