The grades are in on the offensive side of the ball for the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Although the Steelers were like a broken record in 2013, missing the playoffs for a second straight year and finishing 8-8 for the second straight year, the offense wasn’t the problem, at least not in the second half of the season.
Here are our grades for the Steelers quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line and offensive coaches.
Ben Roethlisberger was the only Steelers quarterback to take a snap this season, for a change. He started 16 games for the first time since 2008.
Roethlisberger’s five interceptions during the Steelers’ 0-4 start can’t be swept under the rug. He also misfired on several key passes in a critical loss at Baltimore on Thanksgiving. But he led the Steelers to a 6-2 record in the second half of the season with 15 touchdown passes for four interceptions.
The turning point came when the Steelers went to the no-huddle, and it also helped that Roethlisberger had more time to throw the ball later in the season. He was sacked seven times in the last seven games.
Roethlisberger was among the top 10 NFL quarterbacks in touchdown passes (28), passing yards (4,261), passer rating (92.0) and completion percentage (64.2).
Rookie Le’Veon Bell had a rough start after missing the first three games with an injury, but he came on strong late in the season and gave the Steelers something to look forward to next year.
Bell turned in his first 100-yard game with 124 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers’ Week 16 win at Green Bay. He averaged better than four yards a carry in four of the last five games and was a multi-faceted weapon with 45 receptions. Bell broke Franco Harris’ franchise record for rookies with 1,259 yards from scrimmage.
Still, he ran for just 3.5 yards per carry for the season, finishing with 860 yards and eight touchdowns.
Jonathan Dwyer gained 197 yards at a four-yards-per-carry pace and showed he’s better as a complementary back. Felix Jones had just 184 yards and did nothing to revive a disappointing career.
The Steelers were 27th in the NFL with 86.4 rushing yards per game this season and 29th with 3.5 yards per carry. Bell looks promising, but this unit needs more depth.
Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery all had career years, even though there were a few costly dropped passes by Brown and Sanders as well as Brown’s failure to stay inbounds on the final play against the Dolphins.
Brown was second in the NFL with 110 receptions and 1,499 yards. He also caught a career-high eight touchdown passes and returned a punt for a touchdown. Sanders caught 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns, all career highs.
Cotchery was the most pleasant surprise. He caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes, all in the red zone, more touchdowns than any Steeler at any position since 2010. Cotchery’s 46 receptions in 2013 were 13 more than he caught in his first two seasons as a Steeler combined.
Rookie Markus Wheaton caught just six passes and Derek Moye caught two passes. Both first-year players probably would have seen more action if it weren’t for Cotchery’s rise.
It took a while for Heath Miller to get his sea legs after missing the first two games recovering from the knee injury he suffered late last season. He caught one touchdown pass, the first time in his career he didn’t catch at least two. But he had his third-best season in terms of receptions with 58.
Second-year man David Paulson was forgettable in place of Miller. His fumble in the red zone with the Steelers leading 3-0 at Cincinnati is one of the biggest “what-if” moments in a season full of them.
Matt Speath played in four games after coming off the injured-reserve-designated-to-return list. His blocking was instrumental in the running game. The Steelers ran for more than 100 yards as a team in each of their three victories to close out the season. Spaeth’s only reception was a touchdown catch in the Steelers’ 38-31 win at Green Bay that kept their playoff hopes alive in Week 16.
Mike Tomlin essentially scrawled a big, red “F” on the report card for this unit when he fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. on Friday.
But the offensive line improved as the year went along. No position group had to overcome more than this one, and by the end of the year Ben Roethlisberger was protected better than he had been at any time since 2005. He was sacked just seven times in the last seven games, although he was taken down 35 times in the first nine.
Maurkice Pouncey’s ACL and MCL injury four minutes into the opener was an ominous start to the season. But Fernando Velasco was more than adequate as a replacement until he ruptured his Achilles in Week 13 at Baltimore. Then Cody Wallace stepped in with just 58 snaps in six seasons under his belt and the Steelers didn’t miss a beat.
Mike Adams was a hazard to Roethlisberger’s health at left tackle in the first four games and a big reason for the Steelers’ 0-4 start. But even he earned a positive pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) when he had to fill in at left tackle against the Dolphins in Week 14.
Kelvin Beachum, drafted in the seventh round in 2012, became the starting left tackle in Week 6 against the New York Jets. Despite being a little undersized for the position at 6’3″, 306 pounds, Beachum was in the middle of the pack among NFL tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, with six sacks, five quarterback hits and 18 quarterback hurries allowed.
PFF ranked left guard Ramon Foster and right guard David DeCastro 12th and 14th, respectively, among NFL guards. Both only missed one game this season.
Marcus Gilbert didn’t miss a game at right tackle in 2012, although PFF gave him a negative grade for the season as a run blocker. Except for DeCastro, every Steelers offensive lineman received a negative run-blocking grade and the Steelers were 27th in the league in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry.
Unlike Bicknell, Todd Haley got a thumbs-up assessment from the Steelers. He’ll be brought back next season, according to NFL.com. His best move was getting out of Roethlisberger’s way and letting him run the no-huddle. The Steelers offense scored at least 20 points in nine straight games for the first time since 2002. Despite his firing, Bicknell also deserves some credit for stabilizing the offensive line.