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Individual Performance Assesment - Steelers vs. Titans

If you haven't already read my lengthy thoughts about Sunday's loss to the Titans, you should start there. This is going to be a quicker hitting look at who came to play, and who had an off day yesterday.

Making the Grade:

1) Mitch Berger - 5 punts averaging 44 yards per kick. Better still, they had nice hang time for the most part, allowing our coverage units to get in better position to fill lanes than in previous weeks. The Titans didn't have a punt return longer than 12 yards. Berger also had two nicely placed punts inside the 20. We'll need strong efforts like this in the playoffs. Can Berger deliver if the conditions are worse?

Img11185650_1__medium2) Hines Ward - Hines made plays most all of the afternoon. He had 7 catches for 109 yards and 1 TD. He coughed the ball up once, but fortunately it didn't prove to be costly. Holmes pounced on it for an extra yard - a yard that gave us a first down. In the past two weeks, Ward has posted consecutive 100+ yard receiving games. His 7 catches gives him 75 for the year; the 109 yards put him within striking distance of 1000. At 973 for the year, Hines coudl perhaps eclipse the noteworthy mark early on before watching the majority of next week's game from the sidelines. 

3) Santonio Holmes - As I discussed in my initial post, Holmes proved that he's still a dangerous weapon and a viable threat at Ben's disposal when he commits to making an early throw. Holmes did lots of things well Sunday and I'm sure he'd like to help bury some of the negative developments for him personally this year with continued success since the division clinching TD grab against Baltimore. Holmes had 5 catches for 92 yards and 1 TD.

4) Heath Miller - It has been interestingly brought up that Heath deserves some of the criticism for the lack of a running game. I'm not ready to comment on that just yet, but it's an interesting discussion to have for sure. For what he was asked to do against the Titans though, Heath definitely showed up and did his job. He had 8 catches for 69 yards. Miller has 22 catches for 219 yards since returning from injury five games ago. That's much better production than what we're accustomed to seeing from Heath in this offense. As Jim Wexell said to me this summer when I asked him about Heath, 'there's only so many balls to go around.' True, but on days when we're going to be throwing it 35+ times, Miller better at least have 7-10 thrown his way.

5) Max Starks - Of all the linemen, I thought Starks played the best game. Some may disagree. I don't think Starks played nearly as well as the Tackles for Tennessee, but I thought he played well enough. That's without watching the game again, but I thought the few major issues we had in pass protection were in the interior of the line. Starks didn't do much to help the cause of the running game, but he was involved in opening up one of our few holes in the running game. Guys like Hartwig and Kemoeatu are struggling a bit down the stretch, but hopefully some time off will perk them up again. Hopefully they can all collectively play at least as solidly as Starks has lately.

Not their Day:

1) Ben Roethlisberger - This is an unfortunate place for Ben to be in because he did lots of other things nicely against Tennessee. Unfortunately, 5 of Ben's worst plays didn't just lead to a couple of sacks and harmless incompletions. 4 of Ben's 5 worst plays resulted in turnovers. I personally was pleased to see us finally have some legitimate success on offense on Sunday, but Ben definitely sullied his performance with the turnovers.

2) Snack/Aaron Smith/Kiesel - Give credit to Tennessee. They beat us at the point of attack, and they had decent success getting their OL to the 2nd level to eat up our LBs. That left Clark and Polamalu making last line of defense tackles near first down markers all afternon.  I talked earlier about just how taxing the last month has been for Pittsburgh. Well, tip your hat to Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith for anchoring our front 7 in recent weeks. Seems like they hit a bit of a wall today. Rest up guys, we'll need you clogging gaps much, much better in the playoffs. Kiesel I thought really got pushed around. Hopefully he gets some reps next week and gets back in the swing of things the next time we need more out of him than he was able to give today.

3) Jeff Reed - Costly miss. Spikey was money last week against Baltimore, but he's had a few errant kicks now since Thanksgiving. No one's perfect, but on a day when we turned it over 4 times, we couldn't also overcome things like missed short FGs.

4) Foote/Farrior/Harrison/Woodley - I just realized this evening that what the Steelers defense has done this year is even more and more remarkable than I realized. 2008 is a record setting year for scoring in the National Football League. We had been shutting people down week in and week out while the rest of the league was scoring like crazy on each other. Much of that had to do with the play of our starting LBs. Today was a different day. Woodley's really been slowed down late this year and will undoubtedly benefit from this extended break. Harrison still got his franchise record 16th sack while playing hurt. But Foote and Farrior had a pretty tough go of it.

To their credit, both made a few nice plays in both the running gamd and passing game. But in the grand scheme of things, they got pushed around consistently. I thought the Titans were smart to get the ball quickly to their TEs in situations where they were being pursued by Foote or Farrior. On multiple occassions we overpursued, allowing bowling balls like Crumpler and Bo Scaife to make the first guy miss and barrel ahead for positive yardage after contact. Perfect offense beats great defense any day of the week, and unfortunately, Collins was just about perfect with his throws and decisions. Lawrence Timmons made a few plays, and you could see his athleticism on full display a few times where he was just a second too late to make an impact play. But again, the execution and play calling was just too sound, especially in the second half, for this tired defense to overcome singlehandedly again.

5) Justin Hartwig/Chris Kemoeautu - Again, I steadfastly contend that the offensive line did a good enough job in the passing game for us to be successful. Run blocking was another story. The Tennessee Titans are a great rush defense though, with or without Albert Haynesworth, just like the Steelers are with or without Casey Hampton playing. Anyway, even though these two guys had lots of good snaps, they were beaten on several key plays in the second half. It's worth noting that this is the first full season Chris K. will have played as a professional - he's started all 15 games and is bound to be a bit worn down. I hope the week off will freshen him up a bit. Same for Justin Hartwig, the oldest member of our line.