The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their season with a 9-8 record and falling just short of making the playoffs. With no more games to play, it’s the right time to look back and evaluate the season.
To do this, I’m going to add up the grades we gave the Steelers each week and give a GPA for the Steelers in each category I graded. I also compiled the fan vote grades as well.
Let’s dive in...
The Steelers offense started the season struggling mightily, and for the first half of the season were near the very bottom of the league in almost every per-possession category. The grades bear that out as well.
Through the first eight weeks the Steelers offense received four F grades, three D’s and a single C. For a GPA that comes to 0.63, an F. You can look at pretty much any stat or metric you want and that grade holds up, the Steelers offense was terrible the first half of the season.
The second half of the season things turned around. The Steelers run game came together, Kenny Pickett stopped throwing interceptions and the Steelers ranked highly in time of possession per drive (1st), yards per drive (3rd), Turnover % (3rd) and scoring percentage (8th). The only part of the offense that wasn’t good was converting drives in scoring position into touchdowns. That’s a big negative, but they were roughly league average in that regard, so even there they weren’t bad.
In the second half of the season I graded the Steelers offense an F only once (W14 Baltimore) with one C, four B’s and three A’s. That is good for a 2.89 GPA, or a B-. If you remove the two games that Mitch Trubisky was the main quarterback for, the offense under Kenny Pickett after the bye had a 3.14 GPA, a solid B.
I know a lot of people look at just the final score and judge the offense on total points and the defense on total points allowed, but the problem there is the Steelers reduced the number of possessions in each game by controlling the clock, meaning both teams had fewer chances to score points. When you do that the offense looks worse than it really is and the defense looks better. That’s why I prefer per drive stats, because if you score on over 40% of your possessions, that’s good whether you had 7 possessions or 13.
When you look at the season as a whole, the Steelers offense’s most common grades were: F (5 times), B (4 times), D (3 times), A (3 times), C (2 times). The overall GPA for the Steelers offense was 1.82, a C-. I find that to be about right, the Steelers offense was terrible the first half, then really good but not great the second half. Averaging out to a slightly below average offense sounds fair.
As for the players? Here’s the players/areas of the game that received the most mentions in the Honor Roll and Demerits section, with the number of times they made an appearance.
Honor Roll: George Pickens (10), Pat Freiermuth (7), Kenny Pickett (6), Diontae Johnson (6)
Demerits: Pass Blocking (5), Diontae Johnson (5), Run Blocking (4), Mitch Trubisky (4)
The most common player overall was Diontae Johnson at 11 times making either the Honor Roll or Demerits section, with various offensive line mentions putting that group on the lists a total of 18 times, seven Honor Roll and eleven demerits. Often with one aspect of blocking on the Honor Roll and another in the Demerits column.
Final Grade: C-
The defense didn’t have as big a swing from the first to the second half of the season. T.J. Watt missing time is easy to see with the Steelers starting the season with an A on defense against the Bengals, and not recording another A until Watt returned. In the first half of the season the Steelers defense received that one A, three B’s, one D and three F’s.
The GPA for the defense the first half of the season was a 1.75, a C-. The Steelers defense gave good effort in the first half of the season, but injuries to Watt and others really hampered what the Steelers could do.
In the second half of the season the Steelers defense improved with Watt’s return, but was inconsistent, receiving four A’s (including each of the last three weeks), one B, two C’s and two F’s. The F’s coming in Week 11 against the Bengals and Week 14 against the Ravens.
The Steelers defense was really good when healthy, and almost all of their poor grades came with multiple players either out or struggling due to injury. They were healthier more often in the second half of the season, and that bears out in the 2.56 GPA for the second half of the season, a C+.
With a C- for the first half and a C+ for the first half, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Steelers defensive GPA for the season was 2.18, a solid C.
As for the Players, here’s who showed up the most on the Honor Roll and Demerits throughout the season.
Honor Roll: Cameron Heyward (10), Minkah Fitzpatrick (6), Alex Highsmith (5), T.J. Watt (4)
Demerits: Run Defense (4), Spillane in coverage (2), a whole bunch of players tied with 1 mention.
It was surprising to me that Robert Spillane was the only player to be specifically mentioned more than once in the demerits section. The opposite of surprising is the Honor Roll, where the Steelers top four defenders showed up the most.
Final Grade: C
The Steelers special teams wasn’t great this season, mostly due to inconsistency from the kicker and punter. The only A game was Week 1 against the Bengals, and after that Danny Smith’s squad earned four B’s, six C’s, four D’s and two F’s. That’s good for a 1.88 GPA, a C-.
Here’s the players mentioned the most on the Honor Roll and Demerits section.
Honor Roll: Miles Boykin (10), Pressley Harvin III (7), Chris Boswell (5), James Pierre (3)
Demerits: Chris Boswell (4), Pressley Harvin III (3), Steven Sims (3), Minkah Fitzpatrick (2)
Miles Boykin is as good a gunner as there is in the NFL, Pressley Harvin III and Chris Boswell were inconsistent all season and Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked a field goal in Week 1, but he doesn’t belong on the field blocking for punt returns.
Final Grade: C-
And now for the best part of this article, comparing my grades to the reader poll grades. The reader poll and my overall grades lined up all season with one glaring exception. Until the final two weeks of the season, whenever I gave the Steelers an A for their overall grade, the reader poll voted a B instead.
Both the readers and I gave the Steelers four F’s, and four D’s. But while I gave the Steelers seven A’s and two B’s, the readers gave the Steelers two A’s and six B’s. (one week the poll didn’t work right).
Overall I had the Steelers with a 2.24 GPA, good for a solid C, while the readers were a bit lower at a 1.88 GPA, a C-. I had the Steelers with a 1.38 GPA for the first half (D+) and a 3.0 (B) for the second half, while the readers gave the Steelers a 1.13 (D) for the first half and a 2.63 (C+) for the second half.
The worst graded games were understandably the Week 5 loss to Buffalo and the Week 14 loss to the Ravens, both games saw every group receive an F grade, along with the overall and reader vote. The Week 5 blowout at the hands of the Bills received the worst fan vote, with 94% of voters voting for an F.
The most votes on a fan poll came in Week 1 with 2046 readers participating after the incredible upset of the Bengals, and the lowest voter turnout came in Week 15 after the Steelers beat the Panthers with only 858 voters. The best reader poll result came in Week 18, when 61% of voters gave the Steelers an A for beating the Browns.