With the first quarter of the 2015 season in the books for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team sits at .500 with a record of 2-2, and in second place in the AFC North. In a BTSC poll that appeared earlier this week, 50 percent of readers voted the overall team performance with a B-grade, and 42 percent graded the team's performance a C.
To break it down even further, how does the team grade-out at each position? So, what unit is the team valedictorian? What group of Steelers is merely average, needs tutoring and clearly flunks out?
In the first installment of a three-part series, BTSC assigns grades to each position-group on the offensive side-of-the-ball for a team that ranks a league 10th in yards-per-game and 13th in points-per-game and is widely considered to be the strength of the team.
Of course, this grade is a heck of a lot higher if Mark Barron does not barrell into the left knee of Benjamin Todd Roethlisbeger in the third quarter of the third game in St. Louis.
Before the MCL sprain of his left knee and the deep knee bruise, Roethlisberger was playing some of the best football of his 12-year career. Big Ben, in less than three full-games, had a completion percentage of 75.3 by completing 67 of 89 passes and had a QBR of 113.1. #7 threw four touchdown passes and was intercepted twice. Rothlisberger had added pressure due to missing a chief protector in the form of Maurkice Pouncey and the suspension-absences of major weapons, Martavis Bryant and Le'Veon Bell.
Doing an admirable job in Roethlisberger's stead was Michael Vick, but the drop-off in play and production was still substantial and very evident. Vick, in his home debut against the Ravens, wasn't able to run out the clock or convert crucial fourth-downs in the overtime. A majority of the blame for the loss to Baltimore does lie with the putrid kicking-game perpetrated by Josh Scobee and poor coaching, but the 35 year-old veteran ultimately failed to put the game away on multiple occasions.
Now, I do concede that Michael Vick only had about three full days to get starter's snaps in practice and predict an improvement his next start in San Diego. Therefore, his grade has the potential to be higher. His completion percentage is impressive at 75%, but those were low percentage passes. His stat line in Pittsburgh for 2015 is 24 for 32 and 162 yards with one touchdown thrown and zero interceptions. His QBR is 96.1.
Overall, the Pittsburgh passing game ranks 15th in the league in yards-per-game. Roethlisberger gets an A, while Vick receives a C. Hence the grade of B.
Running Backs: A+
Nobody expected DeAngelo Williams to perform as impressively as he did while Le'Veon Bell served his two-game suspension, but the free agent acquisition from Carolina was the top rusher in the league after two games. Williams ran for 211 yards and boasted a yards-per-carry of 4.8. As a receiver, #34 caught five balls for 20 yards. His accumulation of three touchdowns should have been higher, but the coaches used FB Will Johnson as a goalline back in New England.
Bell returned in week three at St. Louis and definitely did not disappoint. Picking up where Williams left off, the man who nicknamed himself "Juice" averaged 4.7 ypc rushing for 191 yards and two scores. As a receiving threat, Le'Veon caught 14 balls for 91 yards.
The rushing duo will need to carry the team with their quarterback absent and are clearly up to the challenge. It would benefit the team to run Williams more and lighten the load on Bell, due to the inspired play of Deangelo and to lessen the chance of injury to their RB1.
The other rushers, Jordan Todman (1/11) and Will Johnson (4/7 1 TD), have barely seen the field.
Wide Receivers: B-
Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the league and has been absorbing double teams the first quarter of the season, but still has managed 34 receptions (second in NFL) for 478 yards (tied for first in NFL) and two scores. He is on pace to break team records for the third year in-a-row for receptions and receiving yards.
Brown (A) did have a crucial drop in the end zone versus Baltimore that factors in this grade though and needs to step up even more during Ben's absence.
The reclamation project of Darius Heyward-Bey (B) has been a pleasant surprise. DHB's 15 catches for 185 yards are second on the team. He also has two touchdowns, but his lack of awareness by stepping out of bounds in New England cost him a third and the team a chance to possibly win. #88 clearly was the WR2 the first quarter of the season.
Markus Wheaton (D+) was somewhat of a disappointment the first quarter of the season. He was the original choice to take over for the banned Bryant, but did not make the most of his opportunity by catching a mere eight balls.
Bryant's absence earns him an F, due to his lack of sense resulting in a four-game ban. But his return is highly anticipated and will give this unit a boost.
Tight Ends: C+
Heath Miller is a legend in Pittsburgh, however age is starting to set in on the man that many consider the greatest to play the position in Steeler history. Ranking second in all-time catches for the club, Miller has hauled-in 11 balls for 113 yards and a two-point conversion in 2015.
Miller will continue to get balls thrown his way and is still valuable as a blocker, but the search for a successor is probably not far away.
Matt Spaeth has been battling injury and Jesse James has been nearly invisible at TE. So at this point, Heath is a one-man show.
Offensive Line: B-
Mike Munchak deserves a huge amount of the credit for the success of the offense due to the efforts of his offensive line, even without the injured, Pro Bowler Pouncey. The blocking schemes have paved the way for the stellar performances of Bell and Williams and have, for the most part, allowed the quarterbacks time to throw.
The starting five of LT Kelvin Beachum, LG Ramon Foster, C Cody Wallace, RG David Decastro and RT Marcus Gilbert have allowed 12 sacks, but those numbers are inflated due to Vick's running style. Also being considered here is that the injury to Roethlisberger came in a game in which saw the o-line struggling.