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Steelers mid-season grades

It’s been one hell of a first eight games for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  When doing mid-season grades, it will be tough to find fault with this undefeated team.  There still are some concerns heading into the second half of the season however.  Let’s take a look at how some of the key players have faired so far this season:

The Good:

Ben Roethlisberger:  B

All things considered, Ben Roethlisberger has done a fairly good job so far this season.  We must keep in mind that this is a player who missed an entire season due to injury.   Rust was always going to be an issue in 2020.  Roethlisberger has been up and down in his first eight games.  There are halves  where Ben has been nonexistent, and then halves where he has looked incredible.

Roethlisberger’s stats are equally inconsistent.  The Steelers quarterback  currently sits at 18th in passing yardage, but 7th in touchdowns.   The key stat of any is Big Ben has thrown only four interceptions.  As long as the turnovers stay low, this team will be successful.

Ju Ju Smith-Schuster:  A

There has been no more clutch player on this team then Ju Ju Smith Schuster.  It’s not just that he leads the team in receiving, it’s that every reception seeems to be a first down or touchdown.  There are flashier wideouts in this group, but none more important to the success of the offense.  Smith-Schuster will be sorely missed next season if the Steelers are unable to resign him.

Eric Ebron:  B+

Admittedly, we had some reservations about this signing.  Ebron came with a bit of a reputation for being injury prone as well as being a reluctant blocker.  https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/nfl/colts/colts-insider/2019/11/26/eric-ebron-has-tight-end-played-his-final-game-colts/4300249002/

So far Ebron has been healthy, and he has been terrific in the passing game.  The Steelers pointed out his ability to be a red zone threat, and they were spot on in that assessment.  While he will never conjure visions of Heath Miller as a run blocker, Eric Ebron is well on his way to developing that level of trust with Ben Roethlisberger. 

Chase Claypool:  A

Death, taxes, and the Steelers ability to produce top quality receivers in the draft are the only certainties in life.  Chase Claypool is exactly the type of size/speed wideout Pittsburgh was in need of.  Think Martavis Bryant without the marijuana haze.  The rookie leads the team in touchdowns at the halfway point, and looks to be another Kevin Colbert draft steal.

Tyson Alualu:  A+

Tyson Alualu was having an under the radar terrific season in 2020.  Ironically his absence has highlighted how very good he had been before his injury.  The Steelers run defense has all but fallen apart since Alualu’s departure.  He will be the single biggest addition to this roster in the second half of the season.

The Defense:  A

We could spend all day spelling out how good this defense is, but let’s just wrap it up into one neat ball.  This is an elite defense in a time where there are very few even good ones.  Key injuries to both Tyson Alualu and Devin Bush have hurt the run defense.  This has led to over compensation to stop the run, which in turn has hurt the pass defense.  Even with that said, the defense remains a turnover machine that keeps the Steelers in games.

Ray Ray McCloud:  A+++

Say it with me folks….the Pittsburgh Steelers have a kick returner!!  This franchise has been infamous as one of the worst return units in all of football over the years.  As if by some miracle, Pittsburgh stumbled across this former sixth round pick who had been released three times in four years.  McCloud is sixth in return average at the mid season point of 2020.  That’s a stat unheard of in the Mike Tomlin era, and worthy of earning McCloud one of our top mid-season grades.

McCloud’s contributions don’t end with the return game however.  He is now becoming a factor in the offense as well.  His knack for the big play shows up in his two rushing attempts for 63 yards.  McCloud is slowly but surely taking snaps away from James Washington this season.  He may be well on his way to replacing Washington as the team’s fourth receiver.

Vince Williams:  A

I know I said we’d do the defense as a whole, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t give Vince Williams a shout out of his own.  Williams is certainly a linebacker with limitations.  But the things he does well, he does REALLY well.  Of all the great pass rushers in the NFL right now, it’s Vince Williams who leads the league in tackles for loss right now with fourteen.  That’s a remarkable stat for an inside linebacker.  Williams has become much more than just a run stuffing linebacker.

The Bad:

Dustin Colquitt:  F

Pittsburgh finally solved one special teams problem in the return game, but have again been unable to solve another with their punter.  Colquitt was so bad, the team resigned the player they released in favor for him in Jordan Berry.  Don’t expect this situation to improve dramatically in the second half.  In a season where its hard to find bad mid-season grades, this one sticks out.

The corners:  C+

As good as this defense has been, the corners continue to be a bit concerning.  They really struggle against speed, even if its hard to tell at times because of this team’s elite pass rush.  This is a problem we have written about in the past: Does the Steelers defense have a weakness?

Having said that, Joe Haden has improved quite a bit over the last few games.  He has managed to take his game to another level.  Steven Nelson on the other hand has remained a bit spotty in pass coverage.  Again it may be nit picking, but this isn’t a group I would feel overly confident with.

James Washington:  C-

As we mentioned earlier, James Washington is well on his way to dropping another wrung on the wide receiver depth chart.  The fact remains that this is a player who brings no elite trait to the position.  Which would be fine if he weren’t such a high draft choice, but Washington was selected in the second round.  For all the great wide receiver selections by Kevin Colbert, the fact he passed on DJ Chark to draft James Washington will be one of his all time misses.

Diontae Johnson:  C

We base this grade simply on the fact that Diontae Johnson can not seem to stay healthy.  This has gotten to the point where it is becoming a major concern with this player.  When Johnson is on the field, he is one of the most dynamic playmakers this team has had the last ten years.  Hopefully he will be able to overcome this as his career progresses.  In terms of his mid-season grades, he gets a C because of what he has done versus what he is capable of.

Overall grade:  A

Hard to find fault with an 8-0 team when you are doing mid-season grades.  The fact remains this team has been the most complete of any in the NFL.  The hope of course is that the overall grade when the season is over is just as impressive.  If that ends up being the case, this should be a Super Bowl team.

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