We've reached the midpoint of the year. There is of course a lot of football still be played, but it's always interesting to compare players from the beginning of the year, to the midpoint, to the end and see how they progress or regress.© 2010 Steelers Universe
For the most part, the Patriot game was not included in the evaluations since that's the 9th game of the season. That's probably a good thing.
#3 Jeff Reed: His kickoffs have been fine for the most part. Consistently gets 4+ seconds on his kickoffs. Even if the distance isn't always the greatest, it's the hangtime that matters. Field goals have been a different story. He's missed some crucial kicks, Atlanta and Cincinnati are two examples, and he's really struggling at home. This will likely be the last year with the team if he doesn't turn things around.
#7 Ben Roethlisberger: It's been a mixed bag of results for Ben since he's returned to the lineup. It seems that consistency is still eluding him. Namely in being able to pick up the blitz, there have still been instances of him not going to his hot read against a heavy blitz look and trying to be Superman when doing so is futile. This is what's keeping him from being an elite quarterback. Of course, this isn't to knock him as a whole; the offense goes as Ben goes and he's ultimately the best asset on the team. He's still making big plays, hooking up with Mike Wallace has become a question of "when" and not "if" these days, and he has the unique ability to keep plays alive.
#9 Daniel Sepulevda: He's quietly having a strong season. He ranks seventh in yards per punt and based off of my eye test, his net average must be high. Two years removed from a torn ACL, we're seeing why the team traded up to get him in the 4th round. Sep is a free agent after this season though it is likely the team will make every effort to re-sign him.
#17 Mike Wallace: In the time it takes to read this blurb, Mike Wallace ran around the world. Twice. Truly one of the fastest players in the game, highlighted when he burned Jason Allen despite a cushion against Miami, he is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Lesser seen has been his willingness to block. However, he's been called out for not being a complete route runner and that is still an area he needs to improve on. He's now the number two receiver, no longer in the slot, and his game will have to evolve as such.
#20 Bryant McFadden: Brought back to the team after a stint in Arizona, he's been solid for what LeBeau's scheme asks for. He's a physical corner who is willing to play the run and is a sure tackler. Those are the main keys to play under LeBeau. He has one interception on the year, diving to intercept Kerry Collins early in the year.
#24 Ike Taylor: He's "swaggin'" his way to another fine season. He hasn't been covering number one receivers exclusively like in years past although he's been asked to at certain points (i.e. against Brandon Marshall). He runs well and can take away some of the top receivers in the game. Marshall had a quiet game and Ochocinco was held to a single catch. Taylor is a free agent at the end of the year.
#25 Ryan Clark: It's been a relatively quiet year for him, but that isn't a terrible thing. He's the safety net (bonus points for the pun) that lets Troy roam. He hasn't had many big plays, but he's been valuable help over the top and continues to be a sure tackler.
#34 Rashard Mendenhall: If they haven't already, the rest of the NFL better look out. Mendenhall is the complete package and the real deal. He's a tough runner who always keeps his legs moving and shows the ability to fall forward. He shows a degree of agility too, making decisive cuts and often uses a spin move. One overlooked fact is that Mendenhall hasn't fumbled once this year despite his heavy usage. He was the main offensive reason as to our 3-1 record without Ben. His pass protection has really come into its own and he has become one of the best in blitz pickup in the league.
#43 Troy Polamalu: Everything that can be said about him has been said. One of the few players you can use the word "game changer" with and not be cliché. The numbers may not be as gaudy as you'd expect, but he's still flying all over the place and giving offenses fits. He's superb against the run and does a fantastic job in timing snaps and coming off the ball free.
#51 James Farrior: He was heavily criticized last year and many thought he was on a continuous downhill slope. That didn't happen. Any lack of speed has been masked by his intelligence and experience. He's excellent against the run, (the Bengals do give him problems) and he's been dishing out hard hits all year long. The team is willing to let him run in coverage too. Potsie is the defensive leader and the value of him calling out all the plays can't be measured.
#53 Maurkice Pouncey: This seemed like the projected pick for the team from very early on in the draft process, and Pouncey has easily surpassed expectations. Quickly picking up the playbook and as Tomlin will tell you, playing like anything but a rookie, he made Justin Hartwig expendable. Pouncey is athletic and can chip and get to the second level. He's excelled against 4-3 defenses and although he's had a little more trouble against nose tackles, he's a much better option than Hartwig and will continue to grow.
#56 LaMarr Woodley: It appears he's being talked about a bit less this year, but his numbers are solid. He's on pace for about 12 sacks. He's one of the strongest linebackers in the league and has the ability to bullrush tackles. He's dropped back into coverage more often, he'll drop underneath to take away a quick hitch or slant, and could have had a couple interceptions that turned out to be drops. This is the final year of his contract. A long-term deal would take 40+ million in signing bonuses, making a franchise tag a more likely option.
#60: Greg Warren: He beat out Matt Stewart to keep long snapping duties. There have been instances of high snaps, but there haven't been many problems. Most importantly, Warren has stayed healthy after tearing his ACL in back-to-back years. Knock on wood, Steelers fans.
#68 Chris Kemoeatu: It's been a bit of a disappointing season for him. Injuries have taken their toll and he is currently dealing with a sprained knee and ankle. His pass protection still hasn't improved, and he's susceptible to getting bull rushed and thrown off balance. He's a punishing run blocker and is a real asset on trap blocks, but he hasn't "broken out" like I thought he would.
#71 Flozell Adams: His season has been on par with expectations. He can be a force as a run blocker and his size is a rarity, but he isn't getting any more athletic. He struggled mightily against New Orleans, repeatedly getting beaten to the inside. That has been as much of an issue as getting beat off the edge has been. On the bright side, he'll only continue to get more comfortable at right tackle and considering how bleak the right tackle spot looked at Willie Colon went down, we could be worse off.
#72 Jonathan Scott: We're worse off at left tackle. Replacing the injured Max Starks, Scott is now the starter at left tackle. He isn't a terrible run blocker and offers good size (listed at 6'6 320) but is an awful pass blocker who bends his waist. We'll have to give extra help to the left side be it keeping a back on that side or chipping with a tight end in order to keep Ben upright.
#79 Trai Essex: Essex has missed a good chunk of the year with an ankle injury. When he has played, it's been more of the same of last year. A decent run blocker who is awful in pass protection. It's a testament to the poor state of the line to say he's the best option at right guard. I'm hoping for an upgrade in the draft.
#83 Heath Miller: It's been a similar fate as John Carlson of Seattle. Miller had 76 receptions a year ago and was rewarded with a long-term deal two years ago , but injuries along the offensive line has led him to stay in and block more often. Miller said he doesn't expect that role to change the second half of the year. Miller is a strong run blocker and has good hands, but has been on the bad end of some crucial plays most notably the fumble against New Orleans.
#86 Hines Ward: I guess it's fitting that his catch streak ended at 186. Like Polamalu, there isn't anything I can say that hasn't been said about Ward. A linebacker who just happens to catch passes, Ward has done a little bit of everything in his career. His numbers are down this year, and he's only had one game with more than 60 yards with Ben back in the lineup. Expect him to have a stronger second half of the year.
#89 Matt Spaeth: He already has more yards and first downs than he had all of last year. Still a bust after being taken in the 3rd round, Spaeth mainly blocks in 2 TE sets. His run blocking has improved but he hasn't given back the return we hoped he would.
#92 James Harrison: The center of controversy as the NFL cracked down on hits, let's just focus on everything else for a moment. Harrison leads the team with seven sacks and four forced fumbles. He continues to have to fight off double teams from tackles and backs, leading LeBeau to move him around more often. He'll sometimes overload the right side with Woodley. Harrison is as strong against the run as he is coming off the edge and is a ferocious player, not a dirty one.
#93 Nick Eason: His story needs to better known. Appendicitis that eventually led to an infection that nearly cost him his life, Eason's play has stepped up with all the injuries along the defensive line. If the run defense remains as good statistically as it has been, Eason and Hood will deserve much of the credit.
#94 Lawrence Timmons: There isn't an ankle injury to slow him down this season. Timmons has been an absolute monster. He uses his athleticism to shed guards and stop the run. He can run with tight ends and is almost like another cornerback. Like so many players on the defense, he's also a sure tackler. Timmons gets my vote as defensive MVP.
#98 Casey Hampton: An ageless run stuffer, Hampton is the lone survivor of the defensive line. He's the player who allows guys like Timmons and Farrior to come in free. He may also play in more nickel packages with all the injuries along the line.
#99 Brett Keisel: A hamstring issue has sidelined him for all but two series of the past couple games. In all honesty, Keisel is a bit overrated. He has a better first step than most that play that the five technique but isn't a productive pass rusher. He can get pushed around against the run, too. He's not terrible by any means, but I wouldn't call him "underrated" as some have recently.