Quarterbacks, running back and wide receivers oh my!! If you just have enough of those and they’re talented then your team’s offense is well on its way to success!
If you don’t have a reliable offensive line in the game of football then your fortunes are in dire straits and that’s where the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves today. After winning 11 straight to open the season, they’ve dropped two in a row and the biggest reason is the offensive line.
Strength Into Weakness
This was long thought to be one of the better units in the National Football League and many of its members were lauded with awards. The truth of the matter is that while it’s been a decent offensive line, it’s never been as good as advertised.
David DeCastro is playing hurt. I don’t think there’s any other way he can look as “off” as he does without that being a problem. He cannot pull with the same type of violence and speed we’ve grown accustomed to and he’s struggling at the point of attack too.
Maurkice Pouncey has always relied on his athleticism and smarts but he’s starting to show his age in the tranches too. Guys are getting past him more often and his ability to drive defenders to the second level just isn’t what it was. Matt Feiler, who left Sunday Night’s game with a pectoral injury, has been a major disappointment both in run blocking and pass blocking. He’s either not quick enough or not agile enough to handle interior defenders.
Alejandro Villanueva, who has turned himself into a better player than most saw coming, is still not as good some believe. His run blocking has diminished significantly and his pass blocking is often graded highly for no other reason than the ball is already gone before he gets beat. Watch the tape and see how often pass rushers are a step away from Ben Roethlisberger as he releases the ball.
The Steelers spent a high round draft pick on Chuks Okorafor and like Villanueva, he’s benefited from a short passing game where he doesn’t haven’t to hold his man off long. His run blocking however is non-existent as he’s consistently over-powered at the point of attack.
In an era where WR’s run free through soft secondaries, it was fun to watch the Bills beat up the Steelers. PIT had 10 3rd downs, none longer than 9 yards. They converted 1 of 10. pic.twitter.com/MrUvdlHlLY
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 14, 2020
So What’s Gone Wrong?
For starters, losing Mike Munchak a few seasons ago has made an impact. There’s no way it wouldn’t. But this goes deeper.
Announcers and talking heads speak fondly of the Steelers as a ‘run first or run oriented’ team. That narrative is gone. It’s over. It’s done. The Steelers have been a pass first team for some time now so when I hear the frustrations about not being able to run the ball I just laugh and then I cringe. It’s lazy and awful analysis.
The Steelers’ O-Line has gotten soft. They spend so much time in pass protection that they’ve lost the ability to truly run block. Ask any offensive lineman what he prefers to do and they’ll tell you they love run blocking. You go forward for starters. You take the physicality to the defender rather than backing up and this O-line does that way too much. It’s like taking a bunch of attack dogs that have been trained over and over to attack and then pulling their teeth.
In the run game, it’s vital you win at the point of attack. If you can’t move guys off the line of scrimmage then your running backs are already at a disadvantage. Then you have to account for the fact that not getting to the second level allows linebackers and safeties to creep up as well. This essentially stacks the box. It also makes throwing short passes difficult because you have so many bodies in a confined area.
It’s also clear that current OL Coach Shaun Sarrett is not up to the task. This entire unit has regressed. Short of maybe Zach Banner, I don’t see any player who has improved. That’s not good and it’s largely why I believe he’ll be gone at season’s end.
With Feiler and rookie Kevin Dotson likely out for a while, I honestly don’t know what the Steelers do but I don’t expect to suddenly see massive changes. You don’t just turn on a switch after 13 games and expect better results. Is the offensive line the only problem this offense has? Of course not. The drops and the poor throws don’t help but at the very core of the offense’s issues is this offensive line and it’s undeniable.