In 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Line took a step back. Now part of that was due to the quarterback play but there were also some things that just can’t be denied and are now fault of anyone but them. The transition from Mike Munchak to Shaun Sarrett did not go quite as well as I think many envisioned. The overall ability to run the ball was lacking and the inability to pick up first downs in short yardage situations was something that has to be corrected in 2020. Who are the guys that will get this done? Let’s take a look.
By The Numbers
2019 Rushing Yards: 1,447 (29th)
2019 Passing Yards: 2,981 (31st)
2019 Pass Protection: 32 sacks given up (10th best)
Maurkice Pouncey (11 seasons)
Maurkice Pouncey took a step back in 2019. He was still a very good center who continues to be excellent at pulling in both directions. His experience, knowledge and comfort with Ben Roethlisberger is crucial to his and the O-Line’s success in general. Where I thought Pouncey struggled was in pass protection and in-line blocking. He has always been athletic and strong and has used that combination well for over a decade. His lack of ‘anchor’ though was evident in 2019 as he was sometimes overpowered at the point of attack. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a better season in 2020.
David DeCastro (9 seasons)
The former Stanford Cardinal continues to be the Steelers’ most consistent offensive lineman. Like Pouncey, he can have moments where opponents get the best of him but it doesn’t happen very often. He remains very effective in both pass and run blocking and is as respected around the league as much now as ever.
Alejandro Villanueva (6 seasons)
It may come as a bit of a surprise but Villy had a pretty solid season in 2019. He cannot do anything about his physical makeup which can sometimes be a hindrance. At 6’9″ he can sometimes struggle with smaller, faster and more powerful pass rushers. His continued improvement however has been impressive in our eyes. With all of this said, I do not think he gets another contract with Pittsburgh. His current deal is up after this season and he’ll be 32 years of age. The Steelers desperately need some younger talent to step up.
Matt Feiler (4 seasons)
We surmised all winter that Feiler may be moving down to left guard with the retirement of Ramon Foster. Mike Tomlin made that official at least as far as going into Camp when he said as much a few weeks ago. Feiler was more than adequate as the right tackle where he played well but his better and more suitable position is inside. There are two or three guys who would like to beat Feiler out for the job but for right now it’s his.
Chukwuma Okorafor (3 seasons)
Okorafor finds himself in the exact same place Jerald Hawkins did last season. He’s entering his third season and has yet to prove his worth as a third round draft pick (Hawkins was a fourth). He will battle Zach Banner for the right tackle spot. The loser of this contest, unless it’s so bad Feiler has to play it again, will become the team’s “swing tackle.” Okorafor is athletically gifted but has to put it all together now. He was given a lot of reps in the preseason last year and did not play well. If that same pattern continues then he may be on the way out.
Zach Banner (4 seasons)
Banner became a fan favorite as the team’s third tackle who often came in on short yardage situations. His positive and fun-loving attitude on social media has endeared him to Steeler Nation but now the serious stuff starts. It’s likely the Steelers won’t use a third tackle as often with two solid tight ends available now. Therefore his battle with Okorafor will be one of the most important positional battles on the team. He has put in tremendous work to alter his physical look, dropping 40-50 pounds and increasing his overall ability as a player.
Other returning Players
Derwin Gray T, J.C. Hassenauer C
Kevin Dotson G, Stefen Wisniewski G/C, John Keenoy C, Christian Montano G, Jarron Jones T, Anthony Coyle T, Christian DeLaruo T
Let’s start with what we know. Pouncey, DeCastro and Villanueva will step into their spots so let’s move on to what isn’t quite as set in stone. Feiler will start at left guard but I will not be surprised at all to see Dotson move in here. If you watched any of his tape then you’ll see why he was a first team All-America from a smaller school. He’s a devastating run block and is more than adequate in pass protection. The mental aspect is what he’ll need to prove he can handle. As for right tackle, I’m honestly at a loss. I’m giving the slight edge to Banner but if neither he nor Chuks can make Mike Tomlin confident enough then I believe you’ll see Feiler back there. Derwin Gray enters his second year and is listed as a tackle so he could be a wild-card. Veteran Guard/Center Stefen Wisniewski will be the first backup off the bench should he be needed in either of those areas.
My Prediction: Last year the Steelers went with eight offensive linemen on the active roster. I’ll stick to that in 2019.
Tackles: Villanueva, Banner, Okorafor
Guards: Feiler, DeCastro, Dotson, Wisniewski