Pittsburgh Steelers O-Line: Blamed in Losses, Overlooked in Wins
Any good NFL team will point to the offensive line as key to their quarterback’s success. Ben Rothelisberger is quick to point out when the guys help keep him upright. At least he is now. I’m not so sure he was as quick in his younger days, but now that he is older and perhaps wiser, Big Ben “gets” that his success is reliant on the people around him, keeping him upright through his multiple double-pumps and his dancing around to buy time for a receiver to get open down the field. Prior to this year, it seemed like the injury bug hit the O-Line early and often and the Steelers were constantly in the O-Line Shuffle as I like to call it. It’s hard to build the chemistry needed to be able to react quickly. The team can have 5 very talented guys on the line, but if it is the first week they have practiced together at their particular spots, they probably are going to have problems during that game. So what has changed for the Steelers in 2014? I think it is impossible to point to one thing, but here are a few I think make a difference:
- Maurkice Pouncey: The guy is worth the contract they just gave him. I was skeptical coming into the year about Pouncey, I admit it. Of course he has tons of talent, but I was worried about the off-the-field distractions. It seems that when he and his twin get together (Mike Pouncey of the Miami Dolphins) trouble follows as the did when the twins celebrated their birthdays last summer in Miami. Luckily, those charges are cleared up. I was also concerned he would get dragged into the Aaron Hernandez situation because of his association with him at Florida University. That simply has not happened since his initial ill-advised public support. My other concern was Pouncey’s health. He was sidelined two years in a row and at that point, it seems like a trend. He must hold off defensive lineman while Ben tries to make plays and he is initially a little more vulnerable because he snaps the ball and his attention is briefly divided. Yet, I think Pouncey is playing at a high level and when he is on his game, the rest of the O-Line follows suit.
- Penalties: I wanted to say that penalties are down, but when I looked at the penalty stats for this seasons on an online NFL penalty tracker, I really can’t make that case. Steelers wins have fewer penalties, but there is not a big enough drop to point to. The Steelers had their highest number of penalties this season during the Tampa bay loss with 13, but that stat is not broken down by player. So far this year, offensive line penalties are on track to exceed last year. I need to go back and check a couple of other sources, but I counted 21 offensive line penalties for 2013. This year, they are at 18 (8 are for false starts) with Beachum in the lead with 5. Is the correlation that it is better for the lineman to draw the penalty than for Ben to go down? A healthy Ben who isn’t fighting to stay upright is clearly a better Ben. The penalties always hurt, but would you rather see Ben on the ground? If a loss of position or down is coming anyway, I would rather the lineman have a penalty that watch guys unpile off #7.
- Mike Munchak: Is this the key difference in why I sense that the guys have come together as a unit? It’s hard to say. It is one of those intangible things. The presence of a leader and a coach can make a huge difference. At this point, I’m willing to give him some of the credit for coaching and inspiring if Roethlisberger continues to have monster games. He has to keep the o-line from getting complacent. Munchak has to keep them focused and ready to take on each opponent. During the last three games, the O-Line has looked better prepared and I hope that continues.
I pay attention to the offensive line because those five guys are a team within a team. The tight ends, running backs, and the full back get blocking assignments and they help keep the flanks from falling apart. But game-to-game the five guys in the offensive line are the core. They rarely move too far from the line of scrimmage and they take the brunt of the onslaught. They deserve a little more praise when it goes well. Yes, it’s their job. I get that. However, when the penalties occur at the worse possible time, fans are quick to blame them. I guess there is no good time for a penalty, but I am less inclined to point the finger of blame when the alternative is a flattened quarterback.
My final thought: A healthy offensive line, one that has been together since the start of the season is a luxury in this league. Enjoy it while we have it and hope that it continues. I hope we have this line into the post-season.