The Steelers have not had Mike Munchak as their offensive line coach for very long but it certainly seems as though he’s having a very positive impact on the offensive line and how the team plays overall. Its only been two years but its undeniable that the team has seen better offensive line play in those two years than perhaps the last ten if not longer.
Hiring Mike Munchak continues to show itself to be a good investment, which is unlikely to surprise anyone.
Over the past couple years the Steelers have had an unstoppable offense. Through the air or on the ground, the Steelers are a team that can beat a defense numerous ways. A big part of the offenses success, and a part that does not get enough credit is the offensive line.
In the 2009 season the Steelers gave up 50 sacks. The Steelers offensive line had reached a breaking point. Age, injury and other factors had made the position a serious liability.
They drafted Maurkice Pouncey in the 1st round in 2010 which set off a three year trend of the Steelers investing high draft picks in their offensive line. They drafted Marcus Gilbert in the 2nd round in 2011. Then they got David DeCastro in the 1st round and Mike Adams in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft.
This investment brought with it some improvement. Still, as recently as 2013 the Steelers gave up 43 sacks. The Steelers had shuffled through a series of offensive line coaches, none lasting more than a couple years, for a while at this point. They fired Jack Bicknell Jr. after that season despite some improvement in the line. The next hire they made was Mike Munchak however.
Munchak was drafted out of Penn State in 1982 8th overall by the Houston Oilers. He played guard there where he made the pro bowl nine times. He retired in 1993 and would go on to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001.
By that time he was already an offensive line coach with the Tennessee Titans. He became an offensive assistant with the Oilers in 1994 and stayed with the team through a move and a team change and was a highly respected offensive line coach from 1997 to 2010 when he got promoted to head coach.
Munchak might have been one of the most highly regarded offensive line coaches in the country but he had mediocre record as a head coach. Overall he finished 22-26 with no playoff appearances. Apparently he was told he had to fire one of his assistants and he elected to quit instead. Rumors were that he might be seeking the job at his old alma mater Penn State.
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He came back to PA, just not to the team people were expecting. Munchak was hired by the Steelers in 2014 and the offensive line has shown a lot of improvement since then. Its not coincidence that the offense as a whole has as well.
In the 2014 season the Steelers gave up only 33 sacks, their lowest total since 2005. This year, despite significant injuries the Steelers have only given up 23 sacks, which puts them on pace to finish with 36 sacks. Not bad considering you’re missing your all-pro center and your left tackle.
The Steelers were at a critical point in 2014 when they hired Munchak. The offense was in transition. Todd Haley was the offensive coordinator and he’d been seeking to implement a different kind of offense, one where Big Ben wasn’t running for his life the whole time. The Steelers also wanted to be a better running team and picked Le’Veon Bell to carry that out.
So the Steelers had plenty of weapons at the skill positions and Haley to play with them but it all starts with the offensive line. As I mentioned, the Steelers only gave up 33 sacks in 2014. They were also the top offense in the league. They gained over 411 yards per game and scored over 27 points per game.
Many talked about the triplets, the killer Bs, of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. This was for good reason. Each of these three players was arguably the best at their position that year. But more should have been said of the offensive line which got them to that point.
The impact of Munchak might be felt even more strongly this year. With injuries all over the offensive line has continued to play consistently. They entered the season without all-pro Pouncey. He was lost to injury and replaced by Cody Wallace. Then recently Kelvin Beachum went down with a season ending injury as well and Alejandro Villanueva. But the line continues to perform.
Villanueva told Chris Adamski of Triblive.com regarding his success,
"“As O-linemen, we talk about Munchak all the time in terms of how fortunate we are to have a coach like him. I don’t think if I had tried to play O-line on another team I would have been able to do what I’m doing right now. With another coach, I truly don’t think I could have played at this level. So I owe him a lot, and I think a lot of the guys in the room owe him a lot as well.”"
Cody Wallace agreed, saying, “He’s done a great job for us.”
That’s not the only way that injuries have demonstrated Munchak’s importance. The Steelers had to play without Le’Veon Bell for several games and will have to for the remainder of the season.
Backup running back DeAngelo Williams, who came to the Steelers after having been let go by the Panthers because he was 32 and dealing with injuries, has been terrific with the Steelers. He’s averaging 5 yards per carry and has 5 touchdowns.
Yes, Williams deserves credit, but to have such little drop off when losing the best running back in the league, and continuing to be a playoff contender after such extensive and serious injuries throughout the team, it really speaks to the fact that hiring Mike Munchak was a great idea.