Aging offensive line could be the downfall of the Steelers in 2020

Alejandro Villanueva #78 (R) and guard Ramon Foster #73 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Alejandro Villanueva #78 (R) and guard Ramon Foster #73 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Steelers have one of the oldest starting offensive line groups in the league. Here’s why the big guys up front could be Pittsburgh’s downfall in 2020.

Since the days of Todd Haley, the Steelers have possessed one of the better offensive line groupings in the NFL. Mike Munchak was able to turn undrafted talents like Alejandro Villanueva and Ramon Foster into quality starters that helped pave the way in the running game and keep Ben Roethlisberger upright.

However, the consecutive years of quality offensive line play are quickly coming to a close. Pittsburgh possesses the NFL’s oldest offensive line starters, and it’s starting to show:

We knew this day would soon come, and the evidence is already starting to mount up against the Steelers. According to Football Outsiders, Pittsburgh had was 30th in run blocking and 12th in pass blocking in 2019. While 12th against the pass still seems like a good number, these ranks have dropped dramatically in just one year’s time. In 2018, Pittsburgh’s offensive line ranked 15th in run blocking and 4th in pass protection.

In 2017, the Steelers offensive line was at their peak. Football Outsiders had them pegged as the 7th best run-blocking unit and 1st in pass protection. In addition, Pittsburgh’s 6.6 percent adjusted sack rate is the worst number they have seen since 2013 (when Maurkice Pouncey played just one game before missing the entire season and before Villanueva was on the team).

With Munchak no longer with the team and with most starting offensive linemen nearing the end of their professional careers, Pittsburgh will no doubt be forced to spend more resources on the offensive line via the NFL Draft. The Steelers haven’t used a 1st or 2nd round pick on an offensive lineman since they drafted David DeCastro and Mike Adams with back-to-back picks in 2012.

Pittsburgh may be able to get away with using this core for another season, but the regression we saw in 2019 is nothing that goes against the norm. Historically, aging offensive lines struggle in the NFL. As good as this group has been in their prime, they are no exception to the mold.

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Roethlisberger has just a few years left in the tank, and the Steelers may want to keep this core around until he’s gone. After that, the unfortunate truth is that Pittsburgh will likely be in a total rebuilding phase with their big guys up front. Until that time, let’s hope they have one or two decent years left in the tank.