The 2019 Steelers had a solid season given the circumstances they were dealt. The loss of Ben Roethlisberger in week two should have sent the team into a tailspin and out of playoff contention by the end of the first month of play. Yet, it didn’t. The team finished 8-8 lead by a couple of unproven and untested backups.
Now, as we get closer to the dawn of a new season, I can’t help but look back and think that even with the relatively abysmal play by Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges down the stretch, the Steelers could have made the playoffs if the offensive line would have played better.
As we approach 2020, it’s abundantly clear to me, all eyes need to be on that unit. We will see with Roethlisberger back if the play was down due to the inability of the young quarterbacks or if the unit is faltering. Let’s not forget that in addition to the injury to Big Ben, the unit had a new coach, Shaun Sarrett, after the departure of Mike Munchak.
There is no doubt in mind that Munchak’s departure had a role in the decline of the unit but one year removed, that cannot repeat itself again. Sarrett, like his line, must prove himself or feel the wrath of the fans. This unit has been a staple for nearly a decade now, as one of the best in the league, everyone is willing to toss out 2019 as a lost year, due to Roethlisberger’s injury but with his presumed health in 2020 a repeat of 2019 will be nothing short of unacceptable.
The line must find a way in 2020 to keep Big Ben upright now that he’s 38 years old and coming back from an injury that sidelined him for the season. They need to open up holes for James Conner, Benny Snell, and Anthony McFarland. They need to allow time for plays to develop and let players like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson take the top off of the defense.
Guys like Maurkice Pouncy and Alejandro Villanueva, perennial pro bowl players took steps back last year. They’ll be the first to admit that. They need to regain their form as the Steelers window with Roethlisberger continues to close.
If the offensive line cannot find a way to get back to 2018 form, it may be a longer year in 2020 than it was in 2019. With expectations far higher this year than they were starting in week three of last season, all eyes will be on this offensive line.