Why the Steelers offensive line will be improved in 2020

Zach Banner Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Zach Banner Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers struggled along the offensive line last season. Here’s why this group could be much improved in 2020.

After five years of dominant offensive line play by the Pittsburgh Steelers, this unit saw their worst season in nearly a decade of play in 2019. Several factors contributed to this.

For starters, the loss of Ben Roethlisberger allowed defenses to play much closer to the line of scrimmage, and they often sent additional pressure to rattle Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. As a result, the Steelers finished 30th in run blocking and 12th in pass protection last year, according to Football Outsiders.

In addition to this, some starting offensive linemen took a big step back last season. Ramon Foster had quite possibly the worst season of his 11-year career, while Maurkice Pouncey finished the season ranked 34th out of 35 qualifying centers with an overall grade of 51.5, according to Pro Football Focus.

But despite players like Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva, and David DeCastro continuing to progress into their 30s, there is plenty of reason to believe that Pittsburgh’s offensive line will be an improved group in 2020.

The retirement of Ramon Foster is a plus. Though he was an excellent former undrafted free agent signing with a career spanning over a decade, he was on his last legs and his play was detrimental to the Steelers offense last year. Mike Tomlin expressed in June that Matt Fieler would be taking the first steps at left guard in training camp.

Feiler graded out as Pittsburgh’s best offensive lineman last season, and the former undrafted free agent has experience at guard. He should prove to be a significant upgrade over Ramon Foster this year.

While there are a lot of question marks at right tackle, Zach Banner seems poised to lock down the position – assuming he isn’t outplayed by Chukwuma Okorafor during camp. Banner has looked solid every time he’s entered the game for the Steelers. He has cut a lot of weight since entering the league and has an ideal body type for the right tackle position.

In addition, the return of Ben Roethlisberger should help out Maurkice Pouncey and other players who took a step back last season. While Pouncey is coming off his worst year as a professional, he’s still just 30 years old and I have to believe he will take a big leap forward with a better guard next to him and his start quarterback returning to the field.

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We have no idea what Pittsburgh’s offensive line will look like in 2021, as Villanueva, Feiler, and Banner are all set to become unrestricted free agents. For now, with the changes the Steelers made so far in 2020, we can assume that the offensive line will be much better than it was just a season ago.