Steelers study: How good does the OL need to be to contend?

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard Kevin Dotson (69) . Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard Kevin Dotson (69) . Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

With the Steelers offensive line filled with question marks, here is a study of how important are the offensive line rankings to playoff success.

The Steelers fielded one of the worst lines in the NFL last season. While the team tried to make some improvements in the offseason, the preseason proved to be a worrying time for the blocking unit. It looks like this team could once again post one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and that will hamper the team as a whole.

While I don’t believe that this will be the worst unit in the NFL, I do believe this unit will need some time to gel. With so many new faces and a new coach to boot, this line needs to make a lot of adjustments. We have seen the line play improve every week in the preseason, but that will still yield some ugly results early in the season. Even assuming this unit improves, it doesn’t seem like this line will be any better than the bottom half of the league.

I recently did some research into how offensive line rankings impact a season outlook for a team. Since 2012, I compiled every team’s PFF offensive line rankings at the end of the year. I looked up every record for every team and which ones made it to the playoffs/Super Bowl.

What do these results mean for the Steelers?

The important numbers that stick out are that there is about a three-game swing in terms of record between a team that finished in the top five and bottom five of line rankings. As well, teams needed to be around a top-12 line to finish as a playoff team and to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. As of this writing, I have a hard time believing the Steelers will reach those levels.

Even if the line takes a few weeks to get into a groove, a top-12 finish seems aggressive. While I believe James Daniels and Mason Cole will be improvements to this group, other players need to step up. If this team wants a shot at a good line, Dan Moore in particular needs to step up and look like a competent left tackle.

This study does have outliers

While this study points to the idea that a better line correlates with better results, it isn’t mandatory. The Seahawks were a prime example of this, as they consistently had a bottom-12 offensive line, and they were consistently successful and even won the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, you would have top-fine lines post mediocre records despite good blocking performances.

This study doesn’t consider the impact other positions have. Naturally, great quarterback play can help compensate for a bad line. Meanwhile, poor quarterback play will hold back a team with a great offensive line. The Steelers aren’t destined to be bad if they have a bad line. That said, the trend points to a three-game spread and some major playoff implications.

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The Steelers offensive line has proved to be a talking point during the preseason for all of the wrong reasons. While a team can get by with a bad offensive line, the higher this group ranks will likely yield a better result in the season.