Lack of Push on Steelers Offensive Line is Killing Running Game and Big Ben

Mendy was short of the goal line a few times on Sunday. Courtesy nfl.com

As I sat there and watched the Steelers fail to break the plane of the goal line on not one but two offensive series, I started to wonder why the offensive line had no push off the ball.  ’Were the blocking sleds made out of aluminum or something in training camp and at practice?’  The offensive line for the Steelers has absolutely no push off the snap of the ball and it’s killing the running game, and ultimately Big Ben.  The only smash mouth football the offense is experiencing right now is in the form of Ben Roethlisberger taking hits and sacks continuously throughout the game.

Perhaps Bruce Arians is more brilliant than we all thought… or at least the amazing ability of foresight.  Could it be that Arians recognized that his offensive line never possessed the collective talent to be the huge run blocking force that it used to be during the days of Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker?  It’s not that the Steelers can’t run the ball at all – they just can’t be the ball control offense they once were.  Mendenhall is fast enough that if he can get the edge, he gains a fair amount of yards.  Rarely do we see any holes open up for a significant gain on the inside corners.  This occurred in both games against the Ravens and Seahawks – both teams with good defensive lines.

Arians stated earlier this season that he wanted the passing game to ramp up.  Again, maybe he had the foresight to recognize that the offense would struggle in the run when it came to pushing the o-line forward.  Maybe those two goal line stances were his way of confirming his premonitions.  No push in the running game means that even on 3rd and short, the offense is in a better position to throw for a first than run for one.  If for one do not trust the offensive line to get us a 1st down on a 3rd and short if the Steelers were to run the ball.  Less trust in the run, means more passing – but that’s not necessarily a better scenario either.

Big Ben is constantly avoiding the rush of the defense.  He is hit on numerous passing plays throughout the game.  He’s been sacked 6 times in two games – par for the course.  This trend however, is more damaging to a 29 year old than a 24 or 25 year old.  Perhaps that’s why Big Ben threw about a bazillion short slant passes on Sunday.  He’s got the fast receivers for quick strikes, and even the PPG reported this morning that Ben’s release has gotten much faster – amazing that his brain and body are able to work together for means of self preservation… the 0-line sure isn’t helping.

We don't ever really want to see this happening again.

But, how long can Ben self preserve?  A major part of his brain has the champion running a full tilt, so he is going to extend the play as much as he can if it means taking another step towards winning the game.  That, no one will ever be able to turn off.  But as we saw on Sunday, even getting rid of the ball on time can have ill effects if the pocket is not solidified.  Every single person in Steelers Nation had their hearts skip a beat and waited on bated breath after Raheem Brock went for Ben’s knees (yeah I don’t care what anyone says – you watch that replay and you can see that Brock lowers his head and shoulders towards Ben’s knees instead of extending his arms to prevent that kind of hit).  That was very close to the way Tom Brady’s season ended a few years ago and what would eventually create the ‘Tom Brady’ rule from its fallout (doubtful there would ever be a Ben Roethlisberger rule).  There’s going to be a time when the offensive line will cave one too many times, and Big Ben will pay the price in a season ending injury.  Let’s face it, injuries are a part of the game and Ben gets beat up a lot – direct result from the o-line or not.  But if Ben is such an elite QB and the Steelers’ franchise QB, then shouldn’t they do everything in their power to get an offensive line together that will help protect him at the very least?  Can you imagine what this offense would look like if we had to depend on Byron Lefty’s slow release?  I’d take a 45 year old Charlie Batch over that.

Perhaps this is where Tomlin’s (and Colbert’s) and Arian’s philosophies really diverge.  Tomlin (and Colbert) is willing to spend the dough to sign three defensive players (Taylor, Woodley and Polamalu) but not spend the dough on the offensive line and release players who were on that line in last year’s Super Bowl season.

Just a suggestion to Tomlin and Co. – pay attention to this offensive line and fork the dough over to get some amazing blockers, or this time will quickly devolve to a Ravens team that depended solely on its defense and relied on guys like Trent Dilfer to not lose the game.  :shudder:

 

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  • DomDiTolla

    Nice article Craig. I liked your shot at the N.F.L.’s blatant hypocrisy when protecting certain players.

    (Sorry for the length, but I need to get this point across) But I do have one thing to say with regards to where the blame should be placed in this whole O-Line situation and the running game being sub-par. Not to take away blame from the craptacular Offensive Line (because they deserve it), but Arians’ play-calling in the Red Zone has been putrid since the day he assumed the role as “Offensive” Coordinator.

    The Steelers run and have run the same damn vanilla off RG/LG play whenever they get down near the Goal Line. It’s been on film for the entire League to see over the last 4+ seasons and every opponent knows it’s coming. Why the Steelers haven’t even considered running the better power back in Redman on the play is beyond me. How about a pitch or toss to Mendy or Me-Mo? That would throw the opposing D for a loop, and keep opponents on their heels by not being allowed to expect Mendenhall off Guard every damn time. They’ve got Miller, Saunders, and D.J. who are good pass-catchers and Ben never even looks their way either!

    From watching his tenure as O.C. I can say with full effect that there has been hardly any creativity. much less sanity, on the part of Arians and his playcalling once the ball crosses the oppositions’ 20, and even less/none when the ball is inside the 10. Plus since the O-Line is already bad, Arians shouldn’t have Ben going on 7 step drops all the time or leave him in the game when it’s 35-7 in the 4th Quarter or 24-0! Quick slants, screens, and pop passes to Heath will keep the Defense honest and limit the pass rush. Although that’s a tad too difficult for Brucey to figure out by this point, because he’s had enough time to realize how effective those plays are.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that the O-Line should shoulder part of the blame. There’s no doubt about it. But outside of Pouncey and Gilbert, the rest of the guys just have no talent whatsoever, and it’s not theirs of Kugler’s fault things are the way that they are now.

    The Front Office deserves a lot of blame (as you pointed out correctly) because they make idiotic decisions like signing the most overrated player in the League LaMarr Woodley to moronically huge contracts, and don’t spend any money in F.A. or on high Draft Choices on Offensive Linemen. Yet much of the blame needs to be placed on Bruce Arians, because he can at least alleviate the current situation by making better decisions with play calls and personnel choices.

  • DomDiTolla

    Nice article Craig. I liked your shot at the N.F.L.’s blatant hypocrisy when protecting certain players.

    (Sorry for the length, but I need to get this point across) But I do have one thing to say with regards to where the blame should be placed in this whole O-Line situation and the running game being sub-par. Not to take away blame from the craptacular Offensive Line (because they deserve it), but Arians’ play-calling in the Red Zone has been putrid since the day he assumed the role as “Offensive” Coordinator.

    The Steelers run and have run the same damn vanilla off RG/LG play whenever they get down near the Goal Line. It’s been on film for the entire League to see over the last 4+ seasons and every opponent knows it’s coming. Why the Steelers haven’t even considered running the better power back in Redman on the play is beyond me. How about a pitch or toss to Mendy or Me-Mo? That would throw the opposing D for a loop, and keep opponents on their heels by not being allowed to expect Mendenhall off Guard every damn time. They’ve got Miller, Saunders, and D.J. who are good pass-catchers and Ben never even looks their way either!

    From watching his tenure as O.C. I can say with full effect that there has been hardly any creativity. much less sanity, on the part of Arians and his playcalling once the ball crosses the oppositions’ 20, and even less/none when the ball is inside the 10. Plus since the O-Line is already bad, Arians shouldn’t have Ben going on 7 step drops all the time or leave him in the game when it’s 35-7 in the 4th Quarter or 24-0! Quick slants, screens, and pop passes to Heath will keep the Defense honest and limit the pass rush. Although that’s a tad too difficult for Brucey to figure out by this point, because he’s had enough time to realize how effective those plays are.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that the O-Line should shoulder part of the blame. There’s no doubt about it. But outside of Pouncey and Gilbert, the rest of the guys just have no talent whatsoever, and it’s not theirs of Kugler’s fault things are the way that they are now.

    The Front Office deserves a lot of blame (as you pointed out correctly) because they make idiotic decisions like signing the most overrated player in the League LaMarr Woodley to moronically huge contracts, and don’t spend any money in F.A. or on high Draft Choices on Offensive Linemen. Yet much of the blame needs to be placed on Bruce Arians, because he can at least alleviate the current situation by making better decisions with play calls and personnel choices.

  • CaptainAge

    Great article Craig.

    I don’t think you will find too many people defending B.A by any stretch of the imagination. The Steelers think they are a power running team. There has been no proof to lead anyone to that conclusion.

    I am absolutely shocked that the Ravens can pick up a quality LT – and the Steelers counter with signing Scott. IMO the problem is Ben’s ability to make plays while he’s getting killed has masked the problem enough such that the Steelers brass ignores the issue. How can anyone argue that the OL needs to get better when you are winning Super Bowls? If the Steelers were going 4-12, 6-10 – the OL would have been addressed ages ago.

    The Steelers need to use the talent they have to the best of “their” ability and work with what they have. Mix it up inside the red zone – heaven forbid a play action pass to Miller inside the 5. I think I’d fall off my armchair if I saw that :-).

  • CaptainAge

    Great article Craig.

    I don’t think you will find too many people defending B.A by any stretch of the imagination. The Steelers think they are a power running team. There has been no proof to lead anyone to that conclusion.

    I am absolutely shocked that the Ravens can pick up a quality LT – and the Steelers counter with signing Scott. IMO the problem is Ben’s ability to make plays while he’s getting killed has masked the problem enough such that the Steelers brass ignores the issue. How can anyone argue that the OL needs to get better when you are winning Super Bowls? If the Steelers were going 4-12, 6-10 – the OL would have been addressed ages ago.

    The Steelers need to use the talent they have to the best of “their” ability and work with what they have. Mix it up inside the red zone – heaven forbid a play action pass to Miller inside the 5. I think I’d fall off my armchair if I saw that :-).