The Steelers offensive line, through injury and tribulations thus far this season, has not worsened in its ability to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Raiders pass rush is not very good, but that doesn’t mean the Steelers should get caught sleeping on Sunday afternoon.
The Steelers O-line gave up 40 sacks last season. That’s almost three a game. This season, the line is on pace for two sacks per game for a total of 32 (regular season only). That’s a little improved. The interesting thing about the four sacks so far against the Steelers is that it usually happens when the line breaks down quickly and in a huge way. Roethlisberger has been nothing short of Houdini in his ability to scramble and escape the grasp of would be tacklers. That’s helped the sack totals not get any higher than they already are. Ben has also been much smarter with the ball as well and giving it up when he needs to.
The Raiders have sacked an opposing quarterback only twice this season. That should give a warm fuzzy comforting feeling to many in Steeler Nation, but the team and fans should be as cautious as ever when the offense lines up against the Raiders’ defense. Defensive ends Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston have yet to really impact the line of scrimmage this season. It’s only been three games, but a trimmed down and faster Lamarr Houston has yet to fullfil the high expectations placed on him at the start of camp. Shaughnessy is also sluggish, even though he did produce a sack against Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long. Steeler Max Starks is not a Pro Bowler but will certainly be a handful for the tough Shaughnessy.
The more interesting matchup will be Houston against the young Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert had the best pass blocking efficiency among rookies last season, and he has maintained that level of performance in 2012. Houston’s speed could be a challenge for Gilbert as he tries to take the edge away from the right tackle. Gilbert will be key in sealing off Big Ben’s escape route should the pocket collapse – especially if Starks struggles with Shaughnessy. Houston has much to prove and a golden opportunity to finally meet expectations against an offensive line that has yet to finds its rhythm in effective blocking.
But, should Starks and Gilbert consistently seal off the edge and allow Roethlisberger to sit in the pocket for more than 3.5 seconds, then it will be carnage in the Raiders secondary.