If starting left guard Ramon Foster is forced to sit out for this weekend’s game versus the Detroit Lions, the Steelers will employ their fifth different starting offensive line combination this season according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Between injuries, poor-play, and guys playing out of position, Pittsburgh’s offensive line has been a casserole of nonsense once again this fall.
Starting center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season on opening day to a knee injury, right guard David DeCastro missed the New England game due to an ankle injury, right tackle Marcus Gilbert’s ankle and quadriceps have given him problems this season, Foster has exited two games due to pectoral and ankle issues, former starting left tackle Mike Adams is dealing with an ankle issue as well, and Guy Whimper missed part of the Oakland game with a knee injury.
The offensive line has been a carousel of sorts this year, and Kelvin Beachum has actually played five different positions in the trenches this season. While Beachum’s versatility and the stop-gap competency of Fernando Velasco have been pleasant surprises, the lack of continuity up front is definitely limiting the Steelers on the offensive side of the ball.
The ground ground game has suffered mightily so far this year (27th, 80.6 yards per game), and the number of sacks which Ben Roethlisberger has taken (T-30th, 36.0) is a definite cause for concern for this offense and the team as a whole.
And yes, I understand that “Big Ben” holds onto the ball too long and that his running backs fail to pick up blitzes, etc.. Yet you cannot fault a quarterback for a sack when his guys in the trenches fail to hold up their ends of the bargain. Moreover, I would hate to see how many times Roethlisberger would have been sacked so far if he wasn’t able to “Houdini” himself out of some difficult jams in the pocket.
Questions regarding blame for sacks aside, it has not helped the Steelers’ offense that the most important unit on that side of the ball seems to be undergoing a personnel change or two on a weekly basis. Granted, injuries are a part of the sport, but I think it’s safe to say that it is difficult for an offensive line to develop any sort of cohesiveness or continuity if five or six guys are unable to play together on a consistent enough basis, regardless of how talented (or not) they are.
As far as cohesiveness is concerned, the triumvirate of Foster, Pouncey, and DeCastro could potentially be one of the top interior groups in the AFC North. Unfortunately, we will not be able to see all three play together for an extended period of time, and it has not helped that the aforementioned group of three has logged only four regular season games of time together.
Besides staying healthy, it would probably help the Steelers’ offense if they utilized their personnel in the trenches better moving forward.
Although Beachum has stepped up in the interim as the left tackle, his short arms and lack of size make him a liability at that particular position. In fact, I am hoping that the Steelers’ brass do everything in their power to select a left tackle early in the 2014 NFL Draft to put their issues at the position finally to rest.
As poorly suited as Adams was to play left tackle, his road-grading run-blocking ability coupled with his size make him a perfect fit at right tackle. Why the franchise elected to move him to the blind-side after he won the team’s “Rookie of the Year” award last season as a right tackle baffled me to say the least, and Gilbert’s recent injuries and inconsistent play have done little to prove that he deserves to keep his job without some competition.
An Achilles heel for much of the last five-to-seven years, the Steelers must put an end to their offensive line woes. While bad luck has definitely played a part when it has come to injuries, cohesiveness and continuity must be found if the front office and coaching staff want this unit to become a strength once again in the future.
It is likely that Pittsburgh’s brass will add some more “pieces” to their offensive line “puzzle” during the offseason through the NFL Draft and even through free agency. Watching how this unit shakes out and congeals over the course of the team’s final seven regular season games will definitely be interesting, and the types of moves the front office and coaching staff make during the offseason will also be intriguing to follow as well.
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