Due to a multitude of injuries, a lack of cohesiveness, and simply poor and ineffective play, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line has been one of their most criticized positional units once again this fall. While they certainly haven’t been the only guys at fault for Pittsburgh’s many issues on the offensive side of the ball, the collective play which the Steelers have received in trenches has rarely been “above the line” as Mike Tomlin would say.
Last weekend though, Pittsburgh’s offense had a breakout game of sorts against the Detroit Lions. Ben Roethlisberger threw for four touchdown passes, the unit excelled running a no huddle/hurry up attack, and the Steelers scored a season-high 37 points. Guy Whimper, who started at left guard in place of Ramon Foster, recently had this to say about his unit’s performance during the game in a recent article by Teresa Varley of Steelers.com:
As an offensive line we needed a win like that, especially going against that defensive front [Detroit's]. It shows where we are as a unit, … It is satisfying, especially when you put up 37 points. Whenever you score points like that, it boosts your confidence no matter who you play. But you have to keep that going into the next week.
Through their first nine games, Pittsburgh’s offense surrendered 36 sacks. While some of those sacks could definitely be attributed to Ben Roethlisberger holding onto the ball for too long or a running back or tight end failing to execute, the bulk of the blame for the sacks and consistent pocket-collapse deserved to fall squarely on the shoulders of the offensive linemen. Last weekend however, Roethlisberger was sacked only once. Best of all though, “Big Ben” was able to throw from a clean pocket for much of the game.
Protecting their Pro Bowl quarterback will be of the utmost importance down the stretch, and Roethlisberger illustrated last weekend just how deadly he could be when he had adequate time to throw the ball. Pittsburgh’s signal-caller earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance, and he did so during a rain soaked day on one of the most garbage playing surfaces in professional football.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to see the offensive line dominating in the trenches as a whole during their final six regular season games either. The Steelers are currently ranked 30th in rushing yards gained per game, and the Lions’ front-seven completely shut down Pittsburgh’s ground attack (especially near the goal line).
Overall, the Steelers rushed for only 40 yards on 27 carries during last week’s game, and they will face two of the league’s better run defenses in a span of five days next week when they take on Cleveland (sixth, 99.0 rush yards allowed per game) and Baltimore (11th, 102.7 rush yards allowed per game).
If the Steelers can cobble together a five-man unit that can stay relatively healthy and turn in serviceable performances, then they have the type of offensive weapons at their skill-positions to make a run towards the postseason during the next six weeks.
While kudos must go to Pittsburgh’s offensive line for what was arguably their best performance of the season, their positive outing on Sunday against the Lions will mean little to nothing if they are unable to take away positives as well as find ways to improve. Their final six games will provide them with a tremendous litmus test, and I for one am excited to see what transpires.
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