I would have asked a person if they were on mescaline if they had told me that Ben Roethlisberger would be able to play in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ final eight regular season games after the team’s tumultuous 2-6 start.
Roethlisberger had been sacked 32 times during that span, and he looked primed to either watch the rest of the 2013 campaign from the bench or finish the year with a new personal-record of sacks (50 in 2009).
Shaky start aside, everyone on the offensive side of the ball has stepped up their play during the team’s last seven regular season games in the pass-protection department.
Roethlisberger deserves credit for Houdini-ing himself out of sticky situations and getting the ball out of his hands quickly with quick-hitting passes. In addition, his running backs like Le’Veon Bell and tight ends like Heath Miller deserve credit for their improved pass blocking to boot. Roethlisberger’s elusiveness aside, the biggest reason behind his improved protection has been the solid play of Pittsburgh’s makeshift offensive line.
For those of you who have kept track, Big Ben has been sacked only 10 times during Pittsburgh’s recent 5-2 stretch. To their credit, the offensive line has been able to maintain an adequate level of play despite the constant shuffle of different players in and out of the lineup during the last two months.
Starting guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro have done terrific jobs and provided stability in the trenches. Their solid play should not be overlooked, especially since they have stepped up during the last two weeks after the team lost their then-starter at center in the form of the reliable Fernando Velasco. Even tenacious backup Cody Wallace has turned in three serviceable performances without Velasco in the lineup.
Kelvin Beachum deserves high praise for his work at the left tackle spot as well. Although the second-year player is far from an All-Pro, solid technique and tenacity have allowed the former S.M.U. Mustang to emerge as a competent stop-gap for the team on the blind-side. The versatile lineman has been the Steelers’ top offensive tackle since he entered the starting lineup after the team’s bye week, and the work done by Guy Whimper, Marcus Gilbert and even Mike Adams on the other side at right tackle or as extra tight ends has not gone unnoticed either.
The fact that the Steelers have received decent play in the offensive trenches lately has been nothing short of remarkable. The fact that stop-gap players are either emerging as potential long-term options (Beachum) or simply helping this team finish out the season in one piece (Wallace) should not be dismissed. I just hope that the team can stay healthy enough to find some continuity in the trenches next fall.
Pittsburgh will have two solid guards coming back in the forms of Foster and DeCastro, a Pro Bowl-caliber center returning with Maurkice Pouncey and Beachum could be the man on the blind-side if the team does not elect to go in that direction in the 2014 NFL Draft. Forcing Gilbert and Adams to duke it out at right tackle would be a great idea, and the heat put on the two young players would likely help both improve.
Although it is probably too early to start discussing potential offensive line combinations for next fall, the improved play up front has not been lost on this co-editor. I just hope that the unit can carry over their strong finish this winter into 2014.
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