Through the first four games of the 2018 regular season, it was factual to say that the Steelers highly-touted and highly-decorated offensive line wasn’t performing up to its usual standards.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was often under the proverbial gun and faced more pressure than he probably had become accustomed to in recent years, once the big guys up front became one of the most formidable units in all of football.
One month into the season, Roethlisberger had already been sacked nine times, a number that put him on pace for 36 for the year. While such a sack total still wouldn’t have approached the ridiculous number of times Roethlisberger was taken to the turf in the days before the likes of Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro came on the scene, it certainly would have far-surpassed the average of 22.75 sacks No. 7 had absorbed per year since 2014.
- And then there was the ground game, which seemed to go on sabbatical in the three weeks after second-year running back James Conner rushed for 135 yards in a Week 1 tie with the Browns.
After his magnificent performance in Cleveland, Conner combined for a mere 97 rushing yards on 32 carries against the Chiefs, Buccaneers and Ravens, respectively. Sure, you can say the Steelers faced large deficits in two of those games–they fell behind by a combined score of 35-0 in the first quarter of home losses to Kansas City and Baltimore–which necessitated a heavy dose of passing. But the fact of the matter was, Pittsburgh’s hogs got whipped at the line of scrimmage more often than not during that three-week period.
- But while we’re stating facts, it is worth noting that the Steelers’ offensive line was a bit compromised due to injury over the first month of the season.
Veteran left guard Ramon Foster missed the vast-majority of training camp with a sprained knee and surely wasn’t at full-speed at the start of the regular season. Meanwhile, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and right guard David DeCastro, two of the highest ranked players at their respective positions, missed a combined three games due to injuries.
Like every other portion of the Steelers’ 53-man roster, I guess the offensive linemen–as formidable as they may have been–couldn’t escape the bumps, bruises and lackluster play that was thematic of the first four weeks of the 2018 regular season.
But as we sit here today, those first four weeks seem like a distant memory for the 3-2-1 Steelers, especially for an offensive line that has seemingly taken its play and its reputation to a whole new level.
- How’s the pass protection been?
In the past two games–both impressive and important victories over the Falcons and Bengals, respectively–Roethlisberger has dropped back to pass a combined 75 times without being sacked once.
- Forget sacks, he’s barely been touched, while passing for a total of 619 yards and five touchdowns.
How about that ground game?
James Conner has combined for 221 rushing yards and four touchdowns the past two weeks, averaging over 5.5 yards per carry in the process.
If you wish, you can talk about the Falcons’ defense and how it was decimated by injuries prior to its arrival at Heinz Field on October 7. But you can’t say the same thing about a Bengals’ defense that arrived at Paul Brown Stadium this past Sunday equipped with a front-seven that included Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Vontaze Burfict.
- The Steelers’ offensive line didn’t just dominate the decimated the past two weeks. It dominated the dominant.
The Steelers’ offensive line is, again, highly-decorated, highly-touted and, as Pouncey showed when he pulled all the way from the center position over to the right edge to throw the key block on Conner’s 26-yard run against the Bengals on Sunday, highly-capable.
The Steelers’ offensive line is also in the zone. If it can stay there for the remainder of the 2018 season, Pittsburgh’s offense–and the entire team–will be pretty hard to dominate.