Pass Protection On The Rise In Pittsburgh

By any reasonable standard, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been among the best offensive teams in the league in 2016, even with a horrendous three-point outlier accounting for 20 percent of their games up to this point in the year. And it should not be ignored that one of the chief reasons that they have been so successful is due to the excellent pass protection that the offensive line has been providing this year.

Thus far over the course of the season, the Steelers have taken nine sacks, which if you follow this site you are no doubt already aware, since we do a breakdown of every example after each game. In three of the team’s five games, they have only given up a single sack, though they have yet to put up a clean sheet. They came close last week, with the lone sack coming five minutes into the fourth quarter.

All told, in over 200 drop backs this season, Ben Roethlisberger’s nine sacks taken represents a sack percentage of just 4.5 percent. And that is actually not the lowest mark of his career, which the Steelers were able to set during the 2015 season.

It is somewhat ironic, of course, that Roethlisberger had his most efficient pass protection on a per-play basis in the season in which he suffered the most injuries—he missed four games and five starts, and left a few other games—but his 20 sacks on nearly 500 drop backs translated to a sack percentage of just 4.1.

And his next-best career mark came in 2014, when he took 33 sacks on around 650 drop backs, for a sack percentage of 5.1. The percentages in 2013 and 2012 are next in line at 6.7 and 6.3 percent, but in every other season of his career, that number was over seven percent, often above eight or even nine percent, and once over 10 percent.

For some added perspective, Roethlisberger’ sack percentage this season currently ranks seventh in the league among quarterbacks, and that includes Brian Hoyer of the Bears, who did not open the season as a starter, though he has now started three games and attempted 140 passes.

Only two quarterbacks have been sacked less than three percent of the time, and only three have been sacked less than four percent of the time. The Steelers have very much been in line with the best in the league in this regard.

And, to be clear, the overall pressure allowed is also representative of the sacks that they have given up as a time. With the Eagles game as an outlier—in which they gave up four sacks out of their nine—Roethlisberger has not been under duress very frequently at all this year.

In other words, all of their offensive success—the points scored, the red-zone touchdown percentage, the third-down conversions—can all be traced back to the quality protection that this at times makeshift offensive line has provided through five weeks.

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