Le’Veon Bell is the rightful and deserving MVP of this season. But if you could give it to a group, it’d have to be awarded to the offensive line. They might be taken for granted, like a kicker, long snapper, or lawyer, you don’t notice them until you have a bad one, but the pace they’re on this year should be strung up in lights.
The run game has been solid, ranked 12th in total YPC, and if you exclude the team that have mobile quarterbacks that boost stats, the Steelers rise to 6th.
But it’s their pass protection that should be lauded. Often an issue under Ben Roethlisberger’s keep the play alive ways, they’re not only at a personal best with #7 under center, but a franchise best since sacks were recorded.
If the Steelers allow one or fewer sacks Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, they’ll have given up the fewest sacks since the stat was tracked in 1982. Through 15 games, they’ve allowed just 17 sacks, on pace to surpass the mark of 19 allowed in 1982.
Part of that is a nod to Roethlisberger’s maturity, he’s getting the ball out quicker and generally being less reckless, but it’s never been this good before. His previous low was 20, not coincidentally coming last year, and before that, 23, when he played in just 12 games.
Only one linemen has given up more than four sacks this season, Alejandro Villanueva’s 4.5, which mostly came at the beginning of the year. David DeCastro has allowed just a pair, Ramon Foster one, and Maurkice Pouncey is still spotless on the season.
Trainers have barely had to wash Roethlisberger’s jersey the second half of the season. In the past seven games, the team has allowed two or fewer sacks, making them the first Steelers’ unit to do so since 2002, two years before Roethlisberger even got here.
30 other teams had accomplished that, San Francisco still the only exception. Even the Cleveland Browns have done it four times. The. Browns.
It’s credit to Kevin Colbert for his investment in the offensive line. There’s the obvious, selecting Pouncey, DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert in the first two rounds since 2010. All home run picks.
Then there’s the less obvious, investing in Villanueva, who had an uphill battle to flip back to offensive line, and the finding and grooming to turn Foster into a steady starter, B.J. Finney into someone with long-term potential, and Chris Hubbard as the Swiss Army Knife. All UDFAs.
In the land of free agency, it’s a homegrown bunch. Only Villanueva came from outside the organization and really, he was grown by Pittsburgh, not by Cincinnati or Philadelphia. And it’s paid off. If this was Wall Street, Colbert would be ringing the bell every afternoon at four. If this was the Simpsons, everything would be coming up Milhouse.
And in reality, the investment is turning the team back into Super Bowl contenders.