I am well aware that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line has been discussed quite a bit over the course of the past week on this site. Just on my own, I have done film studies of about of the Steelers’ tackles from the last game in addition to bringing news that the line is a finalist for an Offensive Line of the Year Award.
But given how important today’s game is, and how important the success of the offensive line is to the outcome of said game, we’re going to give it one more go, so I hope you won’t mind. The Steelers’ best chance of beating the Patriots today is by dominating the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball—even more important than on defense.
For the past two games, against playoff-level defenses, the Steelers have virtually run at will. Running back Le’Veon Bell is averaging 5.7 yards per rushing attempt, and it often looks effortless. I saw one statistic that showed that he has been gaining about an equal number of yards before contact as after contact, which shows that the ground game is a mutual product of quality blocking in addition to quality running.
To that end, the Patriots haven’t exactly been world-beaters so far in terms of stopping the run. They currently rank eighth of 12 total playoff teams in allowing 105 rushing yards per game—from a sample size of one game, allowing 4.6 yards per carry. The Steelers, in the meantime, have surrendered just 56.5 yards per game at 3.2 yards per carry.
The Patriots did rank third in the regular season in terms of total rushing yards allowed, but they also faced the third-fewest carries. Still, they did hold backs to 3.9 yards per carry and only allowed three explosive running plays on the year. But they also didn’t see a lot of quality running backs playing behind quality lines. And they haven’t seen this Steelers offense.
That offense includes exceptional pass protection, which will be pitted against a defense that averaged just over two sacks per game during the regular season, though which did have three sacks in the Divisional Round against a bad offense.
The bottom line is that there is no reason that the Patriots should not have their hands full with the Steelers’ offensive line today, provided that they play to the level that they have been playing for now what has been the majority of the season.
If the Steelers can control the tempo throughout the game with extended drives that limit the number of possessions and keep the Patriots’ offense freezing on the bench—and provided that they stick to what works once they get into scoring range—then you have to like their chances today.