Arguably the most significant story that developed over the course of the 2016 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers was the fact that their offensive line demonstrated significant improvement as the year wore on. By the end of the season, they were playing at a very high level, arguably as well as any team in the league.
That is, in fact, what Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus argued, after he and his website officially ranked the Steelers’ offensive line third-best in the entire league at the end of the year, behind only the Titans and the Cowboys.
That was several months ago, but recently, as in earlier this month, NFL Network also took a stab at ranking the offensive lines around the league, and the Steelers once again ranked very favorably, landing for a second time in the top five in the league.
In a video detailing their entry as number four on the list—behind only the Raiders, Titans, and Cowboys—the narrator emphasized the fact that the Steelers’ line played well both in the run game and in pass protection.
“A lot was made last year of the line’s ability to hold blocks for Le’Veon Bell as he waited for a hole to open up”, she said. “But they should also get just as much praise for the pass protection they provided Big Ben. 21. That’s how many times Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks were sacked last season, the second-fewest in the league. No shock they were in the top five in passing yards and touchdown throws”.
She later made a point I’m not sure I agree with, saying that “the line doesn’t receive the same fanfare as some other units, partially because, even by o-line standards, they don’t boast very many big names”. They do have two players have been first-team All-Pro recently.
“But Marcus Gilbert and company can do it all, not only giving Roethlisberger the time he needed, but helping Bell finish with the fifth-most rushing yards despite missing four games”, the narrator concluded.
The offensive line features a good deal of variety. Ramon Foster is the oldest starter at 31, and is also the longest-tenured, entering his ninth season, while Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro are the high-pedigreed players. Alejandro Villanueva is just emerging now.
I think that my favorite quality about the Steelers’ line, however, is their unity, even down to the backup position, which I believe stems from the fact that all of them, at least currently on the roster, are homegrown. Villanueva may have been on some offseason rosters, but none of them even tried him on the offensive line before. They all found their voice in Pittsburgh.
As fantastic as some of the Steelers’ skill position players may be, the truth is that they have been able to excel in so far as the line has played well. Their continued success next year will be an essential ingredient in any achievements they should reach on the offensive side of the ball.