There has been a lot of deserving conversation over the course of the offseason about the improvement of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line, not only from the 2015 season to the 2016 season, but over the course of the 2016 season itself. There are plenty of numbers that you could put to it, including mainstream figures like sacks allowed and yards per carry.
We already know that those numbers are good. The Steelers gave up the second-fewest sacks in the league last season, for example. But over the course of the past week, Pro Football Focus has posted some interesting numbers that help illuminate just what the line accomplished last year.
Most recently, they posted a graphic yesterday about the Raiders’ offensive line and how they allowed Derek Carr to face the least pressure in the league, at a rate of just 23.9 percent. But Ben Roethlisberger is the very next quarterback on that graphic at 24.0 percent, the difference being negligible. The NFL average, according to the graphic, was 33.7 percent.
Thanks to his offensive line, Raiders QB Derek Carr felt pressure less than any other QB in 2016. pic.twitter.com/FYvMbigQXy
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 29, 2017
In case you’re interested in a bit of schadenfreude, one of the site contributors mentioned in a reply to that graphic that Browns quarterback Cody Kessler faced the highest percentage of snaps with pressure last season at around 47 percent.
I would say something like, ‘can you imagine that’, but, of course, we can, given the dark days of this offensive line. That is, of course, part of what makes this recent development so exciting. The Steelers did have an excellent offensive line when Roethlisberger first broke into the league in 2004, but that quickly eroded within a few short years and they soon had among the worst lines in the league, with the quarterback annually taking 40 or more sacks.
One of the points that I touched on earlier in this article is the fact that the Steelers’ offensive line developed over the course of the 2016 season. Fortunately, PFF has a graphic for that too, which they posted almost a week ago, and which would go perfectly here.
From Week 4 through the end of last season, the Steelers’ offensive line posted the best Pass Blocking Efficiency in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/O2sCW750oh
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 26, 2017
According to their numbers, the Steelers’ offensive line had the worst pass-blocking efficiency rating in the league through the first three weeks of the season at just 70.8 percent. They gave up 47 pressures in that span, including six sacks and six hits. But that changed dramatically as the season progressed.
From Week Four through to the end of the regular season, the Steelers had the most efficient pass-blocking offensive line in the league, posting a rate of 86.1 and just 87 total pressures—with 15 sacks and 16 hits—over the course of the final 13 games.
And it’s worth mentioning that the regular season finale, in which Maurkice Pouncey did not play, and which was meaningless, was clearly their worst game, while their first three games accounted for three of their five worst games of the entire year. The improvement, both over the course of the season and in general, was significant, and bodes well for the 2017 season with the lineup remaining intact.