There have been mixed opinions to date about the performance of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line through five games. While Pro Football Focus ranked them ninth in the league as recently as earlier this week, others have been far harsher in their evaluation.
Yet one constant has been there, and that is that they are certainly not playing up to the level to which they were able to ascend by the end of the 2016 regular season, a run that they carried into a postseason run that saw them fall a game short of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010.
Among those who have identified the discrepancy between the unit’s performance to date in 2017 in comparison to last year is, in fact, one of their own, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who was fairly critical, and self-critical, in speaking to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN yesterday.
“Maybe we are making the mistake that we are comparing ourselves too much to last year, and this year is a completely different year”, he told the reporter. Fowler wrote in his more-than-140-character Tweet that Villanueva told him the offensive line has not played well enough, and that he has played poorly.
LT Alejandro Villanueva acknowledges Steelers’ heralded O-line not good enough. “Maybe we are making the mistake that we are comparing ourselves too much to last year, and this year is a completely different year.” Villanueva, often self-critical, said he’s played poorly of late
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) October 12, 2017
While his roughest game of the season came during a time in which he was battling an illness, he has not played particularly well overall in any of his five games, even if he has in isolation made some impressive blocks.
He has, overall, but on an ascending trajectory, once again, which has been the case in each of his first three seasons, almost as though he has had to relearn things every year before he was able to feel fully comfortable in reacting more and thinking less, which has allowed him to be more proactive and aggressive.
While David DeCastro has put together some quality games on the season to date—in particular in week four against the Ravens, in which he was the focal point of quite a bit of the Steelers’ success on the ground—he played particularly poorly on Sunday, getting beaten repeatedly in pass protection, which including a called hold that wiped out a late touchdown that would have made it a one-possession game.
Ramon Foster, as is often the case, has been the most consistent performer along the offensive line, while Maurkice Pouncey has been fairly stable, though prone to misses here and there. Marcus Gilbert being sidelined for three-plus games has not helped matters.
But this is not an unfamiliar story, and the unit was able to turn it up and lead the offensive in the second half of the 2016 season. The talent is already there, and the coaching is in place, as are the past results. They can get better—they have already been better—but they have work to do to get back to where they were.
And perhaps that starts with forgetting about who they were last year and focusing on who they need to be this year.