Is it me, or is the pass protection literally entering midseason form at midseason? In the three games leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ bye week to demarcate the first eight games from the last eight, the offensive line has allowed just one sack, with none in the past two games.
This was around the time a year ago that the offensive line really began clamping down against opposing teams’ pass rush. From the eighth game through the 15th, I believe they only allowed something like six sacks over an eight-game span, before backups helped allow four in the season finale.
But they seem at the moment to be well-positioned to grow as they did a year ago as well, and are, perhaps, already doing so, if you look purely at the numbers. There are not a ton of throws on which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is taking hits, and he is even being moved off of his base with relative infrequency, aspects of protection that are, of course, as equally important as is avoiding sacks.
Over his 81 dropbacks over the span of the past three games, in other words, Roethlisberger has been able to get off a pass. He has only been sacked 10 times through eight games while attempting 275 passes, which is quite impressive, as should go without saying.
Following yesterday’s games, there are now just two teams who have given up fewer sacks than have the Steelers to date, those being the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints. The former has allowed Dak Prescott to be sacked nine times, only one fewer than Roethlisberger, though the Saints’ line has been fantastic in protecting Drew Brees, giving up only seven on the year.
Both of those teams have already had their bye weeks, however, it should be noted, so we can update this a week from now based on how the Saints and Cowboys do while the Steelers enjoy a bye week of their own coming off a three-game winning streak, which just so happened to coincide with very good protection.
The Vikings are even with the Steelers, giving up 10 sacks through eight games. At least five teams are on pace to give up 50 or more sacks on the year, in comparison, so Pittsburgh should consider itself quite lucky to have the line that they do, and take pride in their shrewdness in assembling it and keeping it together.
The front office set out years ago to put together an offensive line that was going to take Roethlisberger through to the end of his career, and it is looking like they may have done just that with, from left to right, Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert, with Foster the only one at least 30 years old.
Considering that the bulk of the heavy lifting this year has even been done with Chris Hubbard replacing Gilbert at right tackle, I think the work they have done in pass protection is only made all the more impressive.