The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the top offensive lines in football, and they know it. While they have developed a pattern of late of gradually getting better over the course of the season, there is no better five-man starting group in the NFL when they are all playing up to their capabilities.
This is especially the case in providing pass protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was one of the safest quarterbacks in the league last season. According to Pro Football Focus, that is because the line was the seventh-most efficient in pass protection among all 32 teams.
“While they did allow 16 more pressures than they did in 2016, the Steelers offensive line remained successful at keeping their quarterback upright in 2017, as they averaged 44.2 pass-block snaps per sack allowed, the league’s fifth-best mark”, Mark Chichester wrote in a recent article for the company’s site.
“The brightest performance on the line came from right guard David DeCastro, who was one of just three guards in the NFL to play more than 500 pass-block snaps without allowing a sack. His performance earned him our Matthews Award, an award given to the game’s best offensive lineman”, he went on. “Without many changes to the starting unit heading into 2018, the Steelers offensive line remains an area of strength for the team”.
It’s also worth noting that they turned in this performance without having their starting right tackle for the majority of the season. Marcus Gilbert missed most of the year, but he still ranked as the fourth-most efficient offensive tackle in pass protection in 2017, posting clean snaps in pass protection on 210 of his 217 plays on passing downs. In comparison, Chris Hubbard allowed 32 pressures on 432 snaps in pass protection.
Overall, the line as a group posted a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 81.1. Roethlisberger was only under duress of any kind for about a quarter of his passing snaps, which was among the lowest percentages in the league.
So it’s no wonder that he was able to stay healthy all season. While he continues to tease the idea of retirement after any season, he has also consistently said that it is the group of linemen he has around him that gives him the confidence and drive to continue playing.
The Steelers have one of the most stable starting line groups in the NFL. They will be entering their third season with the same starting five on opening day, and really, the same group has been together for most of the past three seasons.
Aside from Alejandro Villanueva, the other four starting linemen have been in place to some degree or another since 2012 already. From left guard to right tackle, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, DeCastro, and Gilbert made up four-fifths of their starting offensive line at the close of that year.