This shouldn’t come to anybody as a surprise, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is good. They are the only unit that has sent three players to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, but they don’t have a weak link within their starting five—even when one of those links has had to be substituted due to injury, which is their most impressive attribute.
That was the case once again in 2018, as Marcus Gilbert missed the vast majority of the season, which resulted in Matt Feiler, who had never started a meaningful game at tackle in his life, being the primary right tackle throughout the season. Rookie Chukwuma Okorafor even had to start one game in Feiler’s place.
In spite of that the line remained strong, and Pro Football Focus rewarded them with the distinction of being recognized as the Offensive Line of the Year for the 2018 season. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as their line finished first in the website’s rankings as the end of the year, so it would only be natural for them to receive the award.
The entire left side of the offensive line through the center position hardly missed a snap in 2018 that being left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Ramon Foster, and center Maurkice Pouncey, all of whom started all 16 games. Villanueva and Pouncey made the Pro Bowl, and Pouncey was also named second-team All-Pro. David DeCastro, who missed time early in the year, was also a Pro Bowler at right guard.
According to the website, the line produced the highest cumulative pass-blocking efficiency rating in the league at 85.5, which was also the highest of any team since 2015. Though they ran the third-most passing plays, they also surrendered the eighth-fewest pressures, which is obviously an enormous discrepancy. By their data, Ben Roethlisberger was only under any kind of pressure on 24.3 percent of his dropbacks, which was the lowest in the NFL.
PFF emphasizes that their strength was in pass protection, but they were also in the top half of the league as run-blockers in spite of the fact that they ran the second-fewest rushing plays in the league. The article notes that 23 percent of their carries resulted in first downs or touchdowns, which was 11th-best.
In addition, running back James Conner averaged 1.67 yards before contact, which was the fifth-highest among qualified running backs, limited to those who had at least 200 carries during the season, so out of 14 players. Yards before contact is one of the clearest ways to indicate the blocking’s impact on the running game.
And again, they accomplished this basically without one of their starters. Well, not basically, but actually. Gilbert is the team’s starter and apparently their intent is to keep him at least through 2019, even if Feiler looked as though he could replace the veteran.