As the game of football, and its marketing, continue to move further and further in the direction of analytics, we are seeing that being embraced more and more even by venues like the NFL Network and the league’s corresponding website, which in recent years has adopted, for example, an award to recognize the best offensive line in the league, an area of the game for which there are no conventional statistics.
The winner of the Offensive Line of the Year Award will be announced tonight at 9 PM on CBS, but I can already tell you who won’t be winning it: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Somehow, in some way, former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Shaun O’Hara, who runs the site’s line analysis, saw fit to leave them out of the list of five nominees.
This is in spite of the fact that, for the second year in a row, the line sent three players to the Pro Bowl in left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, center Maurkice Pouncey, and right guard David DeCastro, and they got by through most of the season without starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert on top of that.
It’s even more surprising given that O’Hara often invokes statistics from Pro Football Focus in his explanations for why he is rating a certain offensive line in a certain way in any given week, because that venue selected the Steelers as the top offensive line of the 2018 season.
The Steelers’ offense ranked fourth in the NFL in total yards per game and second in passing yards per game. They scored the sixth-most points, threw the fifth-most touchdown passes (and not by much were they separated from the second-place team), and they only allowed 24 sacks, the fourth-fewest. They were top five in explosive plays and had the most 40-yard passing plays in the NFL.
In spite of the fact that they had the second-fewest rushing attempts in the NFL, they still finished in the top 10 in rushing scores, and even sent a first-year starter in James Conner to the Pro Bowl, while adding two Pro Bowlers at wide receiver.
So who are the five teams whose offensive lines being regarded as superior to the Steelers this year? Well, they were all playoff teams, for one thing. The Indianapolis Colts the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams, the New Orleans Saints, and the Philadelphia Eagles were the teams chosen.
That group includes the two teams that reached the Super Bowl as well as three of the four that played in the conference championship round. While all five of them have quality offensive lines, I would take the Steelers’ group over every one of them, let alone any one of them.