Today in this edition of news that should surprise nobody, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line was among the best in the league at doing something last year. They were among the best at many things, of course, but in this particular case, according to Pro Football Focus, they had the third-best pressure rate allowed against pass-rushing stunts, which is pretty important.
According to their data, Pittsburgh allowed pressure on only 30.4 percent of stunts on passing plays, which was bettered only by the New England Patriots—first at a rate of just 25.3 percent—and the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were only slightly ahead of Pittsburgh, but New England significantly bettered its percentage with a great postseason performance, so their regular-season numbers would be closer.
Some of you might guess where I would be going next even if you didn’t read the title of this article, but yes, this ability to play stunts in pass protection at such a high level is one of the defining legacies of Mike Munchak as he begins the next phase of his career with the Denver Broncos.
Coming out of the 2013 season, the Steelers were actually pretty bad when it came to playing stunts, and that led to some ugly consequences. That year in particular it didn’t help that they lost Maurkice Pouncey a few snaps into the season, but nevertheless, Munchak was brought in for the next season and things improved from there.
Of course, it’s not entirely Munchak. Lineman-to-lineman communication is crucial to successfully playing stunts, both verbal and non-verbal. Expert group defense of stunts primarily comes from repetition, and the Steelers are fortunate to have among the most stable offensive lines of the past decade.
With Marcus Gilbert now gone, the best working relationship on the line probably exists now between left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and left guard Ramon Foster, and that wasn’t always the case. Foster was big in the former’s development when he was playing while still learning the position, and that relationship has blossomed into what a true appreciator of offensive line play might describe as some beautiful collaboration.
It will be up to new offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett to keep this group, and Munchak’s work with them that helped them turn the corner—sometimes literally—against stunts, intact, but everybody to a man within the organization and on the practice field seems to believe that he is the man for the job.
I like to reiterate this as often as possible when it comes up, but Munchak and Sarrett worked very closely together, to the point where they could even be considered co-instructors. There isn’t really anything that will be asked of Sarrett that he hasn’t already done, and that his linemen haven’t done with him, other than having somebody else—now Adrian Klemm—under him.