Earlier this offseason, we discussed the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had among the best offensive lines in football, centered around their high reliability in pass protection. Pro Football Focus published a list back in April ranking every offensive line based on their pass-blocking proficiency, which is essentially the percentage of time that the line as a whole allowed pressure, with sacks weighed more heavily than hurries and hits. They ranked first on that list with a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 89.7.
Yesterday, they published an interesting follow-up study that ranked the offensive line on the same criteria, only isolating it specifically for long-developing plays that took at least two and a half seconds from snap to pass, and the result may surprise you—initially.
By this metric, the Steelers were ranked just 15th in the league in pass-blocking efficiency on long-developing pass plays with a rating of just 78.6. The Atlanta Falcons—who placed fifth-overall in pass-blocking efficiency—ranked the highest in this category with a rating of 88.1, significantly higher than everyone else.
“It’s no secret that Pittsburgh’s offensive line has been one of the league’s most dominant units over the last couple of years”, Mark Chichester wrote for the Steelers’ entry, which reads surprisingly positive for a middle-of-the-pack placement. “They held together well on long-developing lays in 2018 — on 138 pass-blocking snaps, they allowed eight sacks, seven hits and 36 hurries”.
What surprises me is that they don’t place this in greater context. The Steelers also led the league in time to throw and in the number of short passing attempts in the league. In other words, they didn’t have a lot of designed seven-step drops in comparison to much of the league.
That means that a large percentage of the passing plays that took longer than two and a half seconds to develop were specifically the instances in which the play broke down—in other words, the play went off-script—perhaps due to the pressure itself.
My guess is if they limited the scope of their survey only to designed long-developing pass plays, rather than simply taking the plays that took long to develop regardless of the reason, the Steelers’ pass-blocking efficiency in such instances would be somewhat significantly higher. Perhaps not at the top of the league, but certainly better than middle of the road.
Still, the stat in itself is interesting in that it further reveals just how much the offense has changed in the past half-decade or so, becoming far more geared toward getting the ball out quickly. Ben Roethlisberger has had one of the fastest time-to-throw figures over the span of the past three seasons, and the offensive line does deserve credit for helping to allow the smooth functioning of the offense in that respect.