One well known philosophy for building a great football team is to build from the inside out. While the skill positions get all the attention, the game is nearly always won in the trenches.
A poor offensive line means your quarterback is spending more time on his back than standing upright, making it impossible to connect with his skill players and put points on the board. The same is true for running backs, as a bad offensive line will not clear any lanes to advance the football. In the same regard, having a strong defensive front that can disrupt the backfield is perhaps the easiest way to stop high powered offenses.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have dominated in the trenches this preseason and are undefeated to this point as a result. The Steelers have gotten to the quarterback 14 times this preseason, trailing only the New England Patriots, while only allowing their own quarterbacks to be sacked three times.
While there is truth to the sentiment that the preseason is just meaningless exhibition football, the ability to get to and defend the quarterback is important for a number of reasons. First, it allows the team to get a better look at their talent. It would be very hard to judge the play of Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs and Devlin Hodges if they were on their backside. Instead, the offensive line has given the quarterbacks the time and space necessary to have a legitimate opportunity to establish themselves.
It also proves the consistency the Steelers have been able to develop offensive line talent while also showing their new found ability at finding raw pass rushers. It has been like the likes of Fred Johnson and Zach Banner, who have gotten plenty of praise and attention. Whether the Steelers have their first team offensive line out there or their third team offensive line, they have done a great job at keeping their quarterbacks safe.
It is almost a shame that the team’s ability to develop wide receivers has overshadowed the team’s ability to develop quality offensive lineman as it seems just year in and year out, the team has managed to build credible lineman to plug in and play. Assuming Johnson makes the 53-main roster, he would join Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva, B.J. Finney and Matt Feiler as members of the offensive line to have gone undrafted, only to be developed by the Steelers. While Banner did not begin his career with the Steelers and was also drafted, he was cut by three teams before catching on with the Steelers.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tuzar Skipper has followed Ola Adeniyi’s path of preseason breakout star in consecutive years. While Skipper’s path to the 53-man roster is an obstacle filled road, it is a breath of relief to see the team finally start to find raw pass rushers after the team struggled to find pass rushers during a huge portion of the last decade.
The easiest path to success has always been protecting your own quarterback while trying to make the opposing team’s quarterback as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket and the Steelers have done a good job at this over the years. The team has led the NFL in sacks over the last two seasons while Ben Roethlisberger has only been sacked an NFL-low 62 times over the last three seasons. Meaningless games or not, it is a good sight to see the team continue this trend during this year’s preseason as every member of the team’s offensive line and front seven have performed up to par.