The offensive line might be the only position in the entirety of team sports that is entirely passive. Their sole job is to protect or benefit others, by preventing defenders from tackling and hitting their players, whether it is in pass protection or in the run game. Of course, blocking itself—especially run-blocking—is not entirely passive, but the task itself is.
Because of the nature of the job, they tend to have a different mentality from what many other position groups might, with their sole focus being on simply doing their job. The variables don’t matter, because the one thing that never changes is their assignment: block.
That is why you are likely to hear answers from many linemen saying that it doesn’t matter who is in the backfield, because they still have to block. That is what Matt Feiler said during his ‘exit meeting’ for the team’s website earlier this year.
We know that there’s a different guy back there, but our job stays the same. Our mentality has to say the same. So it doesn’t matter who’s back there, we’ve just got to protect him and show up every day.
Fellow lineman B.J. Finney had an ever so slightly more honest answer when talking about the quarterback position last season.
It was interesting to say the least, just being in the film room and see how they react, how they conducted themselves on the field, how they saw the field, and how they moved, their sets, all that kind of stuff, all the little, minute detail that helps us in blocking for them. It was interesting to go through it all.
It’s a lot different. Those guys get the ball out quicker, some guys get it out slower. With Ben, with so much experience that he’s got, having Mason and Duck, they’re good, but they don’t have the experience that Ben has, and you see Ben would shed a little light on them and help them out. I wouldn’t say that I’m proud of the season we had, but for what he had left after everything happened, I feel like we did what most people wouldn’t think we could do.
After Ben Roethlisberger left the game at halftime in Week Two, the remainder of the season would be quarterbacked by Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. Neither of them had ever, at that point, played a snap in the regular season. They may not have ever even blocked for Hodges before, who was the number four quarterback in the offseason.
It is somewhat ironic that we are now talking about Steelers linemen having to adjust to block for quarterbacks other than Roethlisberger, because he is a quarterback for whom linemen had to adjust, given his propensity to hold on to the football.
As that tendency has waned, and he has become a more traditional pocket passer, the line is now thrown two young kids, comparatively, who are not only still adjusting to the NFL, and to NFL defenses, but frankly still learning how to play quarterback to a certain extent.
It goes without saying that the loss of a franchise quarterback and the rotation of different players to fill in for him has a major impact on the wide receivers. After all, the quarterback is the one who has to throw them the ball. And subsequently with the passing game comes the effect on the running game, with defenses playing them differently.
It’s less obvious, and less talked about, how much such a change also affects the offensive line. We should keep that in mind when considering our evaluations of how the line as a whole or individually performed during the 2019 season, as Roethlisberger is set to return.