2020 South Side Questions: Does Shaun Sarrett Or Ben Roethlisberger Deserve More Credit For Pass Protection?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.

Even training camp looked much different from the norm, and a big part of that was the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. Their first football game of the year was to be the opener against the New York Giants.

As the season progresses, however, there will be a number of questions that arise on a daily basis, and we will do our best to try to raise attention to them as they come along, in an effort to both point them out and to create discussion

Questions like, how will the players who are in new positions this year going to perform? Will the rookies be able to contribute significantly? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Who deserves more credit for the Steelers’ success in pass protection—Shaun Sarrett or Ben Roethlisberger?

After Mike Munchak left last year, the prospect of Shaun Sarrett taking over as offensive line coach was met with mixed reactions. While many saw him as Munchak’s protégé, he was also somebody who had never formally held the position before, and would now be tasked with keeping the franchise upright.

Those on the skeptical side found themselves vindicated last year when the running game could go nowhere and the pass protection seemed to take a step back. Then again, both the quarterback and running back positions were a carousel of personnel.

Through the first eight weeks of the 2020 season, the Steelers have been among the best teams in the league in terms of pass protection, and has done that with a new starter at right tackle (technically two), and with a starter moving to a different position, while an All-Pro missed a few weeks and was largely replaced with a mid-round rookie. They have held up rather well, much better, by perception, than last year.

But then there’s the Roethlisberger factor, who early in his career greater contributed to his high sack total but for the past half-decade or more has trended in the opposite direction. With the quickest time-to-throw in the NFL, his blockers don’t have to hold their blocks as long as basically anybody else in the league. And he’s been around long enough to know how he wants his protection as well.

Let’s be clear here: both Roethlisberger and the coaching job of Sarrett, and of course the talent of the players, all contribute to making this a very effective pass protection unit. If forced to choose which was the larger factor to the success this season, however, which has been a greater influence: Sarrett’s coaching, or Roethlisberger’s experience?

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