The Pittsburgh Steelers have not necessarily had ideal health along their offensive line this season—after all, Zach Banner, who entered the year as their starting right tackle after winning the job in training camp, was lost for the season in the opener—but to have three linemen go down in one game is rare.
In other words, it’s a good thing that the NFL altered the gameday active rule starting with the 2020 season that allows teams to dress an additional eighth lineman that counts as an extra helmet and doesn’t take away from other positions.
First, left guard Matt Feiler went down with a shoulder injury in the first half. He was initially ruled as questionable, but later ruled out. He was replaced by Kevin Dotson, who had started two games at right guard in place of David DeCastro due to injuries, but then he, too, suffered an injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Then at the end of the third quarter, the Steelers saw Chukwuma Okorafor go down with an injury. Since coming in, he had only missed one snap. That means J.C. Hassenauer at left guard and Jerald Hawkins at right tackle, with Dotson injured, and all of a sudden, the Steelers have no more linemen on the bench.
Fortunately, Okorafor was able to make it back into the game after missing a handful of plays, returning on the same drive in fact, which is big. It was a similar circumstance to his previous injury, in which he got rolled up, but only had to come off for one play.
Still, the situation was a reminder of just why the league expanded the active roster in the first place, and in particular created the new rule that allows teams to dress an additional lineman without it counting against their remaining allotment.
As of this writing, we do not know the status of either Feiler or Dotson. After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin said that both of them had left the game with pectoral injuries, but we don’t know the nature of the injury in either case.
A pectoral injury can end a season. Or it could cause a player to miss a few weeks, which was the case earlier this year with Stefen Wisniewski. If the Steelers are going to be without both of them, however, that is a seriously problem, even in the short term.
Hassenauer is an inexperienced player, an on top of that, he is a better center than guard. It’s not inconceivable that they might even ask Maurkice Pouncey to start at guard and let Hassenauer play center, something the Steelers did many years ago when Doug Legursky had to start a game.
Derwin Gray would be the next man up at guard otherwise, as their seventh lineman, with Hassenauer continuing to be the backup center. They do have three linemen on the practice squad, though all lean toward tackle rather than interior. We will probably see them swap some people around this week given the injuries.