I don’t know if it can be put in such simple terms, but it seems at times that NFL teams can take for granted what they have until they start to lose it. The Pittsburgh Steelers were criticized of such during the late 2000s as their quality offensive line eroded and they were left with a shambles that took years to rectify.
Eventually they did, but it took a lot of major investments, both in high draft picks and in the coaching staff. They were able to turn a weakness into a major strength, forming one of the top offensive lines in the entire league for the better part of the 2010s.
As the decade came to a close, though, we entered the twilight years for the line, which certainly seems to be drawing to an end. Marcus Gilbert was traded in 2019. Ramon Foster retired in 2020. It’s still possible that Maurkice Pouncey retires this year, while Alejandro Villanueva is likely to leave in free agency.
How much the team will be left with remains to be seen, but should feature the likes of David DeCastro, Chukwuma Okorafor, and Kevin Dotson, likely with some reinforcements both through free agency and the draft, and players like Zach Banner and Matt Feiler could potentially be re-signed.
Even that, however, would be treading water, and that water is neither in the deep end or the shallow end. The Steelers have become a very average offensive line in net, but with a major deficiency in run blocking. Pro Football Focus agreed, ranking them 17th in their end-of-season rankings. Ben Linsey writes:
The Steelers’ offensive line has been an interesting case this season. Going purely off pressure rate allowed, they’ve been the best pass-protecting unit in the NFL, with Ben Roethlisberger being pressured on a league-low 21% of his dropbacks this season. The important footnote there is that Roethlisberger is also getting rid of the football quicker than any quarterback we’ve charted since 2012 (2.17 seconds on average). The PFF grades are built to factor that in, however, and Pittsburgh’s offensive line still finished the regular season ranked fourth in pass-blocking grade.
A 31st-ranked run-blocking unit is what drops them to 17th on this list. The only starting offensive lineman with a run-blocking grade north of 60.0 is Alejandro Villanueva at 60.9, and that shows in their rushing success on the year. No team averaged fewer yards per run play (3.6) than the Steelers did this year. It’s a group that could use an injection of youth and talent this offseason.
He certainly speaks for the room in that regard, and the talent also has to include both the new position coach and whoever is going to scheme up the runs and call the plays (the latter being new head coach Matt Canada).
While nobody is going to win a championship running the ball anymore without a passing game, you still need to have a running game, and arguably nobody was worse at it than the Steelers last year—a travesty to their history, some would say.