The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is projected to be one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2021, if not the worst. That projection got much worse on Friday as ESPN Analytics guru Seth Walden projected the Steelers’ OL unit to finish second-worst in the league in pass block win rate.
Pass block win rate (PBWR) measures how often individual players and teams sustained their pass blocks for at least 2.5 seconds, using player tracking data from NFL Next Gen Stats. With a completely rebuilt line in Pittsburgh, that 2.5 seconds could be hard to achieve in protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger due to inexperience, capped talent and some overall injury concerns, not to mention the Steelers getting rid of the football quickly.
In Walden’s projections, the Steelers’ offensive line will finish the 2021 season with the 31st-ranked PBWR at 53%, narrowly edging out the New York Giants’ offensive line at 52%. It’s worth noting that the Cleveland Browns are projected to finish first in PBWR at 65%, which isn’t all that far removed from 53% when it’s boiled down.
Green Bay led the league in PBWR in 2020 with an astounding 74%, while the Steelers finished 28th at 51% meaning 2021 would be an improvement in the category.
Walden projects the Steelers’ starting five to consist of Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner and Zach Banner, which is chalk across the board at this point, though it remains to be seen if Green claims the starting job at center right away in camp.
“With four new starters and Okorafor projected to move to left tackle, it’s hard to imagine how this line is going to protect Ben Roethlisberger,” Walden writes. “Of the bottom five teams on this list, this is the only one without a first-rounder selected in either this year’s or last year’s draft. Turner actually finished third in PBWR among guards in 2018, but he has put together two poor seasons since.”
It’s fair to question how this group will protect Roethlisberger, since it’s relatively unknown. Though Dotson and Banner saw action at left guard and right tackle last season, it was in limited fashion as Dotson was an injury replacement and Banner was lost or the season late in the Week 1 game against the Giants. Add in the fact that Okorafor is moving from right tackle to left tackle, there’s quite a bit of projecting happening there.
Same with Green at center, a position he played in a limited capacity in college. Turner seems to be the only true “known” at this point, and that doesn’t even seem fair. Yes, Turner has played in nearly 100 career games, but he is coming off of a dreadful 2020 season marred by injury, which caused him to put some bad tape out there, leading to analysts being way down on the five-time Pro Bowler.
One would think with guys like Dotson and Turner inside that the Steelers would be projected to finish somewhere around 25th, but it’s much easier to be down on a group that doesn’t have a first round pick and lacks big-name talent across the board.
We’ll obviously see how things shake out in 2021 with this starting five, but I’m betting on this group being better than the analytics and the naked eye seem to be projecting leading up to the start of the season.