As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Our X Factor for Sunday’s 2021 opener against the Buffalo Bills.
X Factor: OL Coach Adrian Klemm
My answer to this question, who the X Factor is versus Buffalo, has been in my head basically from the moment the schedule was fully released. It’s Adrian Klemm. And it’s not close. Klemm has as tall an order as anyone in this organization. A completely rebuilt offensive line, 100% different left to right compared to Week 1 of 2020, a new offensive coordinator, and oh yeah, his first year as “the guy” in the NFL O-line room. No longer an assistant, he’s the one everyone looks toward, pass or fail.
And he has as tough a task as any this week. Not because Buffalo is teeming with talent, though it’s definitely good, but because of how bad the Bills’ front seven has beat up Pittsburgh’s offensive line each of the last two years. In the disaster that was 2019, the Steelers were sacked four times and they averaged 3.6 YPC. Last year, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just once but the run game again faltered, averaging 2.8 YPC.
But the tape was worse than that. Sean McDermott, a Jim Johnson disciple (whose Eagles once sacked Roethlisberger eight times in a 2008 game) and Leslie Frazier have overwhelmed Pittsburgh with sound, overload blitz schemes in both meetings. We wrote about it extensively two years ago and concluded:
“That’s why they look as overwhelmed and downright terrible. Unprepared, which is a reflection of OL coach Shaun Sarrett, without the ability to adjust in-game. It’s the first time all season I’ve missed Mike Munchak.”
Things weren’t a whole lot better last season, running the same scheme to drop Roethlisberger in 2020.
Run game, pass pro, the Steelers’ offensive line was simply unprepared for what they were seeing. You can bet the Bills will stress test this group again. Does Klemm have more answers than what Shaun Sarrett had? After all, Klemm was on staff as the assistant for both meetings. So he shouldn’t be completely blameless either.
Regardless, Pittsburgh’s front must play better. This game and all season. If things go well this game, not perfect but better, it’ll be an awfully encouraging sign. If the same issues persist, it might be the start of a long season. And quick tenure for Klemm.