There is nothing more important in today’s NFL than the passing game, and in many ways, the one aspect nearly equal in weight to the actual play of the quarterback position is the quality of the pass protection. While the Pittsburgh Steelers have no choice but to be optimistic about the former, some projections of the latter are less encouraging.
Based on computations put together by Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, for example, the Steelers are projected to have the 30th-ranked offensive line in pass protection in 2022 when measured based on passing expected points added (PEPA).
Offensive line rankings in pass protection after the draft (current 5 projected started listed on ourlads) pic.twitter.com/Hgx5bXj5B8
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) May 6, 2022
Don’t ask me exactly how he puts this all together—if you’re really that interested, he links to several earlier tweets explaining certain facets of the equation in the comments to the original tweet, such as how rookies are measured—but suffice it to say that things could look better. Only the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks are projected to have a worse PEPA figure based on offensive line play this year.
As you can see, it’s also weighted by position, and the Steelers actually do manage quite well at the guard position, though it’s also not entirely clear whom they project at guard. James Daniels is surely one, but is the other Mason Cole? Is it Kevin Dotson? Is it Kendrick Green? Regardless, their guard score of 78 is third-highest of all teams.
And their center score of 17 is the second-lowest of all teams, above only the Minnesota Vikings, whom, ironically, Cole spent a bit of time starting for last season, both at center and then later guard. This score could be based on a projection of Green returning to the starting lineup; however, Cole is also regarded as a better run blocker than pass protector.
I’m inclined to assume this is based on Green projected to start at center, though, and Baldwin acknowledges that among the shortcomings in his methodology is that there isn’t a way to meaningfully account for the growth of young players, especially second- and third-year players.
As for the tackle position, it’s, well, not very good either. Actually, it’s also the second-worst positional score in the league at 39, with only the Seahawks’ tackle score of 35 reflecting a worse projection. Offensive tackle is one of the few areas of the roster the team left largely untouched this offseason.
The project to return both of their starters from last season, with second-year Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle and Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle.
But considering Okorafor was supposed to start at left tackle and Zach Banner was supposed to start at left tackle just weeks before the 2021 regular season started, and the fact that Moore is going into just his second season, one can choose to be at least somewhat optimistic here and hope for pedestrian play from this all-important position—now with more mobile quarterbacks in the backfield.