Even before the ball is snapped, Najee Harris can tell the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is in a better place than they were a season ago. A group with more experience, more continuity, and guys willing and able to take charge of what they see in front of them. It helps that the team added two veterans in James Daniels and Mason Cole, both signed early on in free agency.
Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Harris spoke to the front five’s development and specifically, how Cole and Daniels are taking charge.
“There’s a lot of things last year that I guess we didn’t do because we didn’t have a lot of experience,” he said in audio shared by 93.7 The Fan. “Both of the two guys…communicating with them, calling out Mikes, calling out whenever the defense shifts and re-Mikeing it. Re-Mikeing it when defense shifts line has been a new thing. A new defense they’re re-Mikeing it, making all calls, the protections. So that’s a lot of new things that we didn’t do last year because of less experience that they bring to the table.”
“Re-Mikeing” it refers to the line, often the center, making line calls and identifying the “MIKE” linebacker that provides the framework for how the line will protect. Their slide and keys and reads are based off that MIKE call, which doesn’t always have to be a middle linebacker but often is.
With such an inexperienced and new group, the Steelers’ line apparently wasn’t up to making those pre-snap reads and calls. Or when they did, as Ben Roethlisberger suggested the team asked Kendrick Green to do, they were woefully out of their element and struggled to block things up as a result. It’s no wonder the unit played as poorly as they did.
A great (re: terrible) example of that came in the Minnesota Vikings loss. Minnesota ran the same blitz over and over again and Pittsburgh failed to adjust, letting linebackers and safeties blitz free time and time again. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times, hit a bunch more, and the O-line crumbled in a loud road environment. If you can stomach through a reminder of what went wrong, we did a video breakdown here.
The fact Pittsburgh’s line wasn’t able to make basic line calls and struggled to adjust to defensive line shifts and rotations exemplifies why this unit, and by extension, this offense, had so many issues in 2021. Adding talented and veteran players like Daniels and Cole offers the ability to win the pre-snap battle. To bring in players who have made those calls before and don’t have the wide-eyed stare of a rookie. Combined, Cole and Daniels have 87 career starts. The rest of the Steelers’ projected line, Dan Moore Jr., Kevin Dotson, and Chukwuma Okorafor have just 64 starts.
All of that combined and the Steelers’ offensive line should be in a better place in 2022. How much better is the question. This unit was among the league worst in 2020 and 2021. They’ll need to be at least average in 2022 for this offense to have a fighting chance.