One week after making a sizable leap up the positional rankings for Pro Football Focus into the top 20, the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line went out and put together one of its best overall performances of the season on Christmas Eve against the Las Vegas Raiders.
While the rushing numbers weren’t quite there overall (just 106 rushing yards on 27 attempts, added by a late 21-yard jet sweep), the Steelers more than held up in pass protection against two high-end pass rushers from Las Vegas in Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby. In the 13-10 comeback win, the Steelers didn’t allow a sack on the night on more than 40 dropbacks with just seven pressures (five hurries, two hits), keeping rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett clean and upright throughout the night.
That showing from a pass protection standpoint saw the Steelers’ offensive line climb another spot in PFF’s rankings Wednesday morning, moving from No. 17 overall to No. 16 overall, passing the Denver Broncos in the process.
Against the Raiders, left tackle Dan More Jr. led the Steelers’ offensive line with a grade of 68.8 overall, while left guard Kevin Dotson turned in a 65.5 overall. Right guard James Daniels (62.5), right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (56.7) and center Mason Cole (54.0) rounded out the grades for the black and gold’s offensive line on the night.
“Free agent acquisition James Daniels is the only starter yet to surrender a sack,” PFF’s Sam Monson writes regarding the Steelers’ offensive line rankings coming off of Week 16. “Pittsburgh’s line has displayed remarkable consistency this season, with all five starters missing very little time.”
After struggling in training camp and the preseason, Daniels has been a steady force for the Steelers all season long after coming over from the Chicago Bears in free agency. So, too, has Mason Cole as the two veterans the Steelers signed in free agency have done exactly what the Steelers believed they would do when signed, which is provide leadership and stability for a young group that continues to gel.
Since the Week 9 bye week, the offensive line has gotten better and better in both the run game and in pass protection.
Entering Week 17, they’ll have a tough task once again taking on the Baltimore Ravens just three weeks after falling 16-14 to the AFC North rivals at Acrisure Stadium. Week 17’s matchup will be in primetime on Sunday Night Football, and will be rather difficult for the Steelers, who rushed for just 65 yards against the Ravens in the two-point loss and turned the football over three times.
“Baltimore’s run defense is allowing just 3.8 yards per attempt this season, the third-best mark in the league,” Monson writes.
For the Steelers to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and avoid the first losing season in the 16-year tenure of longtime head coach Mike Tomlin, they’ll need to be able to consistently run the football on Sunday night inside M&T Bank Stadium.