Healthy O-Line Key Reason For Steelers’ Improved Play

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line may not be a strength of the team. But they certainly aren’t the liability many feared they’d be entering the season. The hidden reason for that unit’s improved play falls back on the old saying – the best ability is availability.

And this starting five sure has been available all season.

Pittsburgh’s the only team in the league to have the same five starting linemen for every game this season. Every time this offense has taken the field to start a game, the group left to right hasn’t changed. Dan Moore at left tackle, Kevin Dotson at left guard, Mason Cole at center, James Daniels at right guard, and Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle. Unless it’s the victory formation.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Mike Tomlin said it’s a key reason for their growth.

“Availability probably be the top of the list,” he said via the team’s YouTube channel. “A collective like that where cohesion is significant. Not having a lot of lack of availability within the collective is significant for collective growth.”

A remarkably healthy and durable team, the group has hardly missed any snaps. Cole has missed the biggest chunk of time, missing the second half of the team’s Week 11 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but he’s still played 96% of the offensive snaps this season. Like anyone still playing by Week 18, this group has battled through injuries. Cole’s ankle has bugged him all season while Okorafor seems to be dealing with some sort of upper body injury, perhaps a shoulder, that he often grabs at mid-game. But the group hasn’t had to rely on next-man-up.

As Tomlin noted, a healthy and cohesive offensive line is more important than any other position. They’re judged as a unit, not as individuals with a one-fail, all-fail mentality. Having experience, trust, and confidence with the guy next to you is critical.

“Verbal and non-verbal,” Tomlin said of the way linemen communicate. “With the offensive line in closed quarters, man, there’s verbal and non-verbal communications. There’s guy’s working in tandem and feeling one another.”

One area where continuity and experience becomes really beneficial is on stunt pickups. Defending twists and games run by defensive lineman and linebackers, forcing the offensive line to communicate and pass players off in sync. One example of that comes from Sunday night’s win over the Baltimore Ravens. Watch here as the interior offensive line seamlessly handles this twist, keeping the pocket clean for Kenny Pickett to drill George Pickens over the middle for this third down conversion.

Continuity helps in other ways, too. On double-teams, on combo blocks, players working together and needing to be on the same page with their steps and movement.

Combine a young group with good health and it’s little surprise to see the Steelers’ offensive line grow over the season. It’s also a credit to new offensive line coach Pat Meyer, progressing the group from a mess in the summer to a far better place now. They’ll carry that good play, and hopefully good health, over into 2023.

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