One of the most pleasant surprises for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season is the play of the offensive line. This is a group that was not projected to play well this season, especially after they performed poorly in the preseason. However, this youthful unit continues to exceed expectations, and has improved immensely since last season. During a Thursday press conference, right guard James Daniels delved into the improvement for this unit since August.
“People are really focusing on improving,” Daniels said according to Steelers.com. “But I remember back in preseason, someone asked me a question. I said we’re not worried about like peaking in August, because you play your best ball in August or you play your best ball in September, October, November, even the early part of December. If that’s when you play your best football, you’re not gonna be a very good offensive line. You’re not gonna be a very good team.”
Simply put, this is a new and improved unit since last season. After ranking in the bottom three in both pass and run block win rate according to ESPN in 2021, they now rank fifth in the former and 16th in the latter. According to PFF, they have the 16th best offensive line in the league, compared to 26th last season.
During the offseason, the team used free agency to Daniels to start at right guard, and Mason Cole to start at center. Aside from that, they are getting a full healthy season out of left guard Kevin Dotson, and seeing improvement from left tackle Dan Moore in his sophomore season. They also hired Pat Meyer to coach the offensive line, a move that has paid dividends.
The Steelers’ improvement in the trenches since August can be seen in a microcosm through Daniels. Daniels started off the preseason, in a word, atrocious. In the team’s first preseason game, he allowed an alarmingly high ten pressures, and did not look like he was worth the investment the team had put in him.
Daniels’ struggles were natural for an offensive lineman learning a new system in a new city. It did not take him long to adjust to Meyer’s system, and he is arguably the team’s best offensive lineman on the season.
The fact is, this was a new group of five that had to learn to play together. The group began building chemistry early and often. As Daniels said back in August, they were very close early on. While no one in this group was a blue-chip top-ten prospect with elite athletic measurables, they are playing well by virtue of chemistry and fundamentals, which speaks to the importance of chemistry for the success of an offensive line. Of course, all of them staying healthy certainly doesn’t hurt.
The last time the Steelers had a consistent group of offensive linemen was in the 2010s, with the likes of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, and others dressing up year in and year out. This yielded a consistently top tier offensive line, showcasing how far consistency can go. The Steelers’ current group is relatively youthful, as Cole and Dotson are the oldest at 26.