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No momentum for Steelers' offensive line

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' offensive line blocks for Ben Roethlisberger against the Redskins on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

LANDOVER, Md. — Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had nothing but good things to say about the Steelers' offensive line. He's confident it will stand tall when the regular season begins next month.

For now, the wall that shields Roethlisberger from oncoming defensive linemen has a crack or two. It might be hard to evaluate its performance after two preseason games, but it's clear the offensive line remains a work in progress as it enters Saturday's third exhibition game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field.

The line, anchored by Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, didn't get a passing grade against the Washington Redskins on Monday at FedEx Field in a 24-13 setback that puts them 0-2 in the preseason.

The Redskins owned the trenches. They constantly harassed Roethlisberger and backup Bruce Gradkowski. With the exception of a couple of big runs by halfback Jonathan Dwyer, the ground game marked time.

“I'm not going to identify people. I'm just saying we collectively got to be better than we were tonight,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the offensive line's performance.

The Steelers finished with 95 yards rushing — one more than it did in losing to the New York Giants in the preseason opener. The Steelers allowed four sacks, including two by the starters.

“We need to work on not killing ourselves with penalties,” tackle Mike Adams said. “We'll see where we are when we get in the lab and watch the film.

“We did a good job of messing up on our own. They didn't do anything special. No doubt, we've got to execute better.”

In four series with Roethlisberger under center, the offense mustered three points.

After completing 5 of 6 passes — with the lone misfire being an interception return for a touchdown — Roethlisberger said at halftime that it was matter of the offense failing to execute. But execution didn't appear to be as much of a problem as it was overmatched physically by the Redskins' aggressive defensive front.

Pouncey lost the man-on-man battle with Washington nose tackle Barry Cofield. Cofield recovered a fumble, sacked Roethlisberger and forced an errant pass that linebacker Ryan Kerrigan returned 22 yards for a touchdown to give the Redskins a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.

“We did a bad job with penalties,” Pouncey said. “We turned the ball over some, so we have to do a better job of being ready to play next week.

“They didn't do anything. It was all us. We had too many penalties and too many turnovers.”

The Steelers' starting five were solid in run blocking in the preseason opener against the Giants as the running backs churned out 81 yards in the first half. This time, the Steelers rushed for 73, including a 23-yard run by Dwyer.

“We did a great job in the run game,” Pouncey said. “We got a lot of positive yards.”

Tomlin wanted to see what rookie running back Le'Veon Bell could do with the starting unit. Bell, though, couldn't find much room to run before leaving the game with a foot injury after averaging 2.9 yards on four attempts.

The offensive line allowed two sacks. And the running backs were tossed for a loss only once.

However, Roethlisberger and Gradkowski were never settled in a pocket that collapsed on every other pass attempt.

More troublesome for offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. was the inordinate number of first-half penalties and blown blocking assignments. The line was penalized four times in the first 30 minutes, including two holding penalties and an illegal use of hands call.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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