Steelers' pass protection, run blocking under microscope against Ravens
The running game is the worst since the Great Depression was lingering. Ben Roethlisberger is one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the league.
Even the pregame warm-ups are proving to be a dangerous place to venture for a Steelers offensive line that began falling apart eight plays into the season and has been in a state of disarray — and, seemingly, disrepair — for weeks.
And now it gets worse.
Up next are the Baltimore Ravens — the team the Steelers (1-4) love to hate — and two of the elite pass rushers in football in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. They are capable of making the best offensive lines look bad, so what might they do to an admittedly work-in-progress unit?
“They play the game as well as anybody in the league right now,” Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum said Wednesday.
And how is that Steelers offensive line playing?
“We know we've got a lot of work to do — a lot of work to do,” center Fernando Velasco said. “Our job is to keep working, keep working, keep staying with it.”
Flash back to the spring. Roethlisberger was predicting this might be the best offensive line to protect him in his 10 years in Pittsburgh. There was even talk the unit of Mike Adams-Ramon Foster-Maurkice Pouncey-David DeCastro-Marcus Gilbert might stay together for years.
It didn't last even one quarter, as Pouncey went down with a season-ending knee injury caused by a DeCastro block in the opener against Tennessee.
Last week, Adams — the 65th-ranked tackle by Pro Football Focus — went to the bench after a turnstile-like performance against the Minnesota Vikings in which he allowed 3 1⁄2 sacks.
No wonder ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said Roethlisberger has played behind the worst offensive lines of any Super Bowl winner.
But even after the newly acquired Levi Brown went down Sunday with a season-ending triceps injury while warming up, one of the NFL's lowest-ranked lines showed some stability — for the first time this season — during the 19-6 win over the New York Jets.
Roethlisberger was pressured on only nine of 35 dropbacks against the Jets — enough time to allow him to complete 23 of 30 passes for 264 yards.
“We didn't turn the ball over. We didn't have a lot of bad sacks. It definitely helped guys simmer down,” Foster said.
He partly credits new left tackle Beachum for that, saying, “He finished plays. He dogged guys out like he should. I was excited to play beside him.”
Now comes the challenge of the Ravens' defense and of somehow jump-starting a running game that is averaging only 61 yards a game, the second-worst average in franchise history. The Steelers have had only eight runs of 10 yards or more all season and only one of longer than 14 yards.
The only worse rushing season in Pittsburgh was 1935, when a team known then as the Pirates averaged 42.9 yards per game and 1.6 yards per carry (515 yards gained on 326 carries).
If these Steelers are to make something of what looked for weeks to be a lost season, this offensive line understands it needs to stabilize, allow far fewer sacks — Roethlisberger has gone down 18 times — and not require retooling on a near-weekly basis.
And start creating holes that don't last a sliver of a second for rookie Le'Veon Bell.
“The plan is to keep this group together and continue to grow together,” Foster said. “The key is everybody being on the same page and understanding what's in front of us. And not get into a panic about anything.”
Even if a state of panic has been the everyday state of this offensive line.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers kicker Boswell puts best foot forward
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin not grooming successor to RB Williams
- Rookie linebacker Chickillo adjusting to role with Steelers
- Steelers not giving up on wresting AFC North from Bengals
- Steelers notebook: Players get back to work after bye
- Steelers defense has taken to adjustments made by Butler
- Analysis: Despite injuries, Steelers well-positioned entering stretch run
- Steelers’ Nix embraces unassuming role
- Four downs: Spreading the wealth and still succeeding
- Assistant Munchak brings out best in Steelers offensive line
- Steelers notebook: Haley relishes challenge of mix-and-match offense