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Steelers' offensive line struggling with pass

Steelers/NFL Videos

Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011

When Ben Roethlisberger looks around at his play-making receivers, his 1,000-yard running back and his pass-catching tight end, he knows that the sky is the limit for the Steelers' offense.

If the first two preseason games are any indication, the sky isn't going to be Roethlisberger's limit — that just may be the offensive line's ability to keep him upright.

While the still work-in-progress offensive line performed well during Thursday's 24-14 preseason win over Philadelphia by running for 144 yards, the pass protection left much to be desired.

And Roethlisberger has been taking the brunt of it, getting hit nearly 50 percent of the time he's dropped back to pass in two preseason games.

"We have been working on (pass protection) a lot," Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey said. "We missed a lot during OTAs and minicamp, but that can't be an excuse. Guys who have been around the whole offense have to go out there and practice every day and get better."

It's hard to imagine they can get much worse when it comes to pass protection.

In 13 pass plays in two series behind the first-team offensive line and against an Eagles defense playing without two starting linebackers, Roethlisberger was hurried six times, hit five times and sacked once.

The week before against the Redskins, Roethlisberger dropped back four times in his only series and was hit three times, including a sack.

Although all of the hits on Roethlisberger weren't knockout shots, hits tend to eventually lead to injuries, especially with Roethlisberger.

Last year, Roethlisberger broke his foot in the first half against Buffalo during one of the 12 times he was hit and suffered a broken nose with a slap to the face by Baltimore's Haloti Ngata the following week.

In all, Roethlisberger was sacked 34 times and hit 63 other times in 12 games last year behind a more experienced offensive line than he has this year.

"Pass blocking is more of a maturity thing than anything else," right tackle Willie Colon said. "You have to feel your way out. It takes time. We have some young guys that are starting to see how this game is played."

The Steelers released veteran starting tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams and have been without starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu throughout the preseason with a knee injury.

That has led the coaching staff to work different line combinations early in the preseason. Roethlisberger has played behind four line combinations, including three different left guards and left tackles.

Add that to no offseason practice time because of the lockout, and the pass protection hasn't quite caught up to the run blocking.

"As an offensive line as a unit, it is always easier to come off the ball and smash somebody than it is to play with technique," guard/tackle Tony Hills said. "The pass protection will come."

Pass protection is much more complicated than run blocking. In pass protection, technique and recognition are imperative.

"It takes time," Colon said. "With us, the guys in this unit are built to run the ball. We like running the ball and getting after the guys. Passing wise, you have to know where the blitz is coming from, you have to be able to communicate."

Said Pouncey:?"Our pass game is difficult. You have to recognize a lot of things in the pass game. In the run game, you just have to be physical. You just have to move guys up out of there. There isn't much thinking to it."




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