It’s never easy after the Pittsburgh Steelers lose. Those who live and die by this team will tell you what is wrong and who’s to blame after every snap, possession, quarter, half and full-game of each week’s NFL drama mill: The QB needs to go, start the rookie, blame the offensive coordinator, blame the head coach, no TJ Watt, no pass rush, no deep passes, no 3rd down conversions, no stopping long drives by the opponent, etc.
You name it, it’s been mentioned or used to document why this team is 1-2 after two very lackluster performances. All the same cast of characters. All the usual suspects.
Except the offensive line.
You know, the one that gave up sacks last year like a traffic cop hands out citations on the 1st of the month. The one that couldn’t make lanes for running. The one that allowed pass rushes to chase Ben Roethlisberger around and wreck havoc on his scalp.
After 12 quarters of play, if there has been any surprise that is a head scratcher, it’s the play of this much maligned unit that coming into the season was as big a concern as the play of the quarterback spot.
Time To Throw The Ball
In just three games, the line has allowed just 5 sacks this season, compared to 8 over the same span last season. Mitch Trubisky, who wasn’t great on Thursday, had what appeared to be his best game so far. It’s not saying much, but his pass release time of 2.4 seconds per attempt is among the fastest in the league. Some may argue he’s getting the ball out faster than he should, but with less pressure being brought on him by better up front blocking, Trubisky was able to go downfield more against the Cleveland Browns more than any opponent so far.
Maybe that has something to do with the offensive players throwing Matt Canada under the bus after the Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots where the lack of deep middle shots were non-existent. Given the talent this team has at wideout and the fact that Canada would have presumably had more say in the plays with Roethlisberger gone, it would open up the play selection.
It didn’t. And anger over it spilled out across Steeler Nation.
And rightfully so. Meanwhile, the offensive line quietly has put together three games of fairly solid play.
Back to giving Trubisky time to throw. It was a big surprise to me that the line on Thursday only allowed the Browns just 4 pressures on him all night long, that according to Pro Football Focus. The Browns were missing Jadeveon Clowney, so that played a role, but still, Myles Garrett and that defense had 6 sacks in its first two games. Dan Moore drew a tough assignment, but held Garrett in check all night.
The Browns knew the passing game was suspect. They loaded the box to stop Najee Harris from running and were fully aware that the Steelers had taken zero shots downfield in their first two contests. Knowing all of that, they still only managed just one sack and were limited in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback, the most vulnerable position this team has right now, allowing Trubisky to go 9 for his first 10 passing attempts.
Steelers Color rush, rush, rush
Even the running attack has had its share of flare ups. Despite the Browns planning to stop the run Thursday, the Steelers managed to gain 104 yards on just 22 attempts, with 76 of those yards coming in the first half. One that center Mason Cole said was critical to start the game:
“We knew it was going to be a physical game, and we knew we had to run the ball, too,” Cole offered. “Knowing their style of play, how they like to possess the football, we were trying to play that game with them. In the first half, we were successful at it.”
What really slowed the running game down in the 2nd half was the Steelers inability to sustain drives. After their initial 2nd half possession that covered 10 plays, the Steelers went 3 and out on three consecutive drives, before registering a late field goal. By then, it was too late.
Big Improvement over Steelers 2021 line play is clear
Players like Chukwuma Okorafor have shown vast improvement over last year as well. It goes without saying that if this offense can get some things figured out with play selection and execution, when you add to the mix the skill positions have in the cabinet, there is hope. But the odds on it all coming together by next week are long. There are core issues that still exist and Mike Tomlin doesn’t have a magic wand to wish them away. Hard decisions are going to have to be made. Is he capable of doing them is the question. If not, the losing and disappointment will continue for Steelers fans.
What changes will need to happen between now and the next game against the New York Jets? Sound off below!