Many walked away from Thursday's 24-23 preseason-opening loss at Philadelphia with some concerns about the offensive line. While it's early yet, the group really having nowhere to go but up after a game that saw the Steelers surrender seven sacks on 19 pass attempts.
The absence of Steelers WR Mike Wallace is seen as a detriment to a team that currently does not have a proven field-stretching receiver in camp. The game showed at least a resistance (probably by design), or even an inability to get the ball deeper down the field. Prior to the game, we had run some general offensive line and Wallace-related questions by Football Outsiders assistant editor Danny Tuccitto, who kindly graced BTSC with some answers.
BTSC: If you were to place a percentage of blame on the Steelers' offensive line and QB Ben Roethlisberger for the amount of sacks they've taken in the last two years, what would that be (ex. 60 percent offensive line, 40 percent Roethlisberger)?
DT: In general, quarterbacks are usually more to blame for sacks than people realize. There's a reason why the same guys tend to show up atop the "times sacked" standings year after year. But we can get a tad more specific with the Steelers. In Football Outsiders Almanac 2012, we break down each team's sack total based on how many seconds they took to occur. The idea is that long sacks (i.e., ones that take 3.0 seconds or longer) are primarily the quarterback's fault, whereas short sacks (i.e., 2.5 seconds or faster). In 2010, Pittsburgh had 26 long sacks, but only nine short sacks. In 2011, it was 19 long vs. 17 short. So, it looks like Roethlisberger was far more to blame for sacks two years ago than he was last year. Now, I wouldn't be so exact as to say it was an improvement from 74.3% blame to 52.8% blame, but it's definitely a good sign even if those are just ballpark figures.
BTSC: Will the Steelers' sacks-allowed number decrease under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and if yes, will that be due to an improved offensive line, or Haley's scheme?
As with anything football, it'll probably be a combination of both. Haley uses a lot more max protection, and a lot fewer empty backfields than Bruce Arians did, so it stands to reason Roethlisberger should benefit from having more blockers keeping the pass rush at bay. Drafting David DeCastro and Mike Adams certainly has to help as well. Then, we can also throw in as a positive what I just said about Roethlisberger starting to get the ball out more quickly. All signs from Pittsburgh's offseason point to a team desperately trying to keep Ben alive long enough to finish out his contract. Fewer sacks in 2012 seems inevitable. If not, then this experiment was a failure, and Ben's future is in trouble.
BTSC: In your estimation, how much guaranteed money should Mike Wallace expect to get on the open market? How much do you feel the Steelers would be willing to give him now?
DT: I'm by no means an expert on the vagaries of NFL contracts, but if you want me to tell you where Wallace stands in the context of recently signed receivers, I can do that. Using our DYAR metric (explained here), Wallace was easily more valuable than Vincent Jackson last season. Same goes for Reggie Wayne, Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham, and on down the line. Wallace was more valuable than any receiver in the league two years ago.
The players on either side of Wallace's No. 4 DYAR ranking for 2011 seem like decent comparables: Wes Welker and Marques Colston. Welker was looking for $21 million in guarantees as part of a long-term contract with New England, but didn't get it. Colston got $19 million in his deal to re-sign with New Orleans. Then there's the complication that Welker's 31 years old, Colston's 29, and Wallace is only 26. I think what this boils down to is that Wallace should get more in guarantees than all of them -- exactly what his agent has been arguing -- but it's just never going to happen given that he plays in notoriously frugal Pittsburgh. From their perspective, if they can get his services for a cheap price this year, and then franchise him next year, why wouldn't they do it?