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Steelers vs. Jaguars: Evaluating the O-Line

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Allright, time to break down how the various units fared on Saturday night, beginning with the Big Uglies up front.

The big news all week concerning the line was the necessity to insert thrid string tackle Trai Essex into the lineup due to injuries to Marvel Smith and Max Starks. Essex did a very respectable job. I don't have the sack numbers by player on me, but I believe Essex gave up either 0 or at worst just 1 sack Saturday night. John Madden, who probably pays more attention to the play in the trenches than anywhere else on the field, repeatedly called out Essex for the fine work he was doing.

The problem once again, as has been the case for much of the season, was in the middle. Seah Mahan just can't handle the big, huge DT's in the NFL. The pocket collapsed on Big Ben all night. Ben does a good job stepping up when there's pressure from the edge, but when the pocket gets blown up in his face, there's not much he can do. 6 more sacks given up, putting us over 50 for the season. You just can't win Super Bowls giving up that many sacks.

So, what to do? Do we re-sign Starks? There's been talk of resigning Faneca as well, with the caveat that he moves to center:

Faneca was asked about the prospect of finishing his career as the Steelers' next great center.

"I'd be open to listening," he said. "I'm not saying I would do that or be against it. I'd definitely be open-minded and talk about it with whomever."

Say we did re-sign Starks and Faneca. That would give us Faneca at center, Simmons at guard, Colon, Starks, and M. Smith at tackle, and Chris K. at the other guard. That's assuming we don't draft anybody. Do you like this scenario, or would you rather us let Faneca go, re-sign Starks, and pick up one or two guys in the early rounds of the draft that will hopefully be able to play immediately next year. It's a lot to sift through, because this offense, if it can protect the QB, is in prime position to do some prolific things in the next two years while Hines is still with us and productive. Drafting and inserting one or two rookies on the line might make for a long season during what I think should be a huge year potentially for the offense.

Here's the deal though: this line was architected with the running game in mind. Faneca, Smith, and Simmons are all much better in the running game than they are in pass protection. We're a throwing football team now, period, even if we do churn out 1,000 yard seasons from our RB. We need to keep this in mind as we reconstruct our offensive line.

As for Saturday night, I'd give the line a B-/C+. No real running game to speak of, though that's somewhat expected with Najeh in there against an incredible run stopping team. And though we gave up 6 sacks, at least one was on Big Ben. And we threw it 42 times. That's asking a lot of your line.

This will be a huge storyline on BTSC this offseason. Stay tuned.