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The Truth About The Play Of The Steelers Offensive Line Sunday

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Ok, I have no choice. I have to debunk an egregious myth I've seen bounced around since the final second ticked off the clock in our 21-14 loss to the New York Football Giants.

Before I do so though, let me just give you a taste of my thoughts about the future for this particular team under these particular circumstances: we're in trouble. I don't have any injury reports on hand, but if the defense is without McFadden and Clark, we have a razor thin margin of error, if any at all considering the issues we may still yet see on offense reintegrating Willie Parker into the offense. I mention those things because I don't want to be accused of being ridiculously optimistic when all data suggests that we should enjoy being 3 games over .500 while it lasts.

I'll expound on all my thoughts soon enough, but I first feel obliged to shed light on a sentiment that I've seen that is seemingly being accepted as true by the peanut gallery.

Our Offensive Line Played Like Crap Today, Almost As Bad As The Eagles Game - FALSE 

Seriously, I'm as disappointed as the lowest of fans out there, but to say the offensive line was 'swiss cheese' or 'embarassing' or whatever you want to say about their play today is just flat out bogus. WRONG. I know you watched the game. Think more critically and thoughtfully. Think about the whole game rather than what you rememebered last - which was in fact miserable play from the O-Line.

But harken back to the rest of the game, for God's sake.

Our opening drive had all the right ingredients, and it all looked so impressive because of the early statement made by our line.  Short stuff in the seam to Heath Miller that was quick hitting, and an early commitment to the run with Mewelde Moore. The design by Bruce was intended to account for potentially poor play from our line, but somewhat shockingly to me, the line was creating really nice holes in the running game and giving Ben VERY comfortable pockets to operate from, even just on 3 step drops.  Willie Colon seems to be getting the brunt of the criticism. He definitely had his struggles today in the fourth quarter, and he was of course the guilty party behind the penalty that negated what would have been our knockout blow to the Giants late in the 3rd quarter (ahem, don't forget that either, we HAD this game, but gave it away), but he still played very respectably for the first 3+ quarters of the game. I know I sure enjoyed seeing a number of 4-7 yard runs from Moore where there were legitimate holes between the tackles created by our offensive line. And lest you forget, almost all our successful runs were called to the right behind Stapleton and Colon, including that long TD run by Moore which was sprung by excellent blocks by Colon, Stapleton, Heath (I believe) and Hines. Stapleton by the way continues to play well on the right side, Hartwig's playing noticeably better football than he was earlier in the year, and Max Starks had more good moments than bad ones today.  

Seriously guys. The 4th quarter was as awful as it comes. Offensive line included. But are you really forgetting all the time the line gave Roethlisbeger for most of that game??? That's what hack columnists and Troy Aikman are supposed to tell you - things like Kendall Simmons is the best we got. Things aren't ever so black and white, not even in football. And for most of this game, our offensive line matched the Giants stout defense punch for punch. It was missing personnel and poor QB play that did us in. Almost none of it had to do with the big guys up front, and certainly not until the very end of the game.

At halftime, we had given up officially two sacks, but really it was just one. The other was on a play where Ben had literally ALL day to throw and he refused to. Sorry, just can't pin that on the line. However, look at the four plays following the sack, which mind you, didn't take place till late in the 2nd quarter:

2-16-PIT18 (2:49) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short left to H.Miller to PIT 37 for 19 yards (J.Butler; A.Pierce).

1-10-PIT37 (2:11) M.Moore up the middle to PIT 46 for 9 yards (M.Johnson; J.Butler)

. 2-1-PIT46 (2:00) M.Moore up the middle to NYG 44 for 10 yards (C.Webster).

1-10-NYG44 (1:53) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short left to H.Ward to NYG 38 for 6 yards (A.Ross).

I've got more coming, but for as dark as the days may be ahead of us due to the injury problems we're facing on both sides of the ball - particuarly defense now - today wasn't that bad, and the problems had VERY LITTLE to do with the offensive line for the vast majority of the game. And for that matter, they didn't have as much to do with Bruce Arians as previous games have.

This was about:

1) Ben giving away a cheap opportunity that led to points with his first pick  and generally playing as poorly as we've seen him play since 2006

2) Nate Washington bobbling a boll after being hit over the middle in Giants territory - a play that Santonio Holmes doesn't screw up, btw. More on Holme's absence this week because really this was perhaps the single biggest thing that plagued us. Let me just put it this way for now. We tried to move Nate into the slot to assume some of the over the middle stuff that Holmes has been so remarkably successful at (absorbing big hits, not getting skittish in traffic, etc), but that wasn't working and we abandoned it after the pick to move Nate back outside where he's more lethal. So instead of Holmes, not only did we not have to deal with downgrading to Nate at his position, we had to downgrade all the way to Limas Sweed. And don't forget those quick slants were SO IMPORTANT to us being able to be successful when the Giants brought the house with the blitz - which they did time and again once it was clear that Ben and Limas weren't even close to being on the same page. 

The Giants wisely took Heath out of the game, made sure Mewelde Moore wasn't a viable outlet option, shaded a LB over towards Hines and forced Limas Sweed to be a playmaker for us. He did ok, but that's not something we need to be relying on against the world champs 

3) Killing ourselves with penalties on back-to-back drives in the third quarter when we were up 14-9. A TD or even a FG there and the game's totally different. More on this, but for all the doom and gloom, we avoid some of those dumb mistakes in that mid 3rd quarter and we win that game and are talking about how great we are.

4) Injurys. More on this later, but the defense started to fall apart when Ryan Clarke went down. Of course, losing Greg Warren was costly and though Mitch Berger fared admirably all things considered, I wonder if him being dinged up caused Coach Tomlin to go for it on 4th and 2 from about the 34 yard line rather than letting our defense make them work for an 80+ yard drive. Regardless, I don't think this reason caused us to lose today, but I do think that it's going to be a major factor moving forward, which we'll address soon enough.

For now though, PLEASE PLEASE be pissed off about blowing this game without just looking for the easy victim to blame based on some late sacks when the Giants didn't have to do anything but bring 8 guys knowing Pittsburgh was by that point so out of sync to burn them deep. The offensive line was creating incredible opportunities for Big Ben for most of the game to find an open man. He either held on to it too long for no good reason, or the Giants secondary did an amazing job (much easier to do w/o Holmes), or some combination of the two. 2 if not 3 of their sacks were squarely on Roethlisberger, and it wasn't until the last couple of drives of the game until we saw things completely unravel. Go look it up, our offense was doing just fine - flawed and out of rhythm for a number of reasons, but not beacuse of poor play by the line - until the start of the 4th quarter when we were facing a 2nd a 6 from the Giants 35 and still up 5 points.

Lots to be upset and gloomy about. The overall play of the offensive line was not one of them. Not even close really. Think harder and with more diversity. There's plenty else to mull over in disappointment.