Of the major story-lines discussed in the two weeks prior to Sunday's game, none seemed more important than whether Maurkice Pouncey's high ankle sprain would be healed enough to allow the All Pro rookie to play in Super Bowl XLV. Steeler fans were cautiously optimistic that the standard of expectation would not change should Doug Legursky be forced to start at center instead of the injured Pouncey. But let's face it, when we all envisioned how Super Bowl XLV might unfold, particularly after the official announcement that Pouncey was out for Sunday's game against the Packers, I don't think anybody would have guessed that the offensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers would have the best performance amongst all the positional units on the team -- offense, defense and special teams included.
Think about it though. A case could definitely be made for the Steelers wide receivers, but that's about it. The running backs certainly were making a case for the distinction until Rashard Mendenhall fumbled in the fourth quarter. The defensive line and the linebackers didn't have their best day at the office, and obviously the secondary struggled to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense.
Legursky more than held his own at center. With the help of Chris Kemoeatu and Ramon Foster, the interior of the line kept B.J. Raji in check all evening long. The monster nose tackle out of Boston College had zero impact on the game statistically, and he didn't even have much success collapsing the pocket so that his teammates could easily get after Ben Roethlisberger. On the outside, the Steelers offensive tackles fared just as well. Jonathan Scott really elevated his play against the Jets and Packers after getting punished repeatedly by Terrell Suggs. Flozell Adams valiantly returned from a first-quarter injury to play in the second half. When Adams was out, Trei Essex did a serviceable job in his place.
That's not to say that the line dominated for four quarters. No, Dom Capers defense definitely got after Ben Roethlisberger on a number of plays. None was bigger than the first quarter play when Roethlisberger's arm was hit as he threw the ball, leading to a lame duck throw that Nick Collins returned 37 yards for a 14-0 lead. I'm actually interested in seeing a replay of that one to get a better sense of whether Big Ben held on to the ball too long for the particular play that was called, or if there was a breakdown in the blocking assignments that. I just haven't had a chance yet to see what unfolded on the costly play. For the most part though, Roethlisberger had ample time to survey the field, and on multiple plays Big Ben had all day in the pocket to wait for something to materialize in the Packers' secondary. By game's end, the Packers only managed to beat the Steelers offensive line for one sack of Roethlisberger.
You really can't give first-year offensive line coach Sean Kugler enough credit for the work he's done this year. We have all the time in the world to discuss that and other topics concerning the offensive line -- namely, what the future might hold for specific players and the line as a whole. We'll certainly have those conversations in the near future once reality has fully set in that the long NFL offseason is upon us.