The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for answers to an age old question. Is it rational to strengthen two positions if you are weakening one position in the process? If it ain't broke, why are you trying to fix it? While there isn't a simple answer to that question, you can achieve a clearer perspective by taking a step back and getting a better picture of the Steelers coaching staff's rational.
Pittsburgh Steelers LG Ramon Foster is currently in the league's concussion protocol. Hopefully he will be cleared to return to practice any day now, but when that actually happens is anybody's guess. B.J. Finney replaced Foster against the Indianapolis Colts, and was able to contribute in a desperately needed Steelers victory.
It is a byproduct of superior scouting and player development to have a player the caliber of Finney backing up the three interior positions of your offensive line. One player backing up three positions is optimal, but what happens when that player is forced to fill in or start for a extended period of time? Especially when your remaining interior backup is already your starting RT, and performing at a high level I might add.
That would be Matt Feiler.
That is the scenario facing the Steelers heading into their matchup this Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams at Heinz Field. The Ram's defense is led by Yinzer success story Aaron Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, who should have no problem finding motivation playing against his hometown team. The challenge facing the Steelers line is real, and the Steelers are leaving no stone unturned in their preparation.
It has been reported that the Steelers have made some changes along the offensive line this week in practice, which probably comes as a shock to many people.
The Steelers have allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL this season. While a large portion of that success can be attributed to the dink and dunk offense being utilized this season due to the season ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger, it shouldn't minimize the overall performance of the unit. The Steelers have enjoyed incredible continuity along their offensive line for years, and have trotted out one of the top pass blocking units in the process. That is the good news.
The not so good news is the lack of physicality in the running game. The Steelers linemen are more athletic than powerful, more off road recreational vehicle than dump truck. The physical makeup of the line promotes superior pass protection, but creates inferior push in the running game. Especially in obvious running situations, like short yardage or goal line.
Apparently the Steelers coaching staff are considering changing things up in hopes of improving overall performance. Matt Feiler has been lining up at LG this week at practice, with second year backup Chukwuma 'Chuks' Okorafor taking over at RT. This could be a precautionary measure due to Foster's current unavailability, or it could be a precursor of things to come. The moves make a lot of sense either way.
Nobody wants to see Foster rush back from injury, only to be injured again and miss additional time. This is a real possibility with concussions, seemingly occurring with increased regularity after sustaining those initial few. There is no need to rush Foster back considering the talent level of the Steelers backup linemen. This is also an excellent opportunity to sneak a peak into the near future.
The moves made across the offensive line this week potentially accomplishes three things.
First, it would return Finney to the position where he presently possesses the most value to the organization, as the aforementioned backup at all interior line positions. While Finney has proven to have starter potential, I believe the Steelers consider his position versatility a greater value.
Secondly, replacing Finney with Feiler would provide additional girth and power at one of the guard spots. This could positively impact the running game, especially in short yardage situations. Feiler is no stranger to playing guard, having logged meaningful minutes there in both college and the NFL. Last season Feiler's fellow linemen identified him as the strongest member of the group. Sounds like a power upgrade to me.
Finally, starting Okorafor at RT would allow him to log valuable minutes at the position, while providing the organization with additional information needed to decide if he is capable of becoming a starting tackle in the near future. The Steelers apparently thought so when they invested a third round pick on him prior to last season. The athleticism is unmistakable, but questions still remain. This would be a great opportunity for Okorafor to confirm the Steelers faith in him is justified.
It sure wouldn't hurt the Steelers feelings to see a injection of youth in their offensive line. The team is getting younger across the board, why should the O-line be any different?