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Will Kevin Dotson’s eventual return be the turning point for the Steelers’ offensive line?

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense needs a spark, will Kevin Dotson be that spark when he returns?

Denver Broncos v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ ground game has been struggling for well over a year, and it doesn’t look like it is going to get any better anytime soon. But could some form of help be on the way? If you are looking for a player who could potentially spark the running game it would be in the form of Kevin Dotson returning to the lineup off Injured Reserve (IR) after suffering a high ankle sprain during the team’s Week 10 tie with the Detroit Lions.

Before going any further and diving into the numbers, it should be pointed out how the Steelers have yet to have a player come off IR and start a game immediately. The players who have all had their 21-day clock started would be:

OT Zach Banner
RB Anthony McFarland
DT Carlos Davis
OL J.C. Hassenauer
OG Kevin Dotson

All of the above players, prior to Dotson, were not even activated to the team’s 53-man roster once their clock began. The one main difference, as Dave Schofield pointed out to me, of those aforementioned players is how Dotson the only starter of the group. Could he be the exception to the rule and be in the lineup this Sunday vs. the Kansas City Chiefs?

It isn’t impossible, and the Steelers could use him.

This got me wondering just how Dotson has impacted the Steelers’ running game when he was in the lineup. I did some digging into the numbers, and this is what I found.

With Dotson in the lineup (Weeks 1-9) the Steelers averaged 90 yards per game on the ground, and 3.4 yards per carry.

Without Dotson in the lineup (Weeks 11-5) the Steelers averaged just 66.4 yards pre game on the ground, and 3.28 yards per carry.

(I excluded the Week 10 game vs. the Lions considering Dotson got injured near the midway point of the contest.)

While 90 yards per game is nothing to write home about, it is a significant upgrade over what the line has done without Dotson available. In Dotson’s stead has been a revolving door of offensive linemen. J.C. Hassenauer got the first crack at the job, only to find his way on IR with a pectoral injury. B.J. Finney got a try, only to find his way to IR with a back injury. Joe Haeg also got an opportunity before finding his way on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. The last player to take a stab at the guard position was John Leglue. Leglue didn’t play horrible, but you are talking about a stop-gap type player, not someone with the potential of Dotson.

The Steelers’ line was starting to find their groove before Dotson’s injury. Leading up to Week 10 the running game had a 4-game streak where they rushed for over 100 yards total, and were averaging 3.75 yards per clip during that stretch. While it seems unlikely the offense would be able to pick up right where they left off if/when Dotson returns, you have to assume even an 80% healthy Dotson is better than the other players who tried their hand at the starting job.

Whether Dotson returns to the lineup is anyone’s guess, but if the Steelers can get him back, it would boost the team’s running game down the stretch, and that can’t be understated when it comes to the importance of winning games and making a postseason push.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.