Whenever you click on the comment section of a Pittsburgh Steelers related post these days, you are almost guaranteed to find a number of comments asking the team to fix its offensive line. If it were only as easy as the comments suggest we really wouldn't have to have this conversation. But this is the real world unfortunately, and things like this will take time. As a former collegiate offensive lineman, turned collegiate offensive line coach, I’ll give my best shot at how I would attempt to get this unit back on the rails. Below are my best ideas at what the team can do here in the short term, and what they can do after the season to plug these issues.
Get Zach Banner healthy
First and foremost the Steelers need to get their best available unit on the field at once. Zach Banner hasn't been available to the Steelers early on in this season, but getting the road grader back in the lineup will help this team. At the very least it would also show the organization where they stand in terms of starting and backup tackle depth. Maybe this spot isn't an issue at all with Banner healthy, but maybe it’s worth than expected. Only way we will know is to get Banner onto the field.
The free agent well
This feels increasingly more unlikely as the weeks go on, but with so much available cap room to this team, it feels possible. Guys like Mitchell Schwartz and Russell Okung are still sitting there on the open market, and it’s always possible the Steelers dive back into the trade well, although they have already dealt a handful of picks. The Steelers just haven’t been getting it done on the field, and at some point they will have to add a body. If the hits on Ben Roethlisberger continue to pile up, adding an offensive lineman might become a necessity.
More zone pass blocking
The simplest way to make an offensive lineman’s life easier is to take away responsibilities from them. In most man blocking concept’s the lineman will have to first determine who their man is, then figure out whether or not a stunt or a blitz is coming their way and whether or not they need to switch their man responsibilities based on the protection that was called. To put it in simple terms, they must do a ton of thinking in not a lot of time. Zone pass blocking takes away most of the thinking as now the line will block as a collective unit rather than five individuals.
Each player is responsible for their call side gap and anyone who tries to rush the passer from said gap must be picked up. The more line slides that can be run equals less situations where the line has to think and can just play football. The line slide is your friend.
Lateral movement is your friend
In the run game, the Steelers (and really any team) can find success by attacking the rules of the defensive lineman. From pop-warner to the NFL one of the most well known rules for an edge rusher is to keep contain on a run play. By running outside zone runs and getting the offensive lineman to run down the line of scrimmage, you can create displacement, not by being more physical, but by forcing the defenders to play by their rules.
The Steelers seemingly don't have the guys to run gap, man, or counter techniques, but the zone (specifically stretch technique) is one that any line should find success, and one that can be built off of when establishing your running game.
Dial up more play action
This one will sound different than what you have probably heard play-by-play announcers talk about on Sundays. But the Steelers could utilize the pass to set up the run. By using more play action fakes eventually linebackers, and mid level defenders will start cheating the call. This would be done in hopes of limiting big plays and open receivers in the pass game. Once you’re able to slow the linebackers flow over the top of a defense more running lanes begin to open up. So a healthy dose of play action could give the run game a push in the right direction.
Draft, Draft, Draft
The Steelers 2022 offseason will come down to two key positions. Do we address the offensive line or do we addressed the quarterback (or can we do both). The Steelers obviously only have one first round pick, and it doesn't project to be a very high one. Not to mention this draft doesn't exactly have the high end quarterbacks we have gotten used to seeing. Because of this the Steeler may want to re-sign Ben Roethlisberger, sign another free agent, or try to swing a trade at quarterback.
The Steelers first round pick could be used on a player like Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum. Linderbaum may be one of the best center prospects to come out of school in some time. Drafting the 2021 All-American and Rimington finalist could allow the Steelers to bump Kendrick Green back out to his more natural guard position and let him run wild. The right guard spot should also be available with Trai Turner’s deal expiring next spring.
And much like the last time the Steelers drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (2012, David DeCastro) they should probably follow it up with another pick along the offensive line. However, they need to hit on that pick unlike the one they made nine years ago (Mike Adams).
Find the right veteran
This Steelers offensive line is young, and I mean really young. I think to a degree Trai Turner probably isn't the right guy to lead this group either. The Steelers need to go out and find a guy that can start for a handful more years and help transition this young group into the next era of Steelers football. Think about all the offensive linemen lost over the last year, from David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva, and Matt Feiler the Steelers didn't just turn the page they started a whole new book. The group needs some veteran leadership, and they should do that on the open market.
But what do you think? Can the Steelers offensive line show improvement this year? If they can't will all of their problems be able to get fixed during the next offseason? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.