The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent a lot of high draft picks, and money, into their offensive line. Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro were both first round draft picks, while Marcus Gilbert was a second round selection. Alejandro Villanueva and Ramon Foster were both undrafted, but complete a line which is living up to the hype.
A lot of that hype can be credited to offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Since the Hall of Famer has joined the Steelers’ coaching staff, the line has turned into a tremendous unit and maximized their potential.
ESPN recently ranked the Top 5 offensive lines, and the Bottom 5 units, and the Steelers found themselves at the No. 2 position. However, before going into the rankings, you should first know the criteria:
To measure the best and worst lines of 2016, we averaged each team's rank in five categories:
1. Adjusted line yards (ALY): A Football Outsiders' metric that splits value between the blocking and the back based on the length of the run, adjusted for situation and opponent.
2. Stuffed rate: How often running backs are stuffed for a loss or no gain, the most blocking-dependent part of ALY.
3. Adjusted sack rate (ASR): Sacks (and intentional groundings) per pass play, adjusted for situation and opponent.
4. Pressure rate: How often the quarterback is under duress, including sacks and hurries, according to ESPN Stats & Information charting.
5. Penalties: per game by offensive linemen (including declined and offsetting).
Now for the Top 5:
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
“This line is certainly better known than the Saints' unit, anchored by 2014 All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey and 2015 All-Pro right guard David DeCastro. Pittsburgh ranks in the top six for all of the metrics we're measuring here except for penalties. Our game charting over the past couple of years has ranked DeCastro and left guard Ramon Foster in the top 10 for snaps per blown block. And left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has improved in his second season as the starting left tackle.”
I would imagine most experts would have the same 5 teams in a number of different rankings if you asked them to place them 1-5; however, the Steelers deserve to be at the top of the list.
Yes, the team has a Hall of Fame quarterback. Yes, they have the best wide receiver in the NFL. Yes, Pittsburgh has the best all-around running back in the league, but not of those things happen without the offensive line.
Currently, the Steelers offensive line is 2nd in the NFL in protecting the quarterback. Their 16 sacks allowed, only trailing the Raiders with 13, is a tremendous statistic, and sign of improvement for this unit which was denied continuity in 2015. Throughout the team’s 5-game winning streak they have also paved the way as run blockers opening up lanes for Le’Veon Bell to rush for over 230 yards against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14, and for Bell to grind out 93 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15.
This unit is deserving of the praise, and it isn’t an over-reaction to suggest this team will go as far as the offensive line will carry them. They have a stiff test ahead of the with the Baltimore Ravens coming to Heinz Field in Week 16 and the AFC North crown on the line.