When the Pittsburgh Steelers went into Foxborough to play the New England Patriots, they knew the offense would have to play a near-perfect game for the team to have a chance of returning to Pittsburgh with a victory. The offense did a tremendous job of running the football, and it all started with the offensive line doing its job and executing their responsibilities. The line also helped keep Ben Roethlisberger upright in the passing game, allowing Roethlisberger time to make some big completions down the field.
In this edition of the Steelers Film Room, we will be highlighting the boys in the trenches and their ability to make the plays which showed just how dominant the Steelers offense can be in 2015.
In this play, you notice Roethlisberger checks to a run play after seeing the Patriots in a sub package which would make the draw play to DeAngelo Williams favorable. Most audibles at the line of scrimmage are essentially playing the odds, and reacting to what the defense gives you.
As noted in the GIF above, Ramon Foster and David DeCastro create a gaping hole for Williams but, as great as they were on this play, you also realize how much Maurkice Pouncey is missed in the lineup. Backup center Cody Wallace does his job by getting to the next level and taking on a linebacker, but the superior athleticism of Pouncey might have turned this successful run play into huge gain for the Steelers.
Nonetheless, the play was a success, got the team a first down and was one of many successful runs by Williams on Thursday night.
Want to watch something over and over again, and never get tired of it? Simply watch the Steelers run their bread-and-butter running play which has Heath Miller and DeCastro pulling to create a lane for Williams. This is the play the team ran repeatedly with Le'Veon Bell at tailback against the Bengals and Titans in 2015 and which simply couldn't be stopped. The team runs the play to perfection here against the Patriots, and it almost results in an easy touchdown.
As noted in the GIF, it's the trio of Miller, DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum that helps make this play possible. Williams follows his blocks, and cuts back with only one man to beat. If not for a great open-field tackle by Patriots' DB Devin McCourty, Williams walks into the endzone for a touchdown.
It's hard not to wonder what a back like Bell would have done with this play, but Williams proved he's more than capable of making plays on Thursday night. You can chalk up his not scoring to a great defensive play rather than a poor offensive play.
This play was set up all by one thing: the running game. Many fans constantly want to see a team turn to play-action but, without the threat of a running game, there's no reason to even think the team will be running the ball. As the Steelers were running the ball at ease against the Patriots, you can see safety Devin McCourty (No. 32) bite hard on the play-fake. By this simply gesture, the Patriots were thinking this play was going to Williams.
Once McCourty flashes down towards the line of scrimmage, safety Duron Harmon (No. 30) has to take more of a "centerfield" position in the defense. All of this stems from the play-action fake being successful. When Harmon turns his back to Antonio Brown's side of the field, Roethlisberger knows that, if Brown beats his man, it's an easy completion.
Unseen on this play is a beautiful double-move by Brown which burns Malcom Butler, giving Roethlisberger and AB an easy pitch-and-catch. This play was entirely set up by the offensive line providing Roethlisberger with more than enough time to make the throw by picking up the 4-man rush, and allowing the play to unfold. However, it was the success in the running game which ultimately made this play a success.
The offensive line of the Steelers was dominant against the Patriots and its success on Thursday isn't indicative of the final score. It should also be noted that all of this success was without their captain and leader Maurkice Pouncey. If the Steelers can get this kind of performance from their offensive line throughout the 2015 season, then the offense as a whole will be even more dominant than anticipated before the season began.
What you're seeing is the gelling of a unit that has played together for years now, combined with Mike Munchak's expert coaching. Controlling the line of scrimmage equates to success in the NFL, and the Steelers' offensive line looks poised to pave the way for the team's offense this season.