Earlier this week we praised the offensive line for its run blocking against the highly touted front of the Cincinnati Bengals, but this week it faces the tall task of the Denver Broncos' pass rush.
The Broncos lead the league with 44 sacks on the season and is the premier part of their team's defense that is now the league's top defense in points allowed per game. We take a look at three of the team's four sacks last week against Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders.
The Broncos use twists and stunts with almost every pass rush in order to confuse the offensive line and create better opportunities for their best pass rushers. Their best being Von Miller, who has ten sacks on the season, as he continues his stellar career. Here notice how the right tackle focuses on the wrong pass rusher because of the chaos that Denver brings into the box for Carr's protectors to account for; it allows Miller a clear path to Carr for an easy sack. Disciplined offensive line play will be crucial to protecting Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday.
Here's a twist that sends Miller to the interior fo the line along with another pass rusher who gets picked up and opens a lane for Miller to chase Carr. What opened that lane was Derek Wolfe's attack to the outside of the play. The guard follows Wolfe the whole way instead of passing off Wolfe to the tackle. His vacated space is right where Miller attacks, which chases Carr to the outside where Wolfe is waiting to bring him down.
Miller is not the team's only pass rusher that causes problems, as we see here with Shaquile Barrett, who has 5.5 sacks on the season. Barrett is lined up so far outside that the left tackle has a big responsibility of containing him within a large patch of space and that creates problems. The interior lineman on Barrett's side opens up a path for Barrett to rush the inside shoulder of the tackle and get a solid shot at Carr for a sack.
The Steelers' offensive line has a tall task of facing a pass rush that has tortured quarterbacks all season long. But the task of facing a top-tier NFL defense is not unfamiliar to this unit, as Jeff Hartman breaks down in his article. After all, one of the biggest reasons which the Broncos' defense took the top rank of points allowed in the NFL was because the Steelers' scored 33 points against last week's top defense in the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals, who were supposed to completely dismantle the Steelers' offense.
Mike Munchak has done an exceptional job coaching this unit that includes three undrafted players in Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace and Alejandro Villanueva, the last two being replacements this year due to the Steelers' long list of injuries. Villanueva has improved each week he has started for Pittsburgh and has made a case for the Steelers to be able to pass on signing Kelvin Beachum in the offseason.
Meanwhile, the other side of the offensive line has two studs in David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert. DeCastro's mean streak punishes defenders and sets the tone as he pulls down the line of scrimmage and intimidates defenders who might like to throw in cheap shots. Gilbert gave up his first sack of the season just last week against the Bengals and might have one of the biggest matchups of the game as he goes up against Von Miller.
It should be a fun one to watch, but if the offensive line contains the Broncos' pass rush, Roethlisberger may be able to lead the offense to de-crowning another top-ranked defense from the top of the stats board.