The hearts of coaches, players, and fans came to an immediate stop last Sunday night as running back Le'Veon Bell laid on the field in pain. The injury shouldn't be long-term, but the second-year running back has been ruled out for Saturday's Wild Card game.
With the football world in question of how Pittsburgh will be able to replace Bell against the Ravens, many have proposed that running backs Josh Harris, Ben Tate and Dri Archer will need to fill the void. But the group who needs to step up the most in Bell's absence?
The Steelers offensive line.
Bell is known for his rushing and receiving abilities, but he is also touted as one of the best pass blocking backs in the league. Without Bell, the Steelers face the Ravens who come to Heinz field with linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs coming off the edge of the Baltimore defense. Dumervil finished third in the league with 17.0 sacks and Suggs finished ninth with 12.0 sacks. Not to mention, linebacker Pernell McPhee finished with 7.5 sacks on the season.
Needless to say, the Steelers will have their hands full facing the Baltimore defense, second in the league with 49 sacks on the season.
The Steelers' offensive line had perhaps its best day ever in pass protection in Week 8 vs. the Colts.
In the past, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would have come in running for his life with patchwork offensive lines by this point in the season. But the days of patchwork, below average offensive lines are over.
The Steelers finally have the offensive line to combat a daunting pass rush such as the Ravens.
In 2014, Roethlisberger was sacked only 33 times, which is the second lowest of his 10 year career. Only in 2005, when the Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl, teams sacked Roethlisberger less.
Seen as perhaps the Steelers biggest offseason addition, offensive line coach Mike Munchak has truly worked his magic on a group that has been a big weakness of the Steelers for most of Roethlisberger's career. Combined with play calling to further protect the quarterback, the Steelers have a group that can stifle the Baltimore pass rush.
The last time the Steelers and Ravens met this season, the Ravens sacked Roethlisberger three times. The Steelers look to hold Baltimore to even less than that Saturday and with their recent success protecting the quarterback, the Steelers very well could shutdown the Ravens pass rush.
During the Steelers current four-game win streak, teams have only sacked Roethlisberger twice. Both games, the Cincinnati Bengals didn't get to the Steelers passer, and NFL sack leader linebacker Justin Houston only sacked Roethlisberger once in Week 16.
The Steelers have shown the ability to protect Roethlisberger and as long as the offensive line can keep him upright, the Steelers offense could be in for another big day against a Ravens defense that is ranked 23rd in the league against the pass.