clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Steelers vs. Titans: Ben Roethlisberger needs young offensive line to excel in pass protection

The Steelers have invested a lot of time and money in finding a younger and more talented offensive line than the one that often failed to protect franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first half of his successful career. Now, at age 31, it would be nice for the veteran quarterback to play out the second half of his career, pain free and with a consistently clean passing pocket.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Matthew Stockman

Did you see Peyton Manning during the NFL Kickoff on Thursday night? Seven touchdown passes is pretty awesome, even from someone as legendary as Manning, but it was the type of performance fitting a quarterback of his stature.

It's the kind of performance Ben Roethlisberger should be having on a more consistent basis at this point in his career. Obviously, Roethlisberger is no slouch in the quarterback department, regularly ranking respectably in the discussions involving Manning and the half dozen other "elite" passers in the NFL.

And when it comes to playoff and championship success, Roethlisberger (10-4 in the postseason--including 2-1 in Super Bowls) has a far more impressive resume than Manning and many of those same quarterbacks he's often placed behind the the rankings.

If Roethlisberger were to retire tomorrow, he'd already have the portfolio (he's also 97-43 as a starter) to make a strong case for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

However, despite his impressive regular season record, postseason success and more than respectable career stats, it's hard not to believe that so many more yards and points have been left out on the field during Roethlisberger's first nine seasons in the league.

And I believe this is where the offensive line has failed him. For all his faults, Roethlisberger has always been a pretty stand-up guy when it comes to his teammates. And that's especially true when it comes to the guys who have protected him on Sunday afternoons--whether it's been warranted or not.

How many times have we witnessed the men up front get dominated, roughed up and confused by opposing defenders on their way to putting a big hit on Roethlisberger? And how many times have we winced along with No. 7 as he struggled to get to his feet and limp back to the huddle?

Far too many times for my taste.

Sure, you could blame the fact that Roethlisberger has often tried to do too much over the years when a play breaks down--"Throw the damn ball away!"--but make no mistake about it, the biggest reason for Roethlisberger's aches and pains throughout his career has to do with a less than talented and properly equipped offensive line than it has to do with his gunslinger mentality.

There are only so many times you can ask your franchise quarterback to throw the football away.

On the career sacked list, Roethlisberger comes in at number 23 all-time. And in terms of active quarterbacks, only Matt Hasselbeck can appreciate the annual amount of hits.

But when the position of offensive line isn't made a top priority for many years (Pittsburgh didn't draft an offensive lineman higher than the third round from 2003-2009), you wind up with a mediocre crew, consisting of notorious names such as Jonathan Scott, Darnell Stapleton and Justin Hartwig.

No disrespect to those guys and their co-workers who were given the huge task of protecting the Steelers' franchise in years gone by, but they just didn't have the talent. However, opponents like Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are extremely talented, and this made for many long and bloody Sundays for Roethlisberger and the offense.

Pittsburgh consistently ranked in the middle of the pack or lower in scoring, each of the past five seasons. This, despite having a franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl receivers--including the best deep threat in the NFL--a 1000 yard rusher and a top-tier tight end in Heath Miller.

Again, you could blame Roethlisberger's style and Bruce Arians, who kind of encouraged it during his time as OC, but the common denominator over the years has been the talent-level along the line.

Fortunately, the tide has turned in that regard, thanks to the Steelers using two first round picks and two second round picks on offensive linemen in recent years.

Now, on paper, at least, the talent level has improved immensely, and it has even resulted in some on-field accolades, as center Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers first round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, has made three straight Pro Bowls since coming into the league.

It appears that the young line is still experiencing growing pains, as the unit struggled in pass protection in the preseason. But the silver-lining was that guard David DeCastro, the team's top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, graded highest among all Steelers linemen this summer, according to Pro Football Focus.

The jury's still out on DeCastro, and the two second round tackles, Marcus Gilbert (2011) and Mike Adams (2012), but the legacy of the offensive line as a whole (don't forget UDFA Ramon Foster) will be determined, not by how well the young studs perform in the zone blocking scheme during running plays, but by how clean they keep Roethlisberger's pocket during passing plays.

You can say what you want about Roethlisberger's unorthodox style of play, but he has more than enough talent to lead an explosive offensive attack.

Winning games 17-14 is nice, but it's becoming more and more obvious that 49-27 (the final score of the Broncos/Ravens season-opener) is where today's NFL is at.

At this point in his career, Roethlisberger should be flourishing, and he shouldn't need Todd Haley, his new offensive coordinator, to devise a philosophy of short passes and a sound running game to protect him from getting hurt. He has achieved the kind of status where a clean pocket should be demanded and expected, more often than not.

Roethlisberger is the Steelers best weapon, and it's his talents that will determine how far the team goes in 2013 and beyond.

As our Hombre points out in this fine piece, the Steelers face many challenges this season, but in my opinion, getting a young and talented offensive line to gel may be up near the top of the list.

The ownership has invested the money. The front office, scouting department and coaching staff have invested the time in player evaluations and development.

Now it's time to see it come to fruition on the football field.

More from Behind the Steel Curtain: