The O-Line — The true key to the Steelers’ success (Mike Pelaia's Column Oct. 24)


Ben Roethlisberger. Antonio Brown. Le’Veon Bell. JuJu Smith-Schuster. James Conner. Vance McDonald. Cam Heyward. T.J. Watt. The list often goes on before you get to the names of guys like Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva.
Yet those last five names very well might be the most important five on the roster.
In my opinion, they are the true keys to the Steelers’ success.
They are the ones who have allowed Conner to run the ball for an average of 4.4 yards per carry through the first six games. They are proving they make the offense go ‘round and without them playing at their finest, the offense just may not click.
I don’t see it any other way.

Pouncey and DeCastro are all-world offensive linemen, Villanueva is a Pro Bowl player and the other two are very good. Together, they are one cohesive unit. Perhaps the best unit in the league.
Roethlisberger is no stranger to this concept. From 2004 to 2008, Roethlisberger was sacked more times than any other quarterback in the league, with 192. From 2009 to 2013 he was sacked 194 times, also good for first in the league. Over the last four years, he’s been sacked just over 90 times, putting him at 21st. So, 396 sacks over the first 10 years of his career vs. a little over 90 the past four, as he’s aged. It’s very clear to me why he continues to play at a high level—the guys in front of him. The true keys to this team’s success.

They make the run game go (see Conner and Le’Veon Bell), but they also make the passing game go. Roethlisberger, Brown and Smith-Schuster can speak to that. Yet the line doesn’t get enough glory. They don’t get the praise they deserve by the fans.
Sure, everyone says they’re good. But people don’t realize just HOW good.
The Black and Gold currently average 28.5 points per game, good for seventh in the league. In 2017 they were fifth at 26.4, in 2016 they ranked 12th at 24.4, 2015 they ranked seventh at 25.4 and in 2014 they ranked seventh at 26.6.
So, since the sacks for Roethlisberger have been declining, the points per game have been no worse than 12th but usually right around seventh in the league, as they stand so far this year.
Yes, the playmakers like Brown, Bell and Big Ben make dazzling throws, amazing catches and flashy runs, but none of those are going to happen, at least not as frequently, without these five big men upfront.
It’s simple to overlook them. They don’t get the big commercials or the national headlines. They just go to work and do their jobs day in and day out. No drama. No off-field games. Just focus and football. That’s what these men do.
Come this Sunday, Oct. 28, they’ll need these five to come out and play at the top of their game. Whenever one of them goes down to injury, the team doesn’t quite function on all cylinders as they do when these guys are together. They’ll need them against Cleveland for round two this week and they’ll need them for the other nine games in the succeeding weeks.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in first place at the moment (barely), and that is in no small way attributed to the men upfront. When they beat the Browns this week, in my opinion, by a score of 35-23 at Heinz Field, they’ll stay in first place, and you’ll see the guys upfront leading the charge.
Appreciate the stars that this team has…the underappreciated ones, that is. Pouncey, DeCastro, Foster, Gilbert and Villanueva.
They are the true keys to the Steelers’ success.
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