Will The Addition Of Mike Munchak Result In Ben Roethlisberger Being Sacked Less?

Now that Mike Munchak has been named the new offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, most of the excitement associated with his hiring revolves around what he might bring to the running game. While that excitement is certainly justified, perhaps we should look at what Munchak brings to the table in the form of potential pass protection.

Dating back to 2004, Steelers quarterbacks have been sacked a total of 428 times, which averages out to nearly 43 times a season. Ben Roethlisberger has been on the receiving end of 386 of those sacks and that wear and tear needs to start slowing down if he expects to play five more seasons.

During his 14 seasons as the offensive line coach in Tennessee, quarterbacks playing behind Munchak’s offensive lines were sacked a total of 396 times for an average of 28.3 a season. In fact, there were only two seasons during that span of 14 that Tennessee quarterbacks were sacked more than 40 times.

Now, the late Steve McNair was certainly not afraid to tuck it and run during his time in Tennessee and he was of course succeeded by Vince Young, who like his predecessor, wasn’t afraid to take off with the football. During those 14 seasons, McNair and Young combined to start 172 of the 224 regular season games played and combined they ran 836 times for 4,612 yards. That’s an average of 4.9 times and 26.8 yards per start. During his entire Steelers career, Roethlisberger is credited with having rushed 345 times for 1,135 yards in his 142 regular season starts.

Last season, Roethlisberger was sacked a total of 43 times but 32 of them came in the first eight games. At that point he was well on his way to shattering the Steelers single-season record for times sacked. Once the running game and no-huddle offense came alive in the final 8 games, the sacks went way down and if you throw out the four times he was sacked in the ninth game, he was only sacked seven times over the course of the final seven games of the season. That’s outstanding.

Now, did the running game really come alive during those final eight games, or did the offense just run better and more during that span? As a team, the offense averaged 20.5 rushes for 3.6 yards per rush in the first eight games of the season. In the second half of the season, however, they averaged 27.1 rushes per game for an average of 3.76 yards per rush. So while they weren’t necessarily gaining that many more yards per rush, they were running an average of 6.6 more times a game. That’s 6.6 less chances a game that Roethlisberger risked getting sacked.

Let’s dig deeper into those numbers.

In the first eight games of the season the Steelers offense had a total of 35 runs that went for zero or negative yardage when you subtract out the kneel downs. In the second half of the season they had 44 runs that went for zero or negative yardage if you subtract the botched field goal run and kneel downs. That doesn’t look too good on paper so we need to dig a little deeper to find the success.

Now let’s look at successful run rates based on down and yards needed for a first down or touchdown. In the first eight games of the season, the Steelers offense had a successful run rate of 41.5%, while in the second eight games that rate jumped up to 45.6%. To give you some perspective, the Philadelphia Eagles led the league in yards per rush with 5.1 yards per carry and they had roughly a 51.3% successful run rate. (Successful runs are based on a runner gaining 40% of the yards needed on 1st down, 60% of yards needed on 2nd down and 100% of yards needed on both 3rd and 4th down)

Now, just because the Eagles had a great run success rate, didn’t mean that it led to less sacks. In fact, their quarterbacks were sacked a total of 46 times and their 9.06% sack rate as a team was worse than Roethlisberger’s 7.34%. Like Roethlisberger, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles now has the reputation of holding on to the ball too long. Roethlisberger is seemingly getting better in that phase of his game and it really showed in the second half of the season.

So how do we tie all of this back to Munchak? I don’t think that we should expect his addition to lead to Roethlisberger being sacked less than 30 times next season, but the fact that he should help the running game should result in more runs per game and a better run success rate. Ben is still going to be Ben at times, but a better running game should result in him being sacked less than 40 times next season.

While none of the study in this post is conclusive or evidence of future success, being excited about what Munchak brings to the run game, in my opinion, should also include excitement about Roethlisberger possibly being on his back less in 2014.

In a future post, I will take a look at the successful run rates that the Tennessee running backs had while Munchak was the offensive line coach there to see if we can find any proof that he may indeed help the Steelers running game, which in turn should lead us to believe that Roethlisberger will be sacked less.

  • cp72

    Great read. Like the 1st down success rate stat. If you’re getting 4-6 yards on first down you keep the defense honest. Early in the season when our run game was abysmal it certainly hurt our passing game. If you are 2 and 7 or more that allows defenses to be more aggressive.

    I think you will see marked improvement across all 5 positions. Munchak has a lot of young talent to work with and if he is half as good as people claim he is our offensive line may be heading for upper echelon status.

  • steeltown

    Nice article

  • steeltown

    I love the fact that Munchak is acquiring a lot of young minds and bodies with this OLine, hell I think Foster is the oldest and he just turned 28yrs.. of course if C.Wallace or Whimper are retained then they would assume the elder role, but you get my point.

  • srdan

    Great article. This type of article takes a long time to write with a lot of research and thought. We appreciate it! I love write ups with stats to back it up.


    One of the aspects of the Munchak hiring that excites me, is the implementation of the outside zone stretch running game. This is a real strength of Bells game, and with the return of Pouncey, the emergence of Beachum & Decastro, and a good battle between Gilbert & Adams at RT (hopefully one emerges) thats a lot of athletic guys that will thrive in that system.

  • dkoy85

    I’m really enjoying the thought of how potent the offense could be next year. Before this signing I was all for drafting D in almost every round, but now after visualizing the O my ideal draft day situation would be (probably won’t be very popular and I’m sure my mind will change) to trade back and pick up a top 3 tight end, and since the WR class is deep with talent, snagging a top 10 WR in round 2 or 3(preferably 3). Add the weapons and let the O carry the D for a change- even though I’d like it more the other way around. Now we have a very young O.

    Add some pieces to the D in the draft this year and next and a couple high character defensive free agents next year when the cap has some wiggle room then all of a sudden we’re young on D and one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Oh and a major Superbowl contender.

  • Rick M

    Now that he’s been officially hired, a wonderful hire by Tomlin and the team. I didn’t think Tomlin would hire him, but I was wrong. Hopefully the O-line will be a become a strength in 2014 with Mike as their teacher and mentor. Great stuff!

  • Bradys_Dad

    In the event …… could Munchak also function as the OC ? As a HC he certainly should have honed some OC skills right ? Just curious.

  • Scott Cromer

    Even though the NFL has become a passing league, it would be foolish to underestimate how much of an asset that a solid running game can be for an offense, especially one with a high-quality franchise QB. A Navy buddy of mine used to say that the reason that Dan Marino never won a Superbowl is that he never had a solid running game to support him. If you look at the first five years of Ben’s career, he had that run support in the form of the Bus and later Willie Parker. Over the last couple of years, the running game has steadily declined until Leveon Bell stepped onto the field in late September and started to show that the Steelers running game is headed in the right direction.

    I believe that Mike Munchak will only add to that improvement because he brings two vital elements to the table. First, he was an all-Pro/Hall of Fame guard for the Oilers, so he knows the in’s and out’s of playing on the line. Second, he has been running the outside zone blocking scheme for years in Tennessee, which helped to produce a 2,000 yard rushing season for Chris Johnson a few years back. I am especially curious to see how much more coach Munchak will be able to get out of Foster and DeCastro, since the guard position is so near and dear to him.

  • David Edward

    Agree that Muchak should be able to help them improve their run blocking, but if we’re talking about how he will help Ben get sacked less, the answer is simple (almost sounds too obvious)…the OL has to become better pass blockers. I observed too many instances of poor technique from the OL (particularly from the OTs). We know that’s what led to Adams’ benching, Gilbert has always been guilty of reverting back to sloppy technique, and with Beachum being undersized his technique needs to be rock solid to win the battles. I think this is where Munchak will have the greatest impact.

    The no-huddle went a long way in helping reduce the sacks because the opposing D couldn’t sub in fresh pass rushers, thus slowing them down and making them easier to block. Also, Ben seemed to adjust to getting the ball out quicker instead of holding on to it and trying to make a play happen.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Thanks Dave I think the area that Munchak can help most is with the play action game. If were running the ball effectively say around the 4.0 yrd or better average it should mean our play action game should become more of a weapon. Ben has shown he’s pretty good at carrying out the play action fakes so hopefully that will open up our play action passing games keeping defenses off balance and resulting in more splash plays and less sacks.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    If it IS to improve the running game; odds are Mike Adams will be starting on either side or we draft a left tackle, let one or two young offensive tackles go. My humbled opinion that’s the best off-season we can do is: selling Lamarr Woodley and Marcus Gilbert together for a 2nd round. What?! Hear me out, Gilbert is entering his contract year and Woodley too, both likely will be too costly (already are by Woodley alone) so we get the market value for both, since both were 2nd round picks I can’t see why any team won’t go for it. I strongly believe a team like Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Raiders would love the trade and possibly go for it.

    Of course I dream… oh I dream big.

  • dkoy85

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the FO get a little agressive one way or the other in the offseason. Only problem is whichever team takes them will then have to sign them next offseason. Be cool to trade for a solid #1 corner.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Forget a #1 cornerback in FA, let alone a trade for one. That’s the price of having a franchise QB on second contract. 49ers and Seahawks both are loading up the rosters but WAIT until they hit both quarterbacks’ second contracts. We can’t afford this at all but however good news might come up, if we decide to extend Big Ben next season to lesser amount then that’s a superb news. I want a 2nd because it’d allow us to snatch both Desir and Attoachu/other pass-rusher.

    Picking an early 2nd is exactly where you want to be, we might have trade assets for it but will Colbert and the FO give it a green light? No clue.

  • joed32

    Nothing wrong with dreaming but who would want Woodley’s cap hit when he’s injured so often.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Playoff contenders. “One piece away”. With his “one-year remaining” contract, you’d be surprised how many teams are willingly to swallow. Packers… 49ers… broncos… heck Titans with Whisenhunt there. Woodley’d be the most experienced defensive player over there. I figured woodley alone are worth maybe.. 3rd, Gilbert- 4th. However both together, a 2nd possibly.

  • sean mcmartin

    Munch is a great hire for the Steelers. Interesting fact is Velasco was cut by the titans under Munch. Saying they wanted to go in a different direction. I think Munch will do a good evaluation of the O-line and it might be ugly when he says half of them don’t have the talent to start. If so, time to find new scouts.

  • David Edward

    As nice as it is to dream, that’s about all it is. Woodley is currently under contract through 2016, and no one will trade for his fat $8M, $8.5M, and $9M base salaries due over these next three years. Interested teams will just wait for him to be designated a June 1 cut, which is likely, and negotiate their own deal with him. Gilbert is in his contract year, but the only way a team would trade for him is if an injury occurs to their starting RT in camp and they have no viable replacement.

  • Steve

    I remember reading somewhere the Velasco cut was to get him at a cheaper price. Then the Steelers scouped him up.

  • Rikki Giaro

    How can any Steelers fan like the zone blocking scheme??????? That IS what cost Pouncey his season, there can be no debate about that. The Steelers line is SOFT, has been for years now, that scheme is for sissies. We aren’t man enough to block a guy so TAKE OUT HIS KNEES ,am I the only one that sees the danger in that ? I’ll be a fan of Munchack if he gets these boys in the weight room and turns them into MEN.

  • CrazyTerry

    It’s not the sacking where Munchak can help the most. That part goes to the QB, Offensive Coordinator for making sure the QB knows how to recognize formations and make proper adjustments which looks like something the offense got better at late last year. Still, I welcome Munchak teaching this OL how to recognize stunts better. This is where he can work with Haley to come up with a smart OL.
    Really, it’s the running game that has to get better. It was so bad last year. Even 3rd and short was not a sure thing.

  • CrazyTerry

    Whimper exceeded our expectations, but the dude must go. He just turned out not to be as horrible as we expected.

  • alex

    cant wait to see our young OL grow with Munch around, and with the loss of Kirby, he can help smooth that loss…

  • steeltown

    Yes but at the moment he’s the only depth player that can play OG and OT, we all know they love versatility