The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line did not get off to a good start last season. They struggled in both run blocking and pass protection, resulting in poor yards per carry totals for the backs and far too many sacks for Ben Roethlisberger. Losing All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey eight snaps into the season didn’t help matters any.
One of the main issues that the line was struggling with early in the season was in their pre-snap reads and diagnosing where the rush was going to come from, which would result in uncontested pressure or only token resistance.
This is something that the line slowly picked up on as the season progressed, as should be no surprise, given the great amount of change it underwent. Kelvin Beachum replaced Mike Adams at left tackle, Fernando Velasco had to settle down at center, and David DeCastro was still highly inexperienced.
Even Ramon Foster had more experience at right guard than at left guard. It took time for everything to come together. And that includes a shifting in offensive philosophy to include more no huddle action and quicker releases.
A byproduct of this season-long transformation is the fact that the Steelers offensive line became much better in their pre-snap reads and in preventing unblocked pressure. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, they became one of the best in the league.
According to their data, the Steelers gave up the third-fewest total unblocked pressures in the league at 36 in total. Only the Denver Broncos at 30 and the San Diego Chargers at 32 gave up less.
While they were only average to slightly above average in allowing those pressures to be converted into sacks (giving up five sacks), their total knockdown percentage—the frequency with which unblocked pressure resulted in the quarterback on the ground—was fourth-best league-wide at 30.6 percent.
This no doubt has a lot to do with the quarterback that just so happens to be under center in Pittsburgh, as Roethlisberger is perhaps the most difficult to bring down. He fights through and avoids more sure sacks than just about any other quarterback in the league, even if his unwillingness to give up on a play results in other, unnecessary sacks and knockdowns.
Speaking of Roethlisberger, he was among the best quarterbacks in the league when dealing with unblocked pressure, ranking third in quarterback rating behind only Colin Kaepernick and Philip Rivers.
In 36 dropbacks under unblocked pressure, Roethlisberger was sacked six times. He attempted 30 passes, completing 17 for 162 yards and two touchdowns, equaling a quarterback rating of 94.
This certainly bodes well if the offense is able to pick up where they left off last season. While the offense got off to a slow start, it really started to click after getting through some growing pains. The key to early success this season will certainly be getting the new and young receivers acclimated.