Alejandro Villanueva Wants To Stop Comparing This Year’s O-Line To Last Year’s

There have been mixed opinions to date about the performance of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line through five games. While Pro Football Focus ranked them ninth in the league as recently as earlier this week, others have been far harsher in their evaluation.

Yet one constant has been there, and that is that they are certainly not playing up to the level to which they were able to ascend by the end of the 2016 regular season, a run that they carried into a postseason run that saw them fall a game short of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010.

Among those who have identified the discrepancy between the unit’s performance to date in 2017 in comparison to last year is, in fact, one of their own, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who was fairly critical, and self-critical, in speaking to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN yesterday.

“Maybe we are making the mistake that we are comparing ourselves too much to last year, and this year is a completely different year”, he told the reporter. Fowler wrote in his more-than-140-character Tweet that Villanueva told him the offensive line has not played well enough, and that he has played poorly.

While his roughest game of the season came during a time in which he was battling an illness, he has not played particularly well overall in any of his five games, even if he has in isolation made some impressive blocks.

He has, overall, but on an ascending trajectory, once again, which has been the case in each of his first three seasons, almost as though he has had to relearn things every year before he was able to feel fully comfortable in reacting more and thinking less, which has allowed him to be more proactive and aggressive.

While David DeCastro has put together some quality games on the season to date—in particular in week four against the Ravens, in which he was the focal point of quite a bit of the Steelers’ success on the ground—he played particularly poorly on Sunday, getting beaten repeatedly in pass protection, which including a called hold that wiped out a late touchdown that would have made it a one-possession game.

Ramon Foster, as is often the case, has been the most consistent performer along the offensive line, while Maurkice Pouncey has been fairly stable, though prone to misses here and there. Marcus Gilbert being sidelined for three-plus games has not helped matters.

But this is not an unfamiliar story, and the unit was able to turn it up and lead the offensive in the second half of the 2016 season. The talent is already there, and the coaching is in place, as are the past results. They can get better—they have already been better—but they have work to do to get back to where they were.

And perhaps that starts with forgetting about who they were last year and focusing on who they need to be this year.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • StolenUpVotes

    This unit will be fine. They always finish stronger than they start and that’s what you want. Never want to peak too soon

  • Talyn Scarbrough

    Steelers are this every year. Of course we expect them to start off at AFC championship game level since we have 21/22 starters returning (Not including special teams). We always turn the curve and start playing strong about halfway through November. I still have faith in this team and coach munch will get the oline worked out.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I just don’t understand.

    It’s the same five guys, the same coaches, the same scheme. Last year, they came out at the beginning of the year better than they’ve looked so far in 2018.

    We so often make the mistake of comparing a team from a previous years playoff run with the one who begins the year the following year. But I’m just comparing to same time last year and it feels like a different unit.

    The line has been as much of the issue with the offense not clicking as Ben has.

  • Zarbor

    I’m sure you can trace most not all of the problems back to camp or the lack of it for several.

  • falconsaftey43

    we’re 5 games into the season, that’s way more work than they get in all of camp. you’d think if that was the problem, they’d have it corrected by now.

  • pittfan

    It’s mental. I think a large part of the problem with the whole O unit is mental. They believed their own press and have come into this season mentally soft.

  • Ray

    I am generally all for not comparing units, however, its the the same group. You set the standard. Now surpass it. No more excuses. Too much talk and not enough action

  • FATCAT716

    So why do we praise coach Munch (who I love) when they doing great but look at the Ben/Tomlin when they are not? Between the O-line playing terrible, Bryant being off a year, Bell missing all camp, & JuJu being a rookie how could Ben be successful?

  • walter

    Its almost like he is saying we cant expect our players to keep improving or even play as well as they did last year.

  • Ed Smith

    By actually throwing catchable balls, that’s how. He has consistently over thrown, thrown high, behind his receivers all year. The one last week was unbelievable, at least 10 YARDS over Bryant’s head when he came back at the goal line. Bryant had DB screened off so he was effectively wide open (I was in stadium in end zone and had a perfect view of the play). All Ben has to do is put it in his #’s and it’s a first down or TD… worst throw I’ve ever seen Ben make. And he had stepped up through pocket and scrambling to his right with no one in his face when he made that throw.

  • WilliamSekinger

    I’m with ya. I don’t get it either. It seems pretty straightforward to compare last year’s oline play to this years given that the Head coach, Offensive Coordinator, Oline coach, Offensive scheme, blocking scheme and all 5 guys on the oline are IDENTICAL TO LAST YEAR!
    Comparing teams from one year to another is a mistake, because players and coaches change from one year to another.

  • Cwallace

    Im beginning to think army ranger might have a problem with judgement. First you late to camp, headbutting penalties, you act like you don’t know how far you were on the field during the anthem and i know thats bs…plus his game sub maxx starks right now. So i just wish he would stfu and tighten up his work because steelers fans do expect your new money behind to be just as good or better than last year and like most people, we tend to gauge these things off past performance…duh.

  • Gautam Ramani

    I wonder the same thing. Not sure why his game is off. Needs to block out other stuff and get back to football. Love his story, but like Michael Oher, doesn’t matter unless he keeps playing well.

  • Darth Blount 47

    We have played against some very solid defenses. I think people aren’t paying enough attention to that fact. And when you have a starter miss more games than he has played, it is sort of disingenuous to act like it has been the EXACT same line that was playing together last year for long stretches and being very successful. Old Mother Hubbard is NOT Marcus Gilbert. In name, size, or talent.

  • Jonathan Ferullo

    I agree with what you are saying, the only “but” I have is this:

    I understand the game is one based on “inches” or narrow margins, but man the swings in play/production from game to game, and year to year are maddening. It seems the line is just distracted more than is “bad”. Hopefully they hold it together long enough to make that 4-5 games win streak to close out the season and steamroll the playoffs.

  • FATCAT716

    I agree Bens game hasn’t been flawless by far but he’s gotten alot of pressure thus far & his timing is off with everyone outside of AB. So he can put balls on the #’s for AB but not other’s why? Need help understanding that.