It would be fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line did not get the 2017 regular season off to the start that they would have liked, but they have gradually improved over the course of the first half of the season, and seem, perhaps, to be rounding into form as we hit the midway point.
Evidence of that is borne by some of yesterday’s numbers, in which the Steelers put up 420 total yards on offense, including over 150 yards on the ground. Their yards per carry figure might be low, but that factors in three quarterback kneels and a fair bit of short-yardage work.
But most impressive is the fact that the line has for the first time this season kept quarterback Ben Roethlisberger standing upright, failing to give up a single sack in yesterday’s game against the Bengals. Cincinnati came into the game having had at least one in every game, and was in the top five in sacks with 18, despite having played one fewer game than those ahead of them on the list.
Considering that the Steelers had Chris Hubbard lineup up against Carlos Dunlap all evening, that is an accomplishment. Dunlap had his reps, to be sure—there was at least one ball on which he was able to hit Roethlisberger’s arm to force an errant pass—but I’m not sure the quarterback was even knocked down more than once all game.
Last season, the Steelers allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL, and it would have been the fewest had the line, absent Maurkice Pouncey in the regular season finale with several starters resting, not allowed backup quarterback Landry Jones to be sacked four times. But that just brought their total to a mere 21 for the year.
This season, through seven games, Roethlisberger has been sacked 10 times. That would put the line on pace to giving up 23 sacks on the season, which is still excellent, of course. But if they follow a similar trajectory of growth from a year ago, they should be getting even stingier as time goes on.
Over the course of Roethlisberger’s final six games of the 2016 regular season, the line prevented him from being sacked even once four times, which is astounding. He was only sacked three times during that six-game span, and the Steelers won each of those games.
For comparison’s sake, Roethlisberger was actually sacked 11 times within the first six games of the 2016 regular season, so they are slightly ahead of where they were a year ago. Things are looking up on the whole when it comes to the line’s play.
And that is not even taking into consideration the fact that starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert has only played about two sevenths of the Steelers’ games so far, missing four starts about the equivalent of about another full game over two additional games. He’s started and finished just one. But hopefully he will be a full go after the bye week three weeks from now.