The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line has been weakening for the past five years. There is no doubt that the starters along the offensive line on the Super Bowl XL Championship team in Pittsburgh are vastly superior to the starters on the Steelers’ line today. However, is the reputation of this season’s much maligned Steelers’ offensive line deserved? Or are they victims of circumstance to fans that are used to an elite offensive line?
Football fans generally agree that the Colts’ offensive line is one of the best in the NFL. Pittsburgh’s line will be compared to the line in Indianapolis in an attempt to gauge the true quality of the Steelers’ crew in the trenches.
Max Starks is the presumed starter at left tackle for the Steelers. He would rank among the physically strongest left tackles in the NFL. He showcases his strength particularly when run-blocking. However, his footwork in the running game is relatively average for a starter in the NFL.
His brute strength while pass-blocking doesn’t quite compensate for footwork that is no better than that of many back-up left tackles in the league. He is one of the best run-blockers in the league at his position, but is slightly below average in the passing game. This is a problem, considering that you want the man protecting your quarterback’s blind side to be your best pass blocker.
The projected starter at left tackle for the Colts is Charlie Johnson. He doesn’t have the same super-human strength that Starks has. In fact, his strength is slightly below average for an NFL starter. He also can’t compete with Starks in the running game. However, Johnson’s footwork in passing situations is even below average for an NFL starter, even though it is greatly superior to Stark’s footwork.
Overall, Starks is a better-rounded player, however Johnson is a much better pass-protector.
Flozell Adams will get the start at the Steelers’ right tackle. He was waived by Dallas this offseason. Pittsburgh picked him up from waivers to compensate for an injury to Willie Colon. Adams was moved from left tackle to right tackle by the coaching staff in Pittsburgh.
Adams is another player with unfathomable strength. He is an unmovable object; however, his footwork leaves even more to be desired than Max Starks’. It’s hard to imagine, but Max Starks is actually the superior pass blocker which is why Adams was moved to the right side of the formation.
Adams’ counterpart on the Colts is Ryan Diem. He is the strongest man on the Colts offensive line. However, his strength does not measure up to that of Starks or Adams. Diem is a below average run-blocker, but his footwork while pass-blocking is phenomenal.
Flozell Adams is the better run-blocker, but Diem is the superior pass-blocker by leaps and bounds.
Chris Kemoeatu is the starter for the Steelers at left guard. His strength nearly matches that of Starks and Adams and is very impressive for a guard. Like his fellow starters, Kemoeatu’s footwork is below average.
Mike Pollack is the Colts’ left guard. His strength leaves much to be desired. Most back-ups in the NFL are stronger than Pollack. His footwork in the run game is also below average; however, he has excellent footwork during passing situations.
Because of Kemoeatu’s physical strength, he is the better guard in both run-blocking and pass-protection, despite Pollack’s footwork.
Trai Essex doesn’t have the strength of the other Steelers’ linemen; he will be the starter at right guard. His strength is nothing special compared to most NFL starters. However, he has the best footwork in the passing game of any other Pittsburgh starter. Unlike his brothers-in-arms along the line, Essex’s run-blocking doesn’t even match that of an average NFL back-up.
Kyle Devan, Essex’s counterpart on the Colts, is a below average NFL starter across the board. His strength is about equal to Trai’s. He has better footwork in the running game than Essex, but, Essex is the superior pass-blocker.
Devan would be the better overall guard simply because guards are supposed to be good run-blockers.
Justin Hartwig is the presumed starter for the Steelers. His strength is slightly below average for a center. He is also a below average run-blocker, but he is decent in pass-protection. His footwork in the running game is terrible, but during pass protection, his footwork rivals that of right guard, Trai Essex.
Jeff Saturday is the center for the Colts. His run-blocking is slightly better than Hartwig’s. However, the real difference is in pass-protection. Saturday is an elite center in the passing game. His footwork while pass-protecting may be better than any other center in the league.
Saturday is superior to Hartwig in every facet of the game.
The rookie, Maurkice Pouncey, is making a real case to win a starting position for the Steelers. He played center in college, but may start at right guard or center. Chances are, if he wins a starting position it will be at right guard. Pouncey is slightly better than Hartwig in both the passing and running games. However, he would provide more of an upgrade at right guard because of Essex’s lack of run-blocking skills.
Overall the Colts have a better offensive line. However, the Steelers starters are physically stronger. The biggest difference between the two lines is the footwork in pass-blocking situations. The Colts are superior to the Steelers in this facet of the game.
The Steelers are slightly better in the running game. Their advantage in this area would be more pronounced if the coaches start Pouncey at right guard this season. The passing game can be improved during the upcoming offseason by either drafting a better left tackle or signing a better left tackle during the free agency period.
The difference between the Steelers’ line and the Colts’ line, as a whole, is not what the casual observer would expect. Not only is the Colts’ offensive line not as good as many fans expect, but the Steelers’ line is better than expected.
It is true that the Steelers give up more sacks. However, on top of the Pittsburgh’s footwork issues, Ben Roethlisberger’s tendency to hold onto the ball while trying to make a play adds to their sack count every year.
Overall, Pittsburgh’s line is an average unit. They’re one of the physically strongest units in the league with below average footwork, due in part to their size and bulk.
While the Steelers line could improve particularly in pass-protection, they are also victims of more successful Steelers’ offensive lines from years past. Steelers’ fans expect an elite offensive line. This year, the offensive line in Pittsburgh will once again fall miserably short of the fans’ expectations.