As Injuries Mount, The Offensive Line Spells Trouble For The Pittsburgh Steelers

Justin ZuckerCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2008

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in trouble.  Or are they?

The Steelers offensive line woes are well documented.   Preseason prognosticators loved the Steelers.  The only weakness, and potential Achilles heel, was the offensive line.  And so far, the offensive line has been just that, offensive.

Since the Super Bowl run of 2005, the Steelers line has been in steady decline.  Gone from that team are starting left guard Alan Faneca who departed via free agency to the New York Jets, and starting center Jeff Hartings to retirement.  Starting right tackle Max Starks is still on the team however he lost his job to Willie Colon.   

And now Kendall Simmons, the starting right guard, is on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon.  Four of the five starters from just three years ago are gone. 

This could only be considered a disaster.  Or can it be a blessing in disguise?  The Steelers were traditionally built as a power football team.  Strong defense, dominant line play, and a power running game were a given. 

However the past two seasons have not been traditional. Yes, the dominant defense is still there.  But the offensive line has not been dominant.  And there has not been a power running game.  The personnel are no longer there for a power running attack.

Many people believe that the power running game is gone because of the offensive line.  Not so.  The power running game is gone because this team is in offensive transition and fails to recognize it.  Willie Parker, out with a sprained knee, is not a power back.  He is an average inside runner at best.  He is a speed back. 

Rashard Mendenhall had a chance to fill the void left by Jerome Bettis, but he too is lost for the year with a fractured shoulder.  With Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell, and newly acquired Najeh Davenport in your backfield you cannot have a power running game.

The Steelers have traditionally been determined to impose their will on other teams.  They have tried to force the run.  However, when you continually face eight or nine men in the box you can’t be successful running the ball. 

Teams like the Eagles and Ravens gave the Steelers fits.  They crowded the box, and sent a variety of run and pass blitzes at the Steelers and successfully bottled up their attack.  Being stubborn, the Steelers rarely called hot routes, quick slants, and check downs to combat this attack.  When they finally did, they began to move the ball again.

Now that the Steelers are forced to realize their weakness they should have no choice but to make the adjustment.  The only way that this team will succeed through this transition is to spread the field and throw the ball.  They need to mix in the hurry up offense just like they did in the second half versus Baltimore. 

They can’t abandon the run, but the run needs to become a secondary option.  More draw plays, screen passes, and quick hitting runs need to be the norm.  The traps need to be retired for a while.

They have the talent to do this.  Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, Mewelde Moore, and Ben Roethlisberger all have the ability to make this happen.  The coaches need to realize this, and lose that stubborn mentality. 

Give Ben the chance to shine.  He can be a dominant passer.  And it will help the offensive line tremendously.  Once that ball starts flying, the defenses will not be able to crowd the line and blitz 50 percent of the plays.  And voile, the running game will reappear.

A good coach adapts the style and mentality of a team to the talent that he has.  It's nearly impossible to run on the Jacksonville Jaguars, and half of their starting secondary is out this week.  This is a perfect opportunity to make an adjustment.  This is gut check time for Mike Tomlin. 

And he should know that when life gives you lemons, it’s best to make lemonade.