Line on Steelers? Not Good...Not Good at All

Will JeffersonCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2011

The Steelers OL was steamrolled by Suggs, Ngata and company
The Steelers OL was steamrolled by Suggs, Ngata and companyRob Carr/Getty Images

It's easy for Pittsburgh Steelers fans to rationalize Sunday's blowout loss to the Ravens...

It's just one game.

For the Ravens, this was the Super Bowl, while the Steelers were still thinking about Green Bay.

The squad is rusty from shortened preseason preparations.

James Harrison is not 100 percent yet.

There were a lot of fluke plays that benefited the Ravens—needless fumbles, tipped ball going for an interception, mixed up receiver routes—those won't happen every game.

As a Steeler fan, I wish I could take solace in some or all of the above. But I can't. Because what troubles me the most was watching the way the Ravens dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Offensively, Steelers running backs were not even getting to the line of scrimmage before being hit. On Mendenhall's fumble in the third quarter, Ngata practically arrived at the same time as Mendenhall got the handoff. 

The pass protection was even worse. Obviously Ben Roethlisberger was not sharp, and some of the mistakes rest on his shoulders. But the fact of the matter is he was under heavy pressure on almost every play. He had to rush to get the ball out, and was forced to make impulsive decisions—some of them poor ones—that is, if he wanted to ever make a play and not just throw the ball away.

Of even more concern was the play of the defensive line against a Ravens OL that was universally maligned by experts coming into the season as weak and vulnerable.

Rice ran the first play 36 yards, and it was downhill for the Steelers from there. When the Steelers can't stop the run, their defensive scheme simply doesn't work. Especially not with the well-known weaknesses of the secondary outside of Troy Polamalu.

Beyond that, for a team that has prided itself for years on its relentless quarterback pressure, there was virtually no pressure by the Steelers on Joe Flacco today. At times, Flacco looked as relaxed and at his leisure waiting and waiting in the pocket, that you would think he was playing catch with his son, not facing the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush.

The Steelers brass are confident because the team arguably has more talent across the skilled positions as it has had in a long time.

But offensively, all that skill is neutralized if the OL can't do a much much much better job than it did today. No running back is going to have success consistently encountering tacklers in the backfield. And the receivers aren't even completing their routes before the pass rush gets to Ben Roethlisberger.

Defensively, it's a similar story. Unless the Steelers can stop the run and get pressure on the passer, the opposing quarterback can just take his time on pass decisions and avoid being victimized by Troy Polamalu.

The Steelers need to look long and hard at bringing in some additional depth on the offensive line especially, even if they have to sacrifice some depth at the roster's skilled positions.

They could also use some healthy competition for starter's jobs in the defensive front seven. I was happy to see Foote in, late in Sunday's loss. I would like to see Hood, who played so well in Smith's absence last year, see some more action on one defensive end or the other.

Above all, with limited options in terms of personnel changes at this point, the coaching staff has got to find a way to get these lines playing with more passion, will and cohesion.

Yes, it's only been one game, and it's a long season.

The Steelers have a favorable schedule, and if they get it together, could well finish even 14-2.

On the other hand, if the lines play like they did today, the Steelers are going to have trouble beating even the also-rans on their schedule, much like that disastrous streak of losses to bad teams that ruined the 2009 season, and for a lot of the same reasons.