How Offensive Is the Pittsburgh Steelers' Offensive Line?

Nick SignorelliSenior Writer IJune 15, 2009

CLEVELAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  Willie Parker #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs through a hole created by Kendall Simmons #73 and Heath Miller #83 during the fourth quarter while playing the Cleveland Browns on September 14, 2008 at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers return every member of the offensive line that started, and won, Super Bowl XLIII.  Normally, returning a unit that was successful at that feat, would be considered a great start.

Not in Pittsburgh.

There is no question that the line needs to improve dramatically this season, especially if dreams of a seventh Super Bowl are to be met.

But, even though every starter is returning this year, there is a big difference between this years unit, and last.

In the week one match up against the Houston Texans last season, our starting line looked like this;

LT - Marvell Smith, Round Two - 2000

LG - Chris Kemoteau, Round Six - 2005

C - Justin Hartwig, Free Agent.

RG - Kendall Simmons, Round One - 2002

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RT - Willie Colon, Round Four - 2006

In the set, you have two early first round picks, a free agent from another team, and two project players that have been brought along.

In addition, Chris Kemoteau replaced former All-Pro Alan Faneca, who signed with the New York Jets last offseason.

In their week one game against the Texans, the Steelers allowed two sacks, both by Mario Williams.  Pittsburgh also rushed for 183 yards, with 138 from Willie Parker.

In a rain soaked week two matchup against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh allowed three sacks, while rushing for 117 yards.

In week three against the Philadelphia Eagles, the wheels came off, as the offensive line suffered it's first injury.  Marvel Smith was lost due to another back injury, helping the Eagles record nine sacks against Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich.

Replacing Smith was franchised player Max Starks.

In week four, Pittsburgh lost their second starter for the season due to injury, when Kendall Simmons was lost for the year with a leg injury.

Against the Ravens, the Steelers allowed only (only?) three sacks.  But what the Steelers really lost was the base of the offensive line.

The Line now looks like this.

LT - Max Starks, Round Three - 2004

LG - Chris Kemoteau, Round Six - 2005

C - Justin Hartwig, Free Agent.

RG - Darnell Stapleton, Undrafted - 2007

RT - Willie Colon, Round Four - 2006

Now, some people may not believe that it is a big deal to lose two offensive linemen, but when they are the anchors, it hurts worse than most teams can overcome.

Losing second round pick Marvel Smith, with his eight years of experience blocking the blind side to a person that could not beat out Wilie Colon for the starting job on the right side was bad enough.

Pittsburgh then had to replace former first round pick Kendal Simmons with an undrafted free agent.

In addition to that, Chris Kemoteau was in his fifth game replacing former All-Pro, Alan Faneca, and Justin Hartwig was in only his fifth game with the team.

Right tackle Willie Colon was the only player on the line that was held over from the prior year.  And the team suffered for it.

The teams that the Steelers struggled the most against were the teams from the NFC East.

Here is how the Steelers offensive line did against the NFC East.

Philadelphia Eagles - Nine, 2.5 by Juqua Parker.

New York Giants - Five, three by DE Mathias Kiwanuka.

Washington Redskins - Four, 2.5 by Demetric Evans.

Dallas Cowboys - Five, by five different players

This totals 23 sacks in these four games, three of them after the line lost both Smith and Simmons.

In the AFC, only Tennessee produced five sacks against the Steelers.  And only Baltimore and Jacksonville recorded three each.

In an interesting note, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns recorded zero sacks in their final three games against the Steelers.

When you look at the teams that recorded three sacks or more against the Steelers, four of them are from the NFC, Tennessee and Baltimore who were both in the top-five defenses, and three to the Jacksonville Jaguars, in Jacksonville on Sunday night.

Even though there are no excuses for giving up the kind of sacks to those teams, Pittsburgh does see the importance of the line coming together as a unit.

The Steelers used their third round pick on Guard Kraig Urbik, acknowledging that there needs to be improvement on the line.  If a team isn't getting better, they are getting worse.

As Pittsburgh prepares for the 2009 season, the line has been addressed as the Steelers see fit.  Hopefully, they are right, and all of those skeptics are wrong.  We will find out as the season unfolds.