Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Line Needs to Step Up

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The Pittsburgh Steelers offense as a whole has not found their way yet. In the passing game, it seems to be inaccuracies, and poor decisions by Ben Roethlisberger hurting the unit. As for rushing the ball, it appears the big issue is the Steelers offensive line.

Le’Veon Bell has never been the type of rusher to break off long runs consistently. He is the type of back who turns three yards into ten or 15. However, the noticeable difference has been how little he has been able to do that. Coming into Week Four, only five percent of his carries have gone for ten yards or more. That is nearly one-third of the 14 percent of his carries that went for at least ten yards last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Line Needs to Step Up

The issue appears to be getting Bell to the second level clean. In 2016, the Steelers offensive line ranked fourth in the NFL in second level yards. That is the percentage of carries that go between five and ten yards. In 2017, they rank 27th in this area. However, the team has ranked fourth in stuffed percentage, the percentage of carries that go for no gain or less in 2016. Through three games they still rank fifth in that category. Essentially, instead of Bell turning three-yard runs into eight to ten yard runs, he is turning stuffs, or his zero yard runs into run of less than five yards.

Take this play below from Week Three. When Bell gets the ball there is an initial hole. However, you can see that Mitch Unrein, 98, is starting to get away from left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Eddie Goldman, 91, who was a nuisance all game quickly shoved center Maurkice Pouncey into the hole and Bell was forced to try another alley.

As you can see below, David DeCastro gets held up by Akiem Hicks and what had the potential to be a second level carry turned into a three-yard run.

In the play below, when Roethlisberger initially tosses the ball to Bell there is a hole between DeCastro and Pouncey. However, an injury to Ramon Foster pays its price. B.J. Finney is blown up by Goldman who excelled in this game and forces Bell outside. What could have been a dash to the end zone between his two perennial All-Pro linemen Pouncey and DeCastro turned into a scramble to make four yards out of nothing.

Goldman does it again below. You can see that he is essentially standing Pouncey up and watching Bell, waiting for him to pick his hole. He sees the chance and breaks up the small hole between Chris Hubbard and Xavier Grimble that a player like Bell could turn into a touchdown.

This has happened to the Steelers offensive line for three straight weeks. Below, Linval Joseph tosses DeCastro to the side to shut down Bell for a two-yard run. Joseph and his running mate Everson Griffen ate the offensive line alive in the same way that Hicks and Goldman did in Week Three.

Week One saw a lot of the same. However, on a much lesser name value. Below, it is rotational lineman Jamie Meder, 98, teaming up with third-round rookie from Charlotte, Larry Ogunjobi, 65, to close off what could have been a nice run. Watch the rookie shove DeCastro to the side. Not a bad debut.

The offensive line is not the sole reason for the issues. As pass protectors, they have still been very strong. However, it is clearly showing in the running game that the unit is not quite where they want to be. If these blocks can be held for just a second longer, it looks like the room is going to be there for Bell to rip off these runs of over five yards.

The Steelers have a pivotal Week Four matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. Brandon Williams is questionable, but if he plays, he may be the toughest opponent the interior has faced yet. It will be a great challenge to see if this team can finally spring Bell free for a bigger day.

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