SevenQuest - Part Fifteen
Christmas in Hollis
What we saw yesterday wasn't a good offensive line, it was an average offensive line dominating a very bad defensive front seven.
But it still highlighted what should be at the top of everyone's holiday wish list for the coming new year, that the Steelers will finally invest in their offensive line so that the offense can do what it did yesterday to defenses like the 49ers, Texans and Ravens.
And against the Rams, the offensive line wasn't even at full strength, with their 2nd best lineman in Marcus Gilbert sitting out because of "preparation" issues, and Doug Legursky leaving the game early with an injury, which meant that Trai Essex had to move to center. But it didn't matter - the Rams are simply that bad, and the Steelers were actually able to run the ball effectively, which is a boon to any offense.
For the rest of this year, this offensive line, if it can get healthy, can be good enough for a deep playoff run. The key is Maurkice Pouncey's return. He's their best offensive lineman, and he allows the Steelers to do thing with their blocking schemes that the other centers simply can't pull off. As for the rest of the line, Max Starks, Ramon Foster and Gilbert are all solid players, with Foster and Gilbert on the right side being possible future fixtures.
Which leaves left guard, which has been an utter turnstile throughout this season, both in terms of performance and in terms of shuffling players through. I wouldn't be surprised to see Chris Kemoeatu return as the regular left guard. He played quite well against the Rams, and with Legursky possibly out for some time with an apparent shoulder injury, I would prefer that Trai Essex spend his reps concentrating on being the backup center.
The Steelers have shown the ability to overcome offensive line problems, winning the Super Bowl in 2008 with possibly the worst Super Bowl-winning line in history. This line, even as patchwork as it is right now, is better than that offensive line. And that fits in with my personal belief, which is that the Steelers' postseason success is going to hinge on Ben and the defense, as usual.
However, it's easy to dream of adding a couple more talented players to make force other teams to account for the Steelers' running game and their ability to pick up pressure. I have a feeling that day is coming soon, and it's going to be a joy to watch.
But until then, let's hope that the offensive line gets healthy, gains some cohesion and enters the playoffs on the upswing, with some added confidence.
The first step is a Cleveland Browns team that limited the Steelers in the run game last time around, with strong interior play and some linebackers who filled hard against the run. It would be nice to gain some momentum by correcting some mistakes from last time around and dominating the Browns physically. Football is a game of confidence, and even if that confidence is built by playing against sub-par teams, it's still worth something as long as it's kept in perspective.
But when we look at the possible playoff teams, it's not like the AFC bracket is going to be filled with a bunch of stout defenses. The Raiders and Broncos have some talent, but aren't proved defenses when it comes to playing playoff football. The Bengals and Texans both have quality defenses, but the Steelers would be unlikely to play either of those teams until the AFC Championship game no matter how things fall, and I'll take those matchups any day. The Patriots' defense is garbage. If the Steelers end up playing the Ravens, well, it's Steelers/Ravens, nothing else to say.
So even in this upcoming playoff chase, the Steelers can get results that are more similar to what we saw against the Rams than what we saw against the 49ers, which would open everything up.
It all starts next week.
1. What else can really be said about Antonio Brown? 2,000 yards total offense, 1,000 yards receiving, as good as a football play as you'll ever see on a fake punt. We all know these things. So here are three attempts to bring something new to the conversation. First, how good of a CB would Brown have been? All of his skills translate. Two, without looking, how many games as Brown started this season? Finally, I see the throwback pass to Ben coming off of that end around look to Brown. Him throwing left-handed would make it work, with Ben then going deep down the other side.
2. Ike Taylor made a fool out of a pretty good receiver in Brandon Lloyd, and I was worried that Lloyd's sneakiness and route running ability would give Taylor trouble. Not so, Taylor (as he's done all year long) blanketed Lloyd all day long.
3. Homestead Charlie Batch managed the game like a veteran quarterback should. Those who expected more than that expected too much, plain and simple. Charlie even managed to make some plays out of nothing, and showed Ben Roethlisberger a thing or two as far as how to work a hard count.
4. Mike Tomlin gambled this week, and it paid off. He could have rushed his players back to work, and I wouldn't have criticized him as the Steelers still have plenty left to play for. But he didn't, and the payout was double - a needed win, and rest and recuperation for his star players.
5. May this holiday season bring you and your loved ones joy, peace and a first round bye. We thank all of you for patronage - this site wouldn't be what it is without you posters, lurkers, supporters and friends. Believe.