In the wake of the Pittsburgh Steelers' dominant 25-17 victory over the New England Patriots, we've already discussed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's share-the-wealth approach to dissecting the New England defense, as well as Pittsburgh's long-overdue switch to man coverage—a tactic that flustered Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and the rest of the Patriots passing attack.
But now it's time to sing the praises of Pittsburgh's offensive line, an oft-maligned unit that I called the worst in football just a few weeks ago. I still stand by that diagnosis, and I definitely expect Pittsburgh to spend a first- or second-round pick on some kind of offensive lineman in next year's draft—but the Steelers have really coached this unit up and managed to post some respectable offensive numbers, in spite of their marginal talent up front.
The Patriots tilt was the first game this season where the unit started the same five guys up front as the previous week, which obviously speaks to the rash of injuries that has plagued the offensive line. If you look at the box score, you'll see the five New England sacks and assume that the Pittsburgh blockers had a pretty average game by their standards—that is, a bad one.
But the pass protection Roethlisberger enjoyed was actually pretty incredible the whole game. New England has been lacking an intimidating pass rush for a few seasons now (and that weakness has perhaps been exacerbated by their switch to a 4-3 scheme), but for the most part, Roethlisberger had clean, crisp pockets to step up into, despite getting dropped a handful of times. Most of these sacks were a result of him holding onto longer than any quarterback should. (That's not a knock on Roethlisberger, who played out of his mind yesterday; he was just doing what he always does, for better or for worse.)
So give credit to the quarterback and the pass-catchers who shredded their opposition, as well as the defense that held Brady to under 200 yards, which essentially never happens.
But remember that Pittsburgh's game plan of basically out-Patriotsing the Patriots—controlling the clock with short timing routes from multiple-receiver sets and posting a 5:2 pass-to-run ratio—was only possible because the big boys up front were up to the task of keeping Roethlisberger upright and looking downfield.