Steeler Nation is understandably disappointed by Pittsburgh’s 23-20 last-minute loss to the rival Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. After trailing by 10 points, 16-6, in the third quarter, the Steelers roared back to score the game’s next 14 points to take a 20-16 lead with just under three minutes to play. We all know what Joe Flacco did on the Ravens’ 92-yard game-winning drive, and the success the Ravens’ enjoyed on third down all evening.
Lost in the frustration though is a very important development — the collective play of the much-maligned offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger had ample time to throw all evening, and was sacked just once by Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger who split the sack. And it’s not as if Big Ben had one of his more magical nights escaping pressure either. He was his typical savvy self in the pocket, but really he had plenty of room to maneuver in the pocket thanks to the rock solid play of his linemen.
Maurkice Pouncey rendered Haloti Ngata relatively ineffective from his center position, Ramon Foster continued to impress at right guard, and Max Starks limited Terrell Suggs’ disruptive ways all game. Limiting a defense like Arizona to one sack, which the Steelers did in their Week 7 win in Phoenix, is one thing. Keeping Big Ben upright against the vaunted Ravens pass rush is another. In the teams’ first meeting, Roethlisberger was sacked four times. In the two matchups last year that Roethlisberger participated in, the Ravens brought down the sturdy Steelers quarterback three times in Week 13 and six more in the playoff game that the Steelers won in dramatic fashion.
Do you trust Dick LeBeau to correct some mistakes on a weekly basis to ensure his defense doesn’t allow 67 percent of third downs to be converted against his unit again? I do. Do you trust the Steelers offensive line to magically improve if they hadn’t started to show some noticeable improvements from their early-season struggles? Me neither. But what we’ve seen is just that. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler has worked wonders once again with his rag-tag group of men and gotten them playing at a high enough level where the Steelers can avoid the type of offensive meltdowns that have all too frequently accompanied poor play up front.
Let’s hope the Steelers continue that trend when they take on the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense next Sunday in Cincinnati. The Bengals may not be quite as ferocious and versatile as the Ravens up front, but they’ve been a load for opposing offensive lines to handle through eight games. Another great performance by the line would certainly go a long ways towards getting the Steelers back in the win column and at worst tied with Baltimore at 7-3 heading into their bye week.