Has the 2023 Steelers offensive line turned the corner?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not in action this weekend as they are experiencing their mini bye after their victory on Thursday night over the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers reached the midpoint of the NFL season with a 5–3 record along with already having their bye week as they prepare for the final nine weeks of the 2023 season.
Taking this extra time over the weekend, I’ve been reflecting on where the Pittsburgh Steelers are at this point of the season and where they need to be going forward in order to evolve into a team that can be a serious contender in the postseason. With consistency being a large key in areas on both offense and defense, there could even be more specifics broken down where the Steelers need to make the biggest steps.
One of the steps that the Steelers need to do in order to have more success on offense is have more consistent play from their offensive line. But did we see what this line can be going forward on Thursday night? Is that the game where the offensive line turned the corner or was it simply one good performance along the way?
To outline how much the offensive line improved in Week 9, there is not a direct measurement of their play outside of the eye test of watching them play the game. Instead, I chose to look at quarterback sacks and hits by their opponents and rushing yards they gained to put some numbers behind the claim.
Coming into Week 9, the Steelers had surrendered 19 sacks this season, which was an average of 2.71 sacks per game. While outlets such as Pro Football Focus (PFF) attribute sacks to individual players and did not have all the sacks on the offensive line, sometimes they were caused by pressure and therefore I just looked at the overall number as a whole. To look at individual games, the Steelers gave up five sacks the first week of the season against the 49ers which was their high and only one sack in week three against the Las Vegas Raiders which have been their low for the season. Every other game, the Steelers gave up either two or three sacks. But on Thursday, the Steelers had their first game of the season where they did not surrender a sack.
So what about quarterback hits? Before giving the answer to this, it should be noted that every sack is also counted as a quarterback hits by the official Steelers media statistics which I am using. The Steelers had surrendered 49 quarterback hits through seven games which is an average of 7.0 per game. The Steelers had three games in which they gave up nine quarterback hits which were against San Francisco, Cleveland, and Jacksonville. The lowest number through the first seven games was against the Baltimore Ravens who only had four quarterback hits. But on Thursday night, the Steelers only gave up two quarterback hits for the game, half as many as their next fewest game.
Looking specifically these numbers, which a very large portion of the results comes from the offensive line, this was the best game of the season for the Steelers when it came to protecting the quarterback. It should also be noted that the Titans are a team that had been getting to the quarterback in there first seven games as they had 21 sacks on the season coming in, which ranked 10th in the NFL and was only one sack behind the Steelers.
So what about the other aspect of the game when it comes to running the football? The Steelers were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL coming into Week 9 as they only averaged 79.7 yards per game on the ground which was 28th in the league. There were only two games this season where the Steelers rushed for more than 100 yards which were 105 yards against the Las Vegas Raiders and 114 yards against the Houston Texans. The other five games had the Steelers rushing for no more than 87 yards with their season low against the 49ers at 41 yards.
On Thursday night, the Steelers had their most rushing yards this season with 166 yards. This performance on Thursday night brings the Steelers rushing yards per game up over 10 yards with just one additional output. This was against a Tennessee Titans defense ranked in the middle of the NFL in run defense and were giving up 107.4 rushing yards per game.
Whether you take any stock in the scores or not, the PFF scores for the individual players seemed to agree. Week 9 saw the highest individual score for right guard James Daniels and was the second highest PFF score of the season for both Isaac Seumalo and Dan Moore. Mason Cole had his third-best game out of the eight this year according to PFF while for Broderick Jones it was second of his three games in where he played more than 50 snaps as he had a higher score against the Baltimore Ravens.
Based on what I saw in the game on Thursday night, along with all of these numbers backing it up, I believe this was the Steelers best performance of their offensive line this season. But where do they go from here?
One of the most important things for the Pittsburgh Steelers offense as they go into Week 10 is continued improvement on the offensive line. Was this game simply one good performance or is it the start of an upward trajectory? As much as I’d love to say it’s the second of these options, only another game or two of continued quality play will answer the question.