Between now and the NFL Draft, we will run a series of articles analyzing each team’s needs using stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com
The most difficult teams to judge in the offseason are the teams that fell short of expectations. You are constantly faced with the issue of weighing this year versus last year, and trying to sort out who can bounce back and who is on the decline. Perhaps no team will have as many such questions to answer this offseason as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The one question sure to arise in Pittsburgh ‘s front office is the issue of protecting Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was sacked 50 times this season, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most in the NFL. At first glace, the issue lies with the Steelers tackles. Max Starks ranked second in the league with nine sacks allowed and Willie Colon wasn’t far behind with six of his own.
A closer look, however, reveals that the Steelers interior line may actually be the problem.
Using the data supplied by ProFootballFocus.com, I analyzed the effectiveness of the Steelers offensive line in passing situations. The guys at ProFootballFocus track each offensive lineman’s sacks allowed, hits allowed and pressures allowed. To compare linemen, I added up these totals and divided by the number of passing plays each lineman was involved in to create a stat I labeled “pressure percentage.”
The results churn out a number of the usual suspects at the top of the list. However, you may be surprised at who’s number one. Among offensive tackles involved in at least 250 pass plays, Steelers right tackle Willie Colon led the way with an impressive pressure percentage of 2.5.
Max Starks ranked in the middle of the pack (18th among offensive tackles) with a 5.7 pressure percentage, ahead of such respected linemen as Michael Oher, Michael Roos, Marcus McNeill and Matt Light.
While the Steelers appear to be in good hands at tackle, guard is another story. Chris Kemoeatu ranked a respectable 22 nd amongst guards (3.5 pct) but Trai Essex (6.0 pct) ranked among the worst linemen in the game – regardless of position.
Ramon Foster, who split time with Essex , fell short of the 250 passing plays to qualify for my initial ranking. However, if you lower the qualifications to 150 pass plays Foster ranks as the 9 th worst lineman in the league with a 9.8 pressure percentage. In other words, once every 10 times Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, Foster’s man got to him – an incredibly high percentage for an interior lineman.
From the perspective of the NFL draft, this is an area the Steelers could address in the 1st round with their 18th overall selection. Mike Iupati is the consensus top-rated guard in this year’s draft class and would be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh . The Steelers value run blocking on the interior line, which has led them to such massive linemen as Kemoeatu (344 lbs), Essex (324 lbs) and Foster (325 lbs). In Iupati they can have their dominant run blocker, but also upgrade their pass protection.