For all the noted areas of weakness on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, their greatest strength the last few seasons, has been their offensive line.
Coming into this season, the Steelers offense line was mentioned by several pundits as one of the best in the NFL. During the off-season, Pro Football Focus has them ranked as high as the third best, as they were recognized as an essential part to the team's success.
Though the 2019 season is still in its infancy, the Steelers offensive line has experienced a regression uncharacteristic of the strong and consistent culture they established over a period of time.
In their defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers this past Sunday, the Steelers offensive line surrendered only two sacks. What needs to be noted, however, was the numerous pressures they allowed, which attributed to why starting quarterback Mason Rudolph, seemed confused and void of confidence in the pocket.
Offensive Linemen Overpowered
When an offensive lineman gets pushed back, it makes the pocket an uncomfortable place for a quarterback. When more than one lineman gets pushed back, it is much worse.
In this instance, the 49ers defense is showing an 'Over' front; the offensive linemen to take note of are left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and right guard David Decastro. When the ball is snapped, note how the 49ers tackle on DeCastro's side is able to get a under his pads; as a result, he is able to push DeCastro back with relative ease.
As for Villanueva, he is unable to establish the proper base anchor the defensive end on his side. The combination of both Steelers linemen getting pushed at the same time, affected Mason Rudolph's view of the field and his timing; hence the incomplete pass.
Pressure From The Outside
In this sequence, the focus is on right tackle Matt Feiler and defensive lineman/edge rusher Dee Ford. Ford is seen positioned at the 'Leo'(left end outer) spot in 5-technique. When facing a pass rusher with Ford's speed and explosiveness, it was imperative for Feiler to get a good jump from the snap, and move laterally to seal off the edge.
In this instance, Feiler is able to get the proper jump, but is unable to move laterally fast enough to cut off Ford's angle. In Feiler's defense, Ford's explosiveness and ability to use his flexibility to bend the edge, makes him a difficult task for any tackle to handle.
It is not very often that you see an entire offense line pushed back at the same.
In this instance, the 49ers defense is showing a variation of an 'Under' front, as the tackle is seen positioned towards the strong side. What was noticeable in this game, was how the 49ers continuously stacked the box, as demonstrated in this sequence.
When the ball is snapped, not only is Feiler beaten off the edge again, we can also see Villanueva and left guard Ramon Foster being unable to sustain their blocks as they are pushed backward. The various amounts of pressures allowed by the offensive line, forces Rudolph out of the pocket, where he throws an ill-advised pass that gets intercepted.
One can attribute the poor play of the offensive line to questionable play-calling courtesy of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. Even if this excuse seems valid, from a standpoint of fundamentals, it was one of their worst performances. If the Steelers are looking to turn their dismal offensive production around, they will need to dramatically increase their time of possession. If the Steelers offense looks to regain their form that once made them an elite unit, it begins with stability along the offensive line.