O-line propels Steelers - Duce, Big Ben get press, linemen earn the wins
Mike Bires, Times Sports Staff 10/12/2004
PITTSBURGH - According to an old football adage, offensive linemen don't get noticed unless they do something wrong.
More often than not, their names are called only when they're guilty of a penalty or if they allow a rushing defender to sack their quarterback.
Proof of that theory can be found in Pittsburgh.
With the Steelers off to a 4-1 start, the men receiving most of the glory are the "skill" players.
Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has earned NFL Rookie of the Week honors for two straight weeks in a national internet poll and will likely make it three in a row for his performance in Sunday's 34-23 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Running back Duce Staley has rushed for over 100 yards in three straight games for the first time in his eight-year career.
In wide receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, the Steelers boast one of the league's top pass-catching duos. Ward continues to rank among the league leaders statistically while Burress is coming off a six-catch, 136-yard performance.
Yes, those four have been the glamour guys so far for the Steelers, at least offensively. But to a man, they know that their successes wouldn't be possible without the men on the offensive line.
"Of course three in a row means a lot," Staley said of his third straight 100-yard game. "But it means a lot to the line, too. Those guys definitely need all the credit they can get. The front five is paving the way. I'm just following them."
"It's amazing how the chemistry between those guys on the line has grown and how they've taken it to the next level," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. "They're certainly making it easier for Ben, Duce and the receivers."
With Roethlisberger and Staley creating so much excitement in their first years in Pittsburgh, the Steelers' No. 1 preseason concern is all but forgotten.
Based on injuries and inconsistent play by the O-line last year, the key to success this year for the Steelers was consistent play up front.
Like running back Jerome Bettis said in training camp, "We will live or die by our offensive line."
It's still early in the season. And based on the rather weak schedule the Steelers have played so far and the tough road that lies ahead
, things are going to get tougher for everyone. But obviously, the solid play of the linemen through five games can't be understated.
"We're working well together. We're starting to click," said left guard Alan Faneca, a three-time Pro Bowler who's recognized as one of the NFL's most dominating lineman. "We're starting to find that zone where the five of us need to be in order to be cohesive.
"Yeah, I think we are in that zone. I think we got in it (Sunday)."
The "zone" Faneca talked about is a product of good health and a good plan.
Last year, injuries wrecked havoc with the offensive line.
Right guard Kendall Simmons was diagnosed with a diabetic condition at the start of training camp and lost weight, strength and stamina, and therefore struggled.
Tackle Marvel Smith, making the switch from the right side to the left, missed 11 games with a nagging pinched nerve in his neck.
Center Jeff Hartings didn't miss any games, but it was no secret his aching knees gave him problems and limited his effectiveness.
At right tackle, Todd Fordham and Oliver Ross played poorly for most of the Steelers' 6-10 season.
The situation looked bleak in camp this year when Simmons suffered a season-ending knee injury. But Keydrick Vincent has stepped in and held his own so far.
"As long as we can stay healthy, we're going to get better every week," Smith said.
Another reason for the line's success is the way the Steelers attack offensively. Unlike last year when the approach was more finesse and pass happy, they've re-established the run.
Prior to Monday night's game between the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers, the Steelers ranked 24th in the league in passing but sixth in rushing.
Don't be fooled by the league passing ranking. The Steelers' total passing yardage might not be that prolific, but the passing game has been effective. The run is setting up the pass, and Roethlisberger already ranks 14th in the league in passer rating.
And in scoring offense, the Steelers rank 10th at 22.4 points per game.
"We are definitely playing better this year," Hartings said of the O-line. "We're not making as any mistakes. We have an identity. Last year, we didn't have an identity."
"We're dedicated to the run and we're getting yardage and we're sticking with it," Faneca said. "You can tell just by the play calling that that's who we are. We had a lot more gadget plays and a lot more pass plays last year. So, yes, it's definitely different. And it's nice.
"Hey, we're winning. When you're 4-1, everything's great."
91.3 QB Rating 5 TDs/ 4 INTs
Has earned NFL Rookie of the Week honors for two straight weeks in a national internet poll and will likely make it three in a row for his performance in Sunday's 34-23 win over the Cleveland Browns.
3 straight 100 yard rushing games, the first in his career. He is 8th overall in Total Rushing Yards.
108 att / 489 yards
Jerome Bettis - Weirdest Stats
32 Att / 56 Yards and a 1.8 ypc avg but has 6 Rushing TDs
The Offensive Line gave up 4 sacks in the 2 Games Tommy Maddox played, but have only given up 4 sacks total in the 3 1/2 Games Ben Roethlisberger has played.
35 rec / 455 Yards, 5th in Total Receiving Yards and 3rd in Receptions
15 rec / 308, 24th in Total Receiving Yards
3-4 Defense ranked 5th in the NFL, 6th against the pass and 13th against the run in the NFL
"My words should not inspire you. Looking at your hands with no rings should inspire you". - Michael Irvin