Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Super Bowl XLIII | The game

Offensive line the most criticized unit for Pittsburgh Steelers heading into Super Bowl

Ben Roethlisberger’s line has been reworked this season; Darnell Stapleton, right, stepped into a starting role at right guard.

Getty Images

Ben Roethlisberger’s line has been reworked this season; Darnell Stapleton, right, stepped into a starting role at right guard.

TAMPA — The Steelers' offensive linemen could be called their offensive maligned men.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took 46 of the team's 49 sacks in the regular season; the team total was fourth-most in the NFL. It hasn't gotten much better in the postseason, when Big Ben has been dropped five times in two games.

Though it's true Roethlisberger hangs on to the football too long, the criticism has been piling on the Steelers' offensive line.

To that end, coach Mike Tomlin would like to thank you.

"I've appreciated that," Tomlin said. "It's helped me do my job. Please continue to do that. We'll squeeze one more performance out of them. Hopefully, it's a winning one."

Many consider the offensive line to be the Steelers' weak link but, to be fair, the unit has been a work in progress this season.

Injuries have been a significant factor. Right guard Kendall Simmons tore his Achilles' tendon in the fourth game, forcing the Steelers to turn to second-year pro Darnell Stapleton, who was inactive for every game as a rookie.

Tackle Max Starks out of Florida was a versatile reserve until starting left tackle Marvel Smith became inactive for the Oct. 5 game at Jacksonville and eventually was placed on injured reserve with a back injury.

Attrition also has contributed. Longtime center Jeff Hartings retired, and five-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca signed as a free agent with the New York Jets.

"It is what it is. We don't run away from that," Tomlin said. "The expectation doesn't change for us. Along the way, we've got to find ways to win football games. … I think this group has responded to those challenges, held a standard and provided winning performances for us.

"We don't worry about the style points. People are going to say what they are going to say. When you have the No. 1 defense in football, somebody's got to be the weak link. They've been chosen to be identified as that. But we are a team. That doesn't drive us. We're not concerned about that."

When you think about Steelers football, you think about Franco Harris or Jerome Bettis pounding the ball relentlessly inside with a smashmouth running game. But that's simply not the identity Tomlin's team has forged this season.

The Steelers reached the Super Bowl riding Roethlisberger's right arm. So a lack of balance on offense has inflated the sack numbers. The quarterback understands and has never pointed fingers.

"They have done a great job," Roethlisberger said. "Like I have said before, they are kind of a thrown-together group that has been playing some great defenses and trying to figure out blitzes. I'm just really proud of the way that they have stepped up and come together. They have taken it upon themselves to protect me and silence the critics.

"I'm kind of the old guy and can take the big brother role. I want them to know how much I care about them. They're my livelihood. They protect me."

Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]

Offensive line the most criticized unit for Pittsburgh Steelers heading into Super Bowl 01/31/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 11:16am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning: Jon Cooper takes unusual tact to create mismatches

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Tyler Johnson is about to swing his left leg over the boards for his next shift alongside linemate Alex Killorn and ... whom else?

    Stamkos? Kucherov? Point?

    Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper argues the called as his team gets a faceoff violation, leading to penalty and #Caps PP goal, during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (10/09/17).DIRK SHADD   |   Times
  2. A buzz-worthy look at the Astros-Dodgers World Series matchup

    The Heater

    Houston Astros' Yuli Gurriel is congratulated by Jose Altuve after scoring during the fifth inning of Game 7 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) TXMG170
  3. Florida, FSU try to ignore death threats, angry fans


    GAINESVILLE — Frustration over uncharacteristically down seasons at Florida and Florida State has started to spill over from message boards and start crossing real-world lines.

    Fans watch the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville, Fla. At the half, Florida was up 10 to 3.
  4. Fennelly: Would you take Jameis Winston over Cam Newton?


    Factoring out futures, it wouldn't be a short list if I picked NFL quarterbacks I'd take right now over Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (3) calls a play during the first half of Sunday's game. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: What went wrong on defense?


    Greg Auman is back from Buffalo, going back over a difficult finish and tough loss for the Bucs, in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Buffalo Bills tight end Logan Thomas (82) makes a touchdown catch over Bucs defensive back T.J. Ward (43) during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]