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Old 09-11-2009, 01:12 PM   #1
El-Gonzo Jackson
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Default Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

Latest Steelers win does little to assuage concerns about offensive line
By Vic Carucci

PITTSBURGH -- Here's the good news for the rest of the NFL: The biggest blemish on the Pittsburgh Steelers' sixth Super Bowl title hasn't disappeared.

Here's the bad news: The Steelers still have the answer for how to conquer it before it can conquer them.

The story of the 2009 Steelers began pretty much the way the story of the 2008 Steelers ended -- with a dramatic, edge-of-your-seat victory and a whole bunch of hand-wringing over their offensive line.

No, this unit isn't any better at run blocking or pass protection than when it was on the way to a 27-23 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. That, to a great extent, was why the Steelers had to sweat out a 13-10 overtime victory over the Tennessee Titans in Thursday night's 2009 season opener. (OK, so Hines Ward could have reduced the drama by not fumbling away the ball at the Titans' 4-yard line with under a minute left in regulation, but it didn't change the fact that the offensive line's ineptitude did plenty to cause the offense to struggle for most of the night).

Willie Parker still has nowhere to run. Ben Roethlisberger still is hit way too often.

Fortunately for the Steelers, their defense remains dominant, failing to skip a significant beat even after safety Troy Polamalu suffered an ugly looking knee injury that brought a premature end to his spectacular performance in the first half.

And Pittsburgh still has Roethlisberger, who once again showed he can take a pounding and make enough plays to help his team win. Thursday night's fourth-quarter comeback was the 18th of his six-year career. He shook off the beating to throw for 363 yards (the third-highest total of his career) and, beginning in the third quarter and through overtime, ran a no-huddle attack to near perfection, completing 17 of his final 19 passes.

"That's his signature," Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks said. "Ben loves pressure situations and he always rises to the occasion. He's a consummate competitor, and you have to knock him out to get him out."

But keeping Roethlisberger healthy remains the underlying concern with this team. The Titans nearly did knock him out, sacking him four times and generally pounding on him the entire game. Yet, somehow, Roethlisberger managed to persevere and do enough to allow the Steelers to avoid having to explain how a season of high expectation could get off to such a lousy start.

What couldn't be avoided was the return of the familiar frustration that the Steelers endured through last season's journey to the Promised Land. Once again, their problems began with their inability to move the ball on the ground. They rushed for a mere 36 yards on 23 attempts -- a paltry 1.6 yards per carry.

"We have to make the running plays work when they're called, and we were inconsistent tonight," center Justin Hartwig admitted.

The same was true last season, which was the primary reason the Steelers gave up 49 sacks in '08. Not coincidentally, one of their offensive line's worst showings came in a 31-14 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 21 when Roethlisberger was sacked five times and hit on eight other occasions. That was the infamous "Disrespecting the Terrible Towel Game," with Titans players blowing their noses with and stomping on the Steelers' trademark good-luck charm on the sideline in the waning moments of the blowout.

Even more humiliating, though, was that the Titans were without their best defensive player, injured tackle Albert Haynesworth, just as they were Thursday night (now that Haynesworth is a Washington Redskin). Once again, the Steelers too often allowed Jason Jones and Tony Brown to look an awful lot like the man they're replacing.

"We had some communication errors," Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "We were just kind of sloppy in the protection at times, and that's going to happen in the first game."

The problem, though, is that it happened in so many games last season, including the Super Bowl. You keep saying to yourself that the Steelers can't possibly go through another season this way and expect to win another Super Bowl.

Roethlisberger was sacked twice in his first three drives Thursday as the Titans, with no concern about the Steelers' running game, were able to tee off on him from the start. Pittsburgh also failed on its first four third-down conversion attempts.

Roethlisberger got up slowly after being rocked while releasing a pass midway through the third quarter. He was drilled again after another throw later in the drive. And in the fourth quarter, Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse cleanly flew through the line to blast Roethlisberger for sack No. 4.

The Steelers' offensive linemen clearly were uncomfortable facing the Titans' 4-3 scheme after practicing against their own 3-4 defense throughout the summer. They also had no answers for Tennessee's frequent use of eight-man fronts. But they'd better find those answers soon because their next two opponents, the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals, also are 4-3 teams that won't hesitate to put a safety in the box in running situations.

Big Ben did his part to try to deflect blame from his blockers.

"That was a great defense, and we know that from the last time we played them," he said. "They're very physical, Baltimore-esque, if you will. We knew, coming in, emotions were going to be running high early and people were going to make mistakes. I made more than anybody."

Then, he added: "I told the guys up front that I was really proud of the way that third and fourth quarter and that overtime (went). That's the expectation. They really blocked their butts off."

Roethlisberger has that right. The performance in the latter stages should be the expectation from the very beginning.

But the line's performance left doubts about that Thursday.

"We try not to get emotional about it," Colon said. "We try to just keep slugging away, and we were able to win it."

Sounds like 2008 all over again which won't be so bad if it ends with the Steelers making room for a seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy.

http://www.nfl.com/news/story?id=090...s&confirm=true
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Old 09-11-2009, 02:33 PM   #2
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

I really hope BR makes it through this season without too many knocks but judging from the titans game he's gonna get quite a few. I just hope he is able to stay healthy all year.
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Old 09-11-2009, 02:38 PM   #3
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

what we should all remember is that this was the strongest team we play all year besides the chargers or vikings, despite all the miscues we won, and thats all that matters, and when we went to the no huddle, the o line did a way better job protecting ben, we need to use it more
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Old 09-11-2009, 03:24 PM   #4
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

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what we should all remember is that this was the strongest team we play all year besides the chargers or vikings, despite all the miscues we won, and thats all that matters, and when we went to the no huddle, the o line did a way better job protecting ben, we need to use it more
I agree that the no-huddle & more passing on first down is the way to go. But, we also have two dates with the Ravens, a game against the Packers, and the Bengals defense is no slouch. We can't expect to win all 8 of those games if we can't protect Ben and eliminate mistakes. We should have been much better than we played last night. No excuses. I was really surprised at how similar we looked to last year. And I agree with the author - we likely will not repeat as Champs without cleaning that mess up a bit.
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Old 09-11-2009, 03:38 PM   #5
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

I'm not willing after just one game against a very physical defensive team to point fingers just yet. In last year's game, Ben had to pass more because the run game just wasnt doing well. Was it the OL or the Titan's D-line? I think it was more Titans than a cruddy O-line. Someone mentioned about the OL struggling against a 4-3 D and I can agree with that. Its easy for some on here to blame Willie because well, why analyze anything else if that is your calling card? Yes, the Steeler front office has done extraordinarily well with finding decent talent on the OL but I think it is now behind the curve. Maybe its the loss of Grimm or perhaps the guys are not developing as much or as fast as we'd like them to.

The OL did quite well in pass protection last night, much better than I expected, but Ben still took 4 sacks and was hit even more. This does not bode well. If this team's ID is to be passing first, then Marshall Faulk and Steve Mariucci were spot on about the concern for the amount of hits Ben takes. He is the franchise and he cannot continue to take these hits and deliver wins consistently. Something has to give this year and I just hope that it wont be one of Ben's joints or back that does.
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Old 09-11-2009, 03:41 PM   #6
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

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"We have to make the running plays work when they're called, and we were inconsistent tonight," center Justin Hartwig admitted.
What a brilliant observation. You certainly made your share of fubars. I'd love to see what Legursky can bring to the line over a couple game stretch.

In fairness, however, the OL did what they needed to do at the end of the 4th and on the game-winning drive. Consistency, unfortunately, is not their trademark.
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Old 09-11-2009, 04:06 PM   #7
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

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Originally Posted by SteelC7 View Post
what we should all remember is that this was the strongest team we play all year besides the chargers or vikings, despite all the miscues we won, and thats all that matters, and when we went to the no huddle, the o line did a way better job protecting ben, we need to use it more
Unfortunately, I wouldn't count out the Ravens. There young QB is getting better and better, and they still have a pretty good defense.
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Old 09-11-2009, 04:08 PM   #8
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

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Unfortunately, I wouldn't count out the Ravens. There young QB is getting better and better, and they still have a pretty good defense.
Agreed. I'm fairly certain one loss will be against them this year.
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Old 09-11-2009, 04:16 PM   #9
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

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Originally Posted by HometownGal View Post
What a brilliant observation. You certainly made your share of fubars. I'd love to see what Legursky can bring to the line over a couple game stretch.

In fairness, however, the OL did what they needed to do at the end of the 4th and on the game-winning drive. Consistency, unfortunately, is not their trademark.


Though, I would have to say, starting in teh second quarter, they got it together.
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Old 09-11-2009, 05:07 PM   #10
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Default Re: Carucci: Steelers O line Remains an Issue

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I'd love to see what Legursky can bring to the line over a couple game stretch.
.
You better get your Hartwig voodoo doll out and hope for something to happen to Hartwig ........because judging by that 4 year extension, Legursky isnt gonna see much action at center.
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