Time for Steelers O-line to earn pay

Mark Kaboly reminds Steelers fans that the return of Ben Roethlisberger means a return of too many sacks and too much criticism of the offensive line.

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger is back -- everything is wonderful in Steelers Nation.

The passing game will be better, the running game will be better, the defense will be better, the special teams will be better, Jeff Reed will make some kicks, Hines Ward will get a pass or two thrown in his direction and maybe even Heath Miller will catch a pass.

As Max Starks put it quite eloquently the other day: "it's a joyous day."

Yeah, ask Max how joyous he is about 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon.

While the return of Roethlisberger makes nearly every single position on the team better, it does nothing for the five guys up front whom he takes out to dinner every week.

Let's face it, the offensive line is worse with Roethlisberger back. Check that, the offensive line is much, MUCH worse with Roethlisberger back.

Think about it: What unit took the most heat last year for its inept play? Other than the special teams, that is.

Yes, the offensive line.

They were a miserable unit that couldn't protect their quarterback one lick. Fifty sacks of Roethlisberger is quite a large number to overlook. Forty-six the year before that, 47 the year before that, 46 the year before … you get the point.

Every game the Steelers lost year was the offensive line's fault, or so they say.

Now, how many times have you looked at your buddy this first four weeks and proclaimed how bad that offense line was playing?

Probably none.

They are blocking extremely well for Rashard Mendenhall, have cut down on the ton of mental errors that plagued them a year ago, and, the big one, they have protected the quarterback extremely well.

Through four games, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch have been sacked nine times. My math tells me that equals to about 36 for the entire season. That number hasn't been that low since the 2005 season and, ironically or not, that was the year Roethlisberger missed four games because of injury.

Ultimately, the return of Roethlisberger means the return of the sack. And when there is a sack, it's the offensive line's fault, well at least to the common folk.

More sacks equals less confidence that equals pundits constantly questioning the talent of the unit and so on and so forth.

Truth of it all is that Roethlisberger is responsible for just about as many sacks as the line. Yes, he makes plays when he's able to escape, but when he isn't able to escape it's because the line stinks.

Get ready to start hearing that. However, history does say that it's just as much Roethlisberger's fault than anybody's.

Roethlisberger has been sacked more often than any other quarterback in the league over the past four seasons with 189. He was sacked 50 times during his record-breaking passing season a year ago to bring his six-year total to a whopping 242.

To put that into perspective, Peyton Manning has been sacked 22 less times than Roethlisberger over his career and Manning has played 110 more games and has attempted 4,336 more passes than Roethlisberger.

There's no avoiding it. The sacks will come and this unit is not going to know what hit them … well, at least the right side of the line.

Sixty percent of the line Sunday will have NEVER blocked for Roethlisberger in a regular-season game.

Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky and Flozell Adams are the newbies when it comes to blocking for Roethlisberger. The veteran Adams noticed right away a difference between blocking for other quarterbacks compared to Roethlisberger when he first got here.

"He said to me, ‘He likes to hold the ball, doesn't he?'" Starks said. "I told him that it isn't really because he likes to hold it but he just likes to move the defense with his feet."

For a guy with not very quick feet like Adams, and even Starks for that matter, it will present a problem when they think the quarterback is to their left and he decides to slide to their right and vice versa.

"I really don't think there is too much of a difference," Starks said. "When Ben is moving he is usually moving to evade some guys, which means that you lost the block. Ben will find his crack or his crevice and fit in there and make it hap¬pen. Sometimes you have to hold your blocks longer but you understand the payoff on that. If we go out there and block the guys we will be fine."

The offensive line has been better than fine and nobody saw that coming. That as much as the defense can be credited with the 3-1 start with Roethlisberger.

They've played so well that we haven't heard the word ‘chemistry' out of anybody's mouth during the first month, and that's saying something.

But what they haven't had to deal with has been adversity … of being called the weak link, of being the "despite" unit (as in the Steelers won despite their offensive line).

They haven't had to deal with that … yet. But that train is steaming into the station.

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