Getting A Line On What Really Matters

There may be optimism about the health of Le'Veon Bell, but Ben Roethlisberger's optimism about the Steelers' offensive line means more, writes Mike Prisuta.

The story of the day was Le'Veon Bell.

The story of the preseason has been Heath Miller.

But the reality of where the Steelers stand halfway through the games that neither matter nor will be remembered is this:

If they somehow get to dress Bell and Miller on Sept. 8 against Tennessee but the offensive line still stinks, they're in big trouble.

But if the line comes together and performs at a level commensurate with the investment that's been made to secure four of the five individual components, the Steelers can and will survive the absences of the running back drafted to put an end to the revolving door at running back and of the All-Pro caliber tight end.

Based on what we saw against Washington, Steeler Nation could be forgiven for suspecting that even if Bell and Miller bounce back quickly and prove indestructible thereafter, the Steelers are going to endure another long, frustrating and disappointing season.

After what transpired against the Redskins it would be easy to jump to such a conclusion.

Or, off a bridge.

But that said, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's optimism regarding what the Steelers have to work with up front has reached an unprecedented level.

"My faith is at an all-time high with them," Roethlisberger insisted. "I know who they are and what they bring to the table."

What the Steelers' offensive line brought to the table in Landover, Md., in no particular order of discouragement, consisted mostly of penalties, poor technique, poor execution, more penalties and an inability to defend a simple swim move.

It was a major step back from what had been an encouraging performance by the first-team line in the preseason opener against the New York Football Giants.

It was bad enough that Maurkice Pouncey admitted "we all feel like (expletive) tonight."

Roethlisberger remained unfazed, to the degree that he took his never-rip-the-line-under-any-circumstances mantra to another level in delivering Thursday's faith-is-at-an-all-time-high declaration.

"I see their work in practice," Roethlisberger insisted "I see their work in training camp. I see them in meetings and just kind of see the continuity they have.

"It really instills a lot of confidence in me."

That's a drum Roethlisberger has been banging since the offseason, when he said the position he was "most excited about" was the offensive line, a group Roethlisberger maintained could well be the "highlight of the team" in 2013.

The line shares Roethlisberger's faith in the unit's potential, which likewise isn't surprising.

But there's also a sense of responsibility in the O-Line room this season.

They know they have potential.

More importantly, they maintain the Steelers' success this season is perceived in-house as depending upon the offensive linemen realizing that potential individually and collectively.

"Everybody kinda knows the O-Line is gonna carry the team this year," Pouncey said.

It's seemingly now or never.

The pieces are in place, multiple first- and second-round picks collected to escort Roethlisberger through the second half of his NFL tenure.

They're being coached by a position assistant who's on board with the offensive coordinator's outside-zone aspirations, something that wasn't the case a season ago.

And they no longer have to move the likes of a Haloti Ngata through brute force. Thanks to the new blocking scheme, there will be ample opportunities to exploit the alternative of getting such immovable objects running, getting out in front of them and then falling down.

None of that seemed to matter against the Redskins, which was discouraging if not necessarily representative of what's to come.

The fallout from that debacle included Mike Tomlin being asked on Thursday whether Kelvin Beachum was pushing anyone for a starting job.

A good performance on Saturday night against Kansas City would go a long way toward silencing such inquiries.

But if there's reason for them to persist in the coming weeks, the medical conditions of Bell and Miller will be reduced to relative irrelevance.

That would mean the Steelers have much bigger problems.


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