As The OLs Turn

Ben Roethlisberger has never gone two consecutive games without being sacked -- until now. But that progress is in danger.

The Steelers could be missing as many as three starters Sunday from the offensive line that started their last game and performed in historic fashion.

But that will only make theirs the second most-talked about OL changes on the field Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, who of course made national news earlier this season with a couple of OL changes.

Richie Incognito, a name now synonymous with bullying in America, was suspended five weeks ago for his role in the sudden departure of former left tackle Jonathan Martin from the team.

The story is a sordid one, but the changes have left the Dolphins in just as sorry a state as they were on Oct. 21 when they traded for LT Bryant McKinnie and moved Martin, a 2012 second-round pick, back to right tackle.

A week later, the Pittsburgh-born Martin left the team's facilities due to emotional trauma allegedly triggered by harassment from Incognito. And on Nov. 3, the Dolphins suspended Incognito, their starting left guard, and replaced him with 6-7, 320-pound Nate Garner, who had made 13 starts in six seasons as a guard and right tackle.

With McKinnie, Garner, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry and Tyson Clabo lining up across the Miami front the last four games, the Dolphins have settled into last place in the league in protecting their quarterback. The Dolphins have allowed 45 sacks this season.

The newly configured Dolphins line has actually improved its pass-blocking since the changes. In the last four games they've allowed 10 sacks, or 2.5 per game, compared to the 4.4 sacks per game they were allowing up until midseason.

The Dolphins run-blocking, though, has become decidedly worse. They've rushed at 3.3 yards-per-carry in the last four games, compared to the 4.3 they had gained per carry in their first eight games.

With either line, the Dolphins are playing .500 ball. They were 4-4 prior to Incognito's suspension, 2-2 since.

The Steelers' offensive line, on the other hand, was just beginning to play well before being ripped apart by injury on Thanksgiving night.

The Steelers haven't allowed Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked in back-to-back games -- a first in Roethlisberger's pro career -- and have allowed only one sack in their last three games, five in their last four games, an average of 1.25 sacks per each of the last four games, compared to a 4.0 average through the first eight games.

On the ground, the Steelers have also gotten worse the last four games. The Steelers are averaging 3.0 per carry in their last four games, compared to 3.5 in their first eight games.

And those numbers figure to become worse this week without center Fernando Velasco, probably LT Kelvin Beachum, and possibly RG David DeCastro. Velasco, of course, is on injured reserve and has been replaced by journeyman Cody Wallace.

Beachum has missed the last two practices with a sprained knee and DeCastro practiced on a limited basis Thursday because of a sprained foot.

Guy Whimper would replace DeCastro, and Mike Adams would return to left tackle to replace Beachum.

Adams, of course, was benched after allowing three sacks to Jared Allen in London.

This week his task would be as formidable when he goes up against the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Olivier Vernon, who has 10.5 sacks this season after racking up three last Sunday against the New York Jets.

Still, the Steelers are confident in Adams and the rest of their reserves because "we have capable professionals that we believe in and given a week to prepare we expect quality performance," said Mike Tomlin.

NOTES -- The Dolphins could lose another lineman. RG John Jerry has missed the last two days of practice with a concussion. ... Missing practice Thursday for the Steelers were Beachum, DE Brett Keisel (foot) and NT Steve McLendon (ankle). Keisel has been ruled out, but McLendon believes he will play Sunday. OLB LaMarr Woodley returned to practice full-time, and RB Le'Veon Bell practiced again. Bell has passed all of his concussion tests, but still must pass weekend tests in order to play.

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