Band Of Brothers

Has the Steelers' offensive line put it all together? After one outstanding performance, the Ravens await.

PITTSBURGH -- It's not news anymore when the Steelers' offensive line keeps its quarterback upright for an entire game.

After years of allowing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to take savage beatings, the newly refurbished O-line pitched two shutouts late last season and allowed only nine sacks in the final seven games.

The sacks are up a bit this season -- 20 in eight games -- but last Sunday the line didn't even allow Roethlisberger to get hit by the Indianapolis Colts.

One quarterback hit was listed on the stat sheet, but the video shows that to be a mere glancing blow in the back after Roethisberger had thrown a pass.

The protection no doubt helped Roethlisberger break franchise records for completions, yards and touchdown passes in one of the greatest single performances by any quarterback in NFL history. The big man actually had breathing room on a consistent basis.

"We kept Ben clean and let him do what he did, which was pretty spectacular," said right guard David DeCastro. "That was good. We did some really good things in pass protection, as well as some good things in the run game here and there. It wasn't a perfect game by any means. There are things we can do better, I can do better.

"That's how I would look at it. We're not overly surprised. We just look at it objectively and are looking to get better."

The perception, someone told center Maurkice Pouncey, is the unit is beginning to take flight after half a season with new line coach Mike Munchak, the Steelers' third line coach in three years.

"The perception from who?" Pouncey asked. "Just a perception out of the blue?"

Pouncey tried to act tough, but a smile cracked his face.

"Yeah, he's doing a great job," Pouncey said of Munchak. "But at the end of the day I think that we're all coming together. We're all growing. We've all been here multiple years now. And we all play well together. We're a band of brothers out there. I think we're all finally starting to get it and play as one."

Left guard Ramon Foster was the first of the current offensive linemen to join the team. He was an undrafted free agent in 2009 and started four games that season.

Pouncey was next. He was the first-round pick in 2010 and started the opener that season.

Right tackle Marcus Gilbert was a second-round pick in 2011. He started 14 games as a rookie.

In 2012, the Steelers drafted DeCastro in the first round, Mike Adams in the second, and Kelvin Beachum in the seventh. DeCastro was named a starter in preseason but tore an ACL and missed the season. Adams started 10 games in place of the injured Gilbert -- as he did last Sunday -- and has turned into a valuable swing tackle. Beachum moved into the left tackle spot early last year and hasn't come out.

The group is now healthy and "just out there having fun," said DeCastro.

Winning is fun, but allowing their quarterback to play the game of a lifetime is an absolute blast.

Of course, that was against the Colts, who weren't in their dome with their piped-in noise and without their great pass-rushers of the recent past: Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

The Baltimore Ravens with Haloti Ngata, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee and Terrell Suggs will provide a much more formidable challenge Sunday night at Heinz Field.

"Yeah, a lot of veteran guys. We'll have to be on our screws," DeCastro said. "But every team we face is going to be good."

The Ravens do have the firepower, but only rank in the middle -- 16th -- of the NFL with 17 sacks. They sacked Roethlisberger twice in the earlier meeting this year, but in the second meeting last season the Ravens didn't sack him at all.

Maybe it's just the perception that the Ravens are an outstanding pass-rushing front.

There's that word again.

"Perception? Man, everyone else can think about that," said Pouncey. "We're just going to go to work and practice like we always do."

NOTES -- A smattering of veterans sat out of practice today, but the only remaining injured player is CB Ike Taylor, now that NT Steve McLendon, SS Shamarko Thomas and Gilbert have returned to work. ... Antwon Blake confirmed that he replaced Cortez Allen at cornerback Wednesday in the Steelers' sub-packages.


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