The Ripple Effect: Not Enough Blood and Guts

We all know that teams strive for balance. With that said, how do you reach that goal and maintain the consistency for sixteen weeks and beyond? The key is finding a group of a dozen 'men' that are mentally and physically tough with a kick-ass mindset.

At the very least, you need five guys up front on the offensive line that match the above description. How do the Pittsburgh Steelers measure up?

Statistically speaking, 2003 clearly was not a good year for Russ Grimm's guys in the trenches. They couldn't run the ball, finishing dead last in the entire NFL in yards per rushing attempt. In terms of protecting QB Tommy Maddox, the offensive line ranked 23rd in attempts per sack.

You could blame Maddox and the lack of talent at running back for the poor offensive showing, but that same group of personnel managed a ranking of 9th in the NFL for points scored and 4th in yardage gained. In just one off-season, the Steelers ability to run the ball declined by almost 20%. Their ability to protect the QB fell by almost 30%.

The 2002 starting offensive line sported Wayne Gandy at left tackle, Alan Faneca at left guard, Jeff Hartings at center, Kendall Simmons at right guard, and Marvel Smith at right tackle. In 2003, Gandy was playing for the New Orleans Saints, Smith was out for most of the year with a pinched nerve, Faneca was out of position at left tackle, Hartings was struggling with a chronic knee problem that almost ended his career in camp, and Simmons had a bad shoulder and a newly discovered problem with diabetes.

Is it any wonder that the Steelers are sitting at home for the playoffs?

If the Steelers are going to improve during the off-season, Cowher and his coaching staff need to take a detailed look at the guys who ‘manned' the offensive line. Do these guys have what it takes, mentally and physically, to maintain the consistency needed to be a Super Bowl contender?

For LG Alan Faneca, there is no question that he is tough enough and skilled enough to take this team to the top. And despite his early season doubts, center Jeff Hartings proved he is a warrior and will anchor this line in 2004. As for Simmons, Smith and RT Oliver Ross, there are a lot of question marks.

The health of Simmons and Smith aside, there are a host of problems on the offensive line concerning fundamentals. Smith may prove to be a solid left tackle in the long run, but the jury is still out on him. In 2002 at right tackle, Smith made enough mistakes that even the casual fan noticed him. Simmons has a problem with mental lapses, getting beat horribly at times. His strength will get better, but that doesn't account for most of his poor play in 2003. Ross simply lacks the work ethic needed to succeed in the NFL.

The bench doesn't look any better. Todd Fordham, Mathias Nkewnti, and Keydrick Vincent are all big question marks, even in terms as backups. Chukky Okobi deserves a longer look and is still a Grimm favorite, but he is a restricted free agent that other teams might claim.

Short of fishing for new offensive linemen, what might the Steelers do?

Work on the things you can control to make it better for the rest of your teammates. There are the obvious, pre-snap penalties and holding calls on run plays. Those two alone can make the team better and more efficient. Then, there is the issue of knowing your assignment. Too many times I saw defensive linemen unblocked and linebackers running untouched through interior gaps. If you don't know your assignment then it's very difficult for your team to have success.

Rule one, if you don't know your blocking assignment, then hit the first opposite colored jersey.

Rule two, you must play until the whistle blows. Dominate your opponent as much as you can, don't take a play off and think your block won't count.

Rule three, communicate at the line of scrimmage and trust your teammate so you can work in concert with each other.

The Steelers violated the above three rules all too often in 2003. There are some needs on the offensive line, but the guys they need may already be in Pittsburgh if the boys up front can better themselves this off-season.

That kick-ass mindset was missing from the Steelers this past season. There is plenty of talent on the offensive line, but the mentality to succeed has been sorely lacking. I've seen it many times over and over, that if you don't dominate at the line of scrimmage, it's going to have a 'Ripple Effect' throughout the success of your ball club.

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