View from the Sideline:

SteelCityInsider game analyst Craig Wolfley tells Steelers fans that it's way too early to panic about the offensive line. He gives his reasons in this exclusive feature.

The trip to Minnesota was valuable in that the offensive line had an opportunity to match skills with some high-level people. This is just what you want as a starter because it gives you a chance to measure yourself, see where you are, and what you need to work at.

This wasn't one of the O-line's better games and obviously there is work to be done. However, the elements for a good line are there. Honing some specific skills will help, and in my most humble of opinions here are a few I would offer:

The most disturbing element of the offensive line was the rush on Ben Roethlisberger. Consistently, he had little time, and you can't develop a rhythm with the rush hounding your head gunslinger.

The perpetrators of that rush were mainly the inner two killers, the Williams boys. Though not brothers, on a couple of rushes they looked like Siamese twins with their penetration skills.

The anchor of the offensive line is the center position. Pass-pro moves from the center outward. Protecting against the quick penetrators starts with the center and guards. If the inner core of the offensive line can't "stay on the same level," or keep relatively hip to hip in their protection alignment, then the gaps in-between them are sure to be penetrated. Quick penetration kills any play, run or pass.

To stay on the same level for the center and both guards requires knowledge of the protection scheme, good footwork, and game awareness. To stay on the same level when you are facing gap divers like Kevin and Pat Williams, you also have to employ a strategy to jump a guy or short-set him to keep him honest.

A short set requires a quick, vicious punch right from the snap. This is a mugging. You are trying to assault the guy across from you before he can begin rolling forward. Your hands have to go from the ground to the opponent like Usain Bolt coming out of the blocks in the Olympics.

Jumping a guy requires you to set tight on the line of scrimmage, crowd it as close as possible. (One time while short-setting Marty Lyons of the Jets, I was called for lining up offside on a 3rd-and-11. I was stuttering under Chuck's withering glare trying to explain that one.) But in successfully doing so, you prevent a guy from being able to get into the gap quickly. Then you can work the rest of the protection scheme either solo or area-protect with your line mates. But job one is to shut down the quick penetrator.

Footwork and eyesight keep you on the same level. Making sure you are step-sliding together like a prehistoric version of the Rockettes, sans kicks, is the result of repetition.

Crossing over steps will get you, or the QB, killed. When an offensive lineman crosses over with his feet, he is off-balance and vulnerable to getting mulched by a hit he doesn't see. When a hog gets crunched, there's a breach in the castle fortress.

Knowledge of the protection scheme, or understanding where your help is coming from, is invaluable. You can cheat areas where your man can beat you by crowding certain gaps. If your man loops away, realize that "When something goes away, something is coming back." So be ready for someone looping around the corner. And to do this you have to be on the same level as your buddy. Hip to hip, an arm's length or so away.

Oftentimes, when I was uncovered, I put my hand on Mike Webster's shoulder so that I knew the depth to which we were sinking to keep at his hip. That way I could pull surveillance with the old noggin and make sure that I didn't leave my wingman at the same time.

Speaking of surveillance, that brings me to the all important point of keeping your head on a swivel. Literally keep your eyes moving back and forth and turning your head. Note the last point. You're no help to anyone if you keep blinders on.

Game awareness is the last element that I wanted to introduce. And this one is the hardest to describe. Because although you start a play with the Xs and Os all perfectly accounted for, no such animal exists once the ball is snapped. Things happen, and as my dad used to say, "When you're up to your ___ in alligators, it's hard to remember the primary objective was to drain the swamp." This describes pass protection to a "T."

Choreographed chaos is probably the best description I've heard. Experience is one's best friend when it comes down to making split-second adjustments on the fly. You have to know the schemes and be able to ascertain the most dangerous on the fly.

These elements were tested heavily in Minneapolis. And they are what the hogs have to work on the most this week. But fear not my friends: I'm a big believer in sweat equity. They still have time to get it worked out.


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