´ Steel Curtain Rising: Watch Tower: Steelers Digest Enters Protection vs. Weapons Debate

What position(s) should be the Steelers highest priorities in the draft?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Watch Tower: Steelers Digest Enters Protection vs. Weapons Debate

An earlier post discussed the myths about the Steelers offensive line, namely that an upgrade in skill position players can compensate for deficiencies on the line. This idea has been expressed by Steeler coaches, and was endorsed by Ed Bouchette. Most recently, Steelers Digest Editor echoed similar sentiments.

In the May edition of the Steelers Digest, Labriola contends, “…this running back [Mendenhall] will help protect Roethlisgerger…..” Two paragraph’s later, Labriola continues arguing that the offensive line “only need become functional to give the time and space necessary to make plays.”

To support this argument, he asserts that the prospect of having Parker and Mendenhall in the same backfield will eat “… up more time in opponents defensive meetings than figuring out a way to neutralize some offensive tackle.”

Labriola is right of course. The possibility if having Parker and Mendenhall in the same backfield is enticing. Indeed, this writer has long bemoaned the steady disappearance of the two back backfield where both backs get carries.* The prospect of Parker and Mendenhall platooned behind the line of scrimmage gives the Steelers the kind of awesome one-two punch out of the backfield that many hoped would evolve during training came in 1990, when both Barry Foster and Tim Worley teased All Pro greatness.

But Labriola also misses the point. Defensive coordinators do already know what offensive lineman are doing to do, but if the offensive lineman are good, there is nothing they can do to stop them. As Chuck Noll used to say, “They know we’re going to come at them and play some good, hard-nosed football, so there’s nothing we can do but to go out there and do it.”

A dominate offensive line imposes its will on opponents, regardless of defensive scheme.

In all fairness to Labriola, he offers no illusions about the Steelers line, going on record to indicate that “It’s inaccurate to label the Steelers offensive line a team strength.” Labriola is also right when he claims that no offensive lineman drafted outside of the second round could have made an immediate impact. (Indeed, one of our commenting readers made a similar point.)

Steel Curtain Rising fully agrees with Labriola’s fundamental argument: The Steelers did the right thing by sticking to their draft board. The only quibble that it’s completely coherent to argue, “The Steelers came away with what might develop as steals in the draft, but the same circumstances that led to that also conspired to prevent them from upgrading their offensive line.”

*Steel Curtain Rising did not exist in 1993. But if it had, the Steelers failure give more carries to Merril Hoge after Barry Foster went down would have been lamented. Loudly. Indeed, after they lost Foster, the Steelers finished 3-4, and it is no coincidence that they won the three games were Hoge carried the ball. (God that feels good to finally get that off of my chest.)

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