Within mere minutes of the Steelers' 30-12 dismantling of the Miami Dolphins going final at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon, the domination of the defense as well as another display of offensive proficiency had faded in to the background.
The starting linebacker corps had just combined for 9 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, an interception, and 4 sacks. The starting running back continued a pace that’s gained him 1,000 yards on the ground in just his last seven games played. The starting wide receiver caught his sixth and seventh touchdown passes in that same timeframe. A resounding postseason victory of that margin hadn’t been seen on the North Side in twenty years.
Then the starting quarterback walked into the media room with a protective boot on his right ankle.
Several hours later, the coach of those marauding linebackers was being placed in handcuffs.
Before the Dolphins even had time to thaw out, Pittsburgh and its fans were arguing about what should have been done with starters when a game was out of hand and what should be done about an assistant coach who allegedly put his hands on a police officer while threatening a bouncer on the South Side.
The distractions obscured the superlative performances. And those superlative performances in turn clouded what may be the most impressive part of the last two months for the Pittsburgh Steelers: An offensive line that has quietly become the best in the NFL.
Since the Steelers’ eight-game winning streak began November 20th in Cleveland, they’ve missed zero man games along the offensive line due to injury, have paved the way for 4.9 yards/carry and most impressively, have allowed just 5 sacks of their starting QB in his last 8 games played.
Perhaps it’s time we started using names at this point. Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, and Marcus Gilbert have provided the once battle-worn and oft-damaged Ben Roethlisberger the cleanest half-season stretch of his life. Moreover, it’s the cleanest 8-game stretch any quarterback has seen in the NFL this year. Combine it with the prolific nature of the Steelers’ ground game since late November, and you’re left wondering why – aside from the walking boot, the arrested linebacker coach, the legendary former QB’s salty attitude, the cheerleading head coach, the dancing wide receiver, and everything else that has been a story for the Steelers this season – why the nameless, faceless unit that is at the core of their offensive success hasn’t received more attention.
So here’s a quick reminder: Everything you’ve seen the last couple of months from Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, heck even from James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, and even from behind the shadow of Terry Bradshaw and Mike Tomlin, none of it should be talked about without at least whispering the five names that have powered the Steelers’ momentum as they head for Kansas City: Pouncey, Foster, DeCastro, Villanueva, and Gilbert.