COOK: Powerful offensive line leads surging Steelers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
  • The offensive line has been key during the Steelers' eight-game winning streak.
  • The linemen are Al Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert.
  • Five-time Pro Bowler Pouncey, the center, is the undisputed leader of the group.

Ben Roethlisberger wouldn’t trade his offensive line for the Dallas Cowboys line, which features three All-Pros.

“People can talk all they want about Le’Veon [Bell], about Antonio [Brown], about myself, about how good Le’Veon is and how he’s our team MVP. But I think he would tell you and the coaches would tell you that those guys upfront are the team MVPs. They’re not shown on “SportsCenter.” But those guys are the reason that we can have success and do the things we do.”

Center Maurkice Pouncey is the leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers' standout offensive line.

Certainly, Roethlisberger wouldn’t trade Maurkice Pouncey, all respect to Cowboys All-Pro center Travis Frederick.

“I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else. He is, for me, my comfort blanket. The man in the middle. He is the best in the business. I would bet the farm on that.”

This was after the Steelers sent the Miami Dolphins into the offseason Sunday at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger said he and the coaches challenged the linemen to neutralize Miami’s defensive front — the highest-paid in the NFL — led by $114 million man Ndamukong Suh. They responded in a big way in the 30-12 win.

“They said, ‘We’re going to be the reason we go out and win this game,’”  Roethlisberger said.

“I think, for the most part, we had a trophy game,” David DeCastro said.

Roethlisberger was sacked just once, although he was hit on a late pass play that Mike Tomlin said he should not have called from the sideline. Bell ran for 167 yards, breaking Franco Harris’ 42-year franchise postseason record. Bell also owns the team’s regular-season record of 236 yards, set against the Buffalo Bills in December.

“That means that we’re doing something right, doesn’t it?” Marcus Gilbert asked, grinning.

A lot right, actually.

Pouncey is leader: All five linemen — Al Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro and Gilbert — deserve credit, not just for the Miami game but for the eight-game winning streak the Steelers will take into Kansas City Sunday. But there’s no doubt Pouncey deserves a little extra. Roethlisberger singled him out for praise Sunday. The other linemen quickly followed. They made it clear Pouncey is a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro for a reason.

Foster: “This week, he set the tone. Guys were talking about the weather and what not. He nipped it in the bud. It was like, ‘Man, it doesn’t matter. We’re here in playoff ball.’ He set the mindset for the entire week.”

DeCastro: “I can’t put it into words what he means to us, I really can’t. He’s a one-of-a-kind player, kind of like Le’Veon is running the ball. He brings everybody up. His energy, the intensity he brings … he’s one of those guys you follow. He’s the leader, no question, of this group. You don’t want to let him down. You just want to follow him and be like him.”

Gilbert: “He’s the commander of the huddle. The way he plays, he demands it out of us, as well. We come out and ball for him. We know how much he loves the game. He’s the extra quarterback. He makes all of the points. Everything goes through him. He does it all. He’s a special, special player, one of the best I’ve ever been around.”

Roethlisberger: “His mental football is unparalleled to anyone else. He gets everything done. It’s unbelievable.”

Pouncey’s reaction?

Aw, shucks.

“I just like doing my part.”

The Miami game was just the fourth postseason game of Pouncey’s seven-year career. He missed the Cincinnati and Denver games a year ago when he was out all season because of a knee injury. He missed the Denver game in 2011 and Super Bowl XLV against Green Bay in 2010 because of ankle injuries. He also missed all but eight plays of the 2013 season because of a knee injury.

“This is a blessing,” Pouncey said of his good health.

It shows in Pouncey’s play.

Every play.

Every game.

Great play vs. Chiefs: By now, the Steelers have watched tape of their 43-14 win against the Kansas City Chiefs in October at Heinz Field. They have seen Pouncey in one of the great plays of the season, leading Bell on a run 40 yards downfield, throwing a block on safety Ron Parker.

“How awesome was that?” Roethlisberger asked after that game. “That just shows the selflessness of Maurkice Pouncey. Going out and playing for his brothers, that’s what he did on that play.”

The Steelers expect a much tougher game Sunday against the 12-4 Chiefs. If they lose, it won’t be because the offensive line isn’t prepared. Even though the team was off Monday and Tuesday, Gilbert said he expected every lineman to show up at the team’s South Side headquarters each day to get an early jump on their pregame work with line coach/Hall of Famer Mike Munchak. The group is expected to meet at Pouncey’s house Thursday night — as they do almost every week during the season — to go over final details of the game plan and maybe talk about how they will handle the Chiefs’ terrific outside pass rushers Dee Ford, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. No one complains about the extra commitment.

“It’s down to four weeks of work,” Gilbert said of the postseason. “We’re trying to chase No. 7.”

No, not Roethlisberger.

A seventh Lombardi Trophy.

“We’ve got to control the line of scrimmage Sunday,” Roethlisberger said. “That puts all the pressure on the guys up front. That’s what they want. That’s what they’ve earned.”