Entering the 2019 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers roster presents more questions than it ever has. Who can help at cornerback? Do they have enough safeties and pass rushers? Is Devin Bush going to start Week One? What about that Antonio Brown replacement?
There are plenty of questions to go around. However, the one question that fans have asked, but does not need to be answered is the offensive line. Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Mike Munchak. If anything, that will be the noticeable loss from the unit. However, he is not the one out there pushing people around, and Munchak coached up this group until he had nothing left to teach. It was time to move onto a new renovation project.
The players are not going to forget what they learned from Munchak, and Munchak left his right-hand man Sean Sarrett to ensure the group keeps continuity.
The group will also be bringing back all five of their starters from a year ago. But, wait, they traded Marcus Gilbert for a sixth-round pick. Yes, that still means the team is bringing back all five starters from a year ago.
The fact of the matter is, that while Munchak can be considered a loss, Marcus Gilbert is the definition of addition by subtraction. Gilbert was a great starting right tackle in the NFL, and if he can remain healthy he will continue to be that. However, betting on the health of Gilbert is a bad proposition.
This is a player who is entering his age 31 season. He has 12 starts in the past two seasons due to a variety of injuries and has a PED suspension to add into it. Players take PEDs when their body is starting to slow down. It is quite obvious this happened to Gilbert considering the injuries.
Betting on a player who cannot play, is over the hill agewise, and has admitted through his actions that his body is slowing down is not the player you want. Matt Feiler, on the other hand, has started 16 games for the Steelers over the past two seasons. If you are using starts as a basis, and a two-year sample to go off, Feiler has been the Steelers starting right tackle for the past two seasons.
He is a Munchak project, but based on the past two years is already a successful one. The team also drafted Chukwuma Okorafor in the third round last season. Okorafor started a game last season and held his own against Von Miller and the Broncos.
So, over the past two seasons, Marcus Gilbert has played in 712 snaps. Feiler and Okorafor have played a combined 1,403. In twice the number of snaps, the Steelers offense has been better with Gilbert off of the field.
|2017-2018||Marcus Gilbert||Other RT|
|Run Success %||43.7||48|
|Pass Success %||52.8||54.2|
|Explosive Run %||4.4||3.9|
|Explosive Pass %||14.2||15.3|
*Numbers provided by The Quant Edge
The Steelers had a slightly lower explosive run rate, but it was made up for by a better run success rate with Feiler or Okorafor. However, every other sign points to the Steelers being completely set on their offensive line moving forward.
In fact, one could argue that the line now is going to be better. Yes, Feiler has played much more than Gilbert over the past two seasons. However, it has been a merry-go-round that featured Gilbert getting starter snaps in training camp and Gilbert, Feiler, and Okorafor shuffling in and out of the lineup. Right guard David DeCastro would love to hear that only one player is starting next to him for all 16 games, instead of the shuffle of three players.
Now, the questions of Gilbert are gone. Feiler or Okorafor will get all of the snaps based on a training camp battle. The better of the two will play and will get to play the entire season without looking over their shoulder. In terms of continuity, to have a member start and stay is clearly going to be beneficial.
Ask all of the questions you want this offseason, however, do not ask how this offensive line will fare after losing a starter in Marcus Gilbert. Over the past two seasons, the group has been just fine without him, and all signs point to them growing even stronger without him.