Recognize him? Don't worry, you will soon...
|Roethlisberger after the Steelers'|
AFC Championship win.
Ben Roethlisberger hopes to cap off what has been one of his most impressive seasons on the football field next Sunday with a Superbowl ring.
Roethlisberger threw for 17 touchdowns and 3'200 yards in only 12 regular season games. The biggest difference in Roethlisberger's performances opposed to season's past was his 5 interceptions. He had a career high 196 consecutive passes without an interception before throwing 2 against the Jets. There are many factors in this.
Roethlisberger is healthier. His lighter frame has made him faster and allowed him to escape pressure or even run for the ball, reducing his poor decisions.
His release. The quarterback took the time during his suspension to work on his mechanics and speed up his release. He gets the ball out noticeably quicker which allows his receivers to receive the ball on time and gives defenders less time to get in position.
A strong running game. The Steelers offense is incredibly balanced with the impressive third year back Rashard Mendenhall taking the pressure from his quarterback.
|Kugler during Steelers' practice.|
Most significantly however, Roethlisberger's owes the majority of his success to a man named Sean Kugler.
Kugler is the Steelers' current offensive line coach after he replaced Larry Zierlein in the offseason. Zierlein had been fired by the Steelers after the team gave up a league leading 50 sacks last season. Many Steeler fans questioned Kugler's appointment as he coached an offensive line that gave up 46 sacks that year.
Kugler had done enough to impress Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin after working with an inexperienced and depleted line in Buffalo to take over Zierlein's job. The team haven't looked back since.
Tomlin was right to be impressed as Kugler has vastly improved the running game in Pittsburgh, the addition of first round pick Maurkice Pouncey plays a factor here but it would be naive to suggest that Kugler isn't a huge catalyst for Pouncey's Pro Bowl season. Rashard Mendenhall is rightfully receiving a lot of praise for his 1'273 yard season but the significant improvement in run blocking cannot be overlooked.
|Starks didn't last long.|
Kugler also appears to be able to get the best out of what he's got.
On the day Kugler was signed the Steelers' starting offensive line looked like this;
Max Starks-Chris Kemoeatu-Justin Hartwig-Trai Essex-Willie Colon.
By the opening day, Kugler had already faced more adversity than most coaches coming to new teams. The teams starting center, Hartwig, had been beaten out by a rookie which led to his eventual release while he lost arguably his best lineman. Right Tackle Willie Colon was placed on injured reserve for the season. Colon was quickly replaced by Flozell Adams who was a breath of fresh air to the ailing offensive line all season.
Coming into this game Kugler faces even more strife with a further depleted starting unit;
Jonathan Scott-Chris Kemoeatu-Doug Legursky-Ramon Foster-Flozell Adams.
That leaves Kugler with one, yes ONE
, starting offensive lineman from the day he signed with the team. The crucial left tackle spot was filled by a player that Kugler brought with him from Buffalo. Jonathan Scott did not have an all pro year by any stretch of the imagination but turned into a serviceable backup who has not been embarrassed as a starter.
Doug Legursky has moved from an underrated third string center to a potential Superbowl starter because of Pouncey's questionable status for the game. Legursky has always been a good run blocker but in limited appearances this season has held up his own as a pass protector.
Ramon Foster became the starter midway through the season because of the underwhelming performances of starter Trai Essex. Kugler has got the best out of the second year guard who played tackle in college. As a rookie Foster impressed as a starter against the Ravens but needed a lot of coaching to become the permanent starter this year. Coaching that Kugler has provided.
|Tomlin's standard is simple.|
Any team that has suffered so much challenges on the offensive line should have any chance of making it to the Superbowl realistically, but Kugler buys into Mike Tomlin's preaching that "the standard never changes. The next man up is expected to perform."
The Steelers under Larry Zierlein struggled to protect Roethlisberger with a fully healthy unit and was the worst short yardage team in the league.
Under Kugler the Steelers line performed admirably, especially when it matter most. The Steelers ran for 166 yards in the AFC Championship game against one of the best run stuffing defenses in the league while only surrendering 2 sacks.
There is no question that the Steelers' would not be in the Superbowl without Ben Roethlisberger driving the offense or Troy Polamalu manning the defense but Sean Kugler's importance to the team is just as important and he must be put in the same category as these all pro talents.