Steelers backup O-linemen B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler prove worth
Down two starters on the right side of the offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger had chances to change play calls directed to that side of the formation Monday night against Tampa Bay.
Like he also has done so many times with his right arm this season, Roethlisberger passed.
“There wasn’t one change I made,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “(Offensive coordinator) Randy (Fichtner) might have called something to put a tight end over there, but when we were in the no-huddle and I was calling plays, I didn’t think about it one time.”
Such was the comfort level Roethlisberger had with a right side that featured Matt Feiler making his first career start at right tackle and B.J. Finney starting for the second time at right guard.
With the newcomers helping pass protect for Roethlisberger and block for running back James Conner, the Steelers put up 413 net yards in a 30-27 victory at Raymond James Stadium.
“To me, that’s the ultimate compliment to the two guys out there,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, Finney plays a lot (at other spots), so that’s not new but for ‘Anchor’ to be out there, I thought he did a great job.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Finney (72.3) and Feiler (67.9) were the highest-graded Steelers linemen in the game. The website graded Finney as allowing just three pressures in 114 pass blocks over two games while replacing injured All-Pro right guard David DeCastro.
“I know they are really good friends, and it showed,” DeCastro said. “They did good job holding it down on that side.”
With Marcus Gilbert sitting with a hamstring injury, Feiler made his first start at tackle since the 2013 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship game when he was a senior at Bloomsburg. His only previous NFL start was at right guard in the season finale last year against Cleveland.
With two relative newcomers blocking in front of him, Roethlisberger was sacked three times and hit six other times. Still, he completed 30 of 38 passes for 353 yards, three touchdowns and posted a 120.7 passer rating.
The Steelers averaged just 3.5 yards per rush and Conner had 12 yards on 10 carries until the final two drives. Then, he broke a 27-yard run off right tackle and finished with 61 yards on 15 attempts. Altogether, the Steelers gained 51 yards on five runs through the right side of the line.
When Gilbert missed 11 games the previous two seasons, the Steelers plugged in Chris Hubbard, but he was rewarded with a five-year contract from the Browns in free agency.
“When you’ve been playing together so long and the expectations are so high, it just raises your standard,” Gilbert said. “That happens for a lot of guys. It happened with Hubbs. With Matt, it gives a boost to your confidence. He did what was expected.”
As for Feiler’s nickname of “Anchor,” let Gilbert explain:
“He’s the stoutest guy,” he said. “When he came in, he anchored down so much. He’s so stout, you couldn’t run through him. It’s how strong he is. We named him ‘Anchor.’ Whenever he anchors down, he’s ready to drive you up out there.
“The ‘Anchor’ is deserving.”
Feiler was surprised when the Steelers asked him to begin the practice week at tackle. Most of Feiler’s previous reps were at guard. The Steelers drafted Chuks Okorafor in the third round, and the rookie moved into the swing tackle role in offseason workouts and training camp following Jerald Hawkins’ season-ending injury. Okorafor, though, stayed in his role as an extra blocking tight end against Tampa Bay.
Aside from the opening snap, Feiler said he wasn’t nervous about starting in a prime-time game televised nationally.
“They did a good job of making sure I got settled down and helped me out where I needed it,” he said.
DeCastro and Gilbert returned to practice Wednesday when the Steelers began preparations for their AFC North game Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens. If one or both can’t play, the Steelers have confidence Finney and Feiler can step in for another week.
“They are starters in this league,” DeCastro said. “They are old guys now. They’ve been here four, five years. That’s veteran guys. They’ve waited for their chance and went out and took advantage it. I couldn’t be happier for the guys like that who work hard, don’t say much and just want to contribute.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.