The Pittsburgh Steelers signed All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey to a long-term extension during the offseason that will keep him tied to the organization through the 2019 season, despite the fact that he was rehabbing a serious knee injury that kept him out of all but eight snaps a year ago.
He was easily the Steelers’ best lineman in the season opener, particularly in his work in the running game and in getting out in front of screen passes.
While it wasn’t a flawless first game back after nearly a year, it was certainly a reaffirmation of what it means to have an above average athlete at the center position, which is something that was lost sight of without him last year.
One of those flaws, however, is the subject of this first highlight, though it’s worth taking a look at regardless because it shows Pouncey pulling around right guard as a lead blocker.
The problem is that he should have blocked Karlos Dansby here, who flew right into the backfield to tackle Le’Veon Bell for a two-yard loss. He was the closest target, and it’s almost always advisable to take the closest target.
Later in the drive, Pouncey and left guard Ramon Foster together manhandled defensive end Armonty Bryant on a running play away from the action. After Foster peeled off, Pouncey proceeded to throw the end to the ground.
On the Steelers’ first touchdown drive, Pouncey took on nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin one on one. I find this especially notable because the Steelers’ centers last year had their struggles with him.
Pouncey showed good form in base blocking the nose tackle, even getting some push, though with the run going off right end it would have been impossible for him to get involved in the play anyway.
Pouncey again held up very well against Rubin in pass protection early in the second quarter, mirroring the nose tackle’s movements and giving Ben Roethlisberger a clean pocket and plenty of time to look around. But perhaps he shouldn’t have, because the quarterback ended up forcing a pass to Bell on the left sideline, which was intercepted by Dansby.
Toward the end of the first half, the Steelers were backed up in their own end and called on LeGarrette Blount to provide the offense some breathing room. on first down, Pouncey chipped on the left defensive end before blocking linebacker Craig Robertson. Blount ended up running into his own lineman, missing the hole and only gaining three yards on the play.
This mid-third quarter Bell run didn’t exactly go as planned, but it wasn’t because of Pouncey. A designed run to the left with the right guard and tight end pulling, the outside linebacker blew up the pulling guard and forced Bell to cut back. That the play was successful at all had much to do with the center’s tenacious block on Bryant.
Late in the game, the Steelers ran a screen pass to Bell on first down after a Browns punt. Pouncey peeled off to the second level to get out in front of Dansby, allowing the running back to run inside for a gain of 19 yards.