During his rookie season in 2013, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Through two games into his second season, he’s been accumulating yardage at a rate of 5.3 yards per clip.
One logical assumption would be that the Steelers’ offensive line has made great strides in its run-blocking from a year ago, with the addition of offensive line coach Mike Munchak and the return of center Maurkice Pouncey.
It would be a logical assumption, but it wouldn’t necessarily be true. Bell has been largely doing it on his own. The offensive line so far hasn’t been run-blocking especially well by any means, at least through two games, and that includes Pouncey.
Take this mid-first quarter rush by LeGarrette Blount in the Steelers’ last game against the Baltimore Ravens, a first-down run apparently designed to be run off right guard that simply never got there.
In reality, all three linemen on the right side of the line are culpable on this one. Marcus Gilbert may have missed the decisive block, given that Courtney Upshaw is the player who made the tackle, but, as I said, this was a run designed to go off right guard, and Upshaw beat the right tackle to the outside shoulder.
At the center of the failure is Pouncey’s inability to contain Haloti Ngata, whose penetration, and partial occupying of David DeCastro—slowing his progression to the second level—is what forced Blount to deviate his path in the first place.
Not that it was all bad, of course. On this mid-second quarter run from Bell, Pouncey got an opportunity to show off some of his athleticism, jamming Pernell McPhee at the line to help DeCastro get centered on his block before working to the second level to tussle with C.J. Mosley. The play only went for two yards, but Pouncey’s effort was solid.
Late in the game, with the result seemingly rapidly approaching inevitability, the Steelers ran a screen pass to Bell. This is a play that I have already looked at previously in breaking down both Bell and DeCastro.
While discussing DeCastro, I wrote about the illusion of having been beaten on the play by Ngata. This is a technique that Munchak stresses on screen passes.
You want to convince the defensive player that he’s legitimately beaten you, and this is what Pouncey did on this play against Timmy Jernigan. As shown in the screen cap provided above, he subsequently turned upfield and was able to pop Ngata on a block that helped Bell gain a few extra yards.
Two plays after the previous, the Steelers were facing a third and one, and though Bell was able to get the first down on this run, it wasn’t by much. Pouncey worked a combination block on Ngata before picking up Mosley, but the linebacker slid off the block with ease and, as seen above, plugged the hole to make the tackle near the line of scrimmage.