The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have to get used to life without Steve McLendon at nose tackle for tomorrow night, as he’s long been ruled out for the Monday night game against the Houston Texans.
Perhaps I should say the team needs to get used to life with Cam Thomas at nose tackle, because that’s precisely what we got a long look at in the second half of the Steelers’ game against the Cleveland Browns.
Needless to say, the run defense took a big hit, with the Browns piling on the yardage in the second half. For his part, McLendon has generally played well this season, and even draws some more double teams lately in my casual observations. Here’s a look at some of the key plays from his time in the game against the Browns.
Following a first-down run for a two-yard loss, the Browns ran Ben Tate right on a pitch out with the entire line flowing right at the snap. McLendon did not make this play, but he showed was John Mitchell and the Steelers like about him so much at the position: his excellent lateral mobility.
The big nose tackle flowed down the line very well on this second-down play as he battled with center Alex Mack. He may have even had a chance to make this play, in fact, if Thomas hadn’t gotten in the way.
This is actually a good example of some of the problems that Thomas has caused with his performance for the Steelers this year. His lateral agility is disappointing. He can’t move well side-to-side, and gets tied up with a lineman easily when he does. This results in road blocks for the rest of the line.
Although this play ended up not counting because of an offside call, it’s another example of McLendon’s lateral movement. He started off walking down the line with Mack before he worked a combination block at the linebacker level, after which it was up to the right guard to pick up the nose tackle. McLendon put him on his back while giving the running back nowhere to go.
Then there was the play on which Mack was injured and lost for the season. This time working to his left with Mack, the left guard was the one to pick him up. McLendon threw himself into the fray, diving at the running back’s legs as he approached, though it’s too difficult to tell if he was able to get in on the actual tackle. He was not credited with a tackle for the game, but such stats are far from 100 percent reliable.
Of course, there was one major blemish on his day, which came on his last snap (the Browns played three more snaps in the half, but the Steelers were in the nickel). It came with 2:31 to play on first and goal from the eight-yard line.
McLendon lined up off the center’s left shoulder at the snap. The center and left guard doubled him, bending him back at the point of impact and driving him well out of the play. He didn’t offer up much resistance, which leads me to wonder if this was the moment he wrenched his back for good. It seems a reasonable assumption, given it was his last snap.