There was understandably a fair bit of buzz when the Pittsburgh Steelers—a franchise with a fan base known for its blue collar attitude to both football and everyday life—drafted a 6’7”, 350 pound nose tackle back in May.
That walking oak goes by the name of Daniel McCullers, and he saw his first game action last week against the Houston Texans after spending the first six weeks in the inactive list.
Injuries necessitated otherwise on Monday night, with starting nose tackle Steve McLendon inactive with a shoulder injury. The Steelers tried to compensate by playing most of the game in their nickel package, but they still managed to play a couple dozen snaps with the nose tackle on the field.
Most of those snaps went to Cam Thomas, the starting left defensive end and second nose tackle on the depth chart, but McCullers also got on the field for 10 snaps—including penalty—against the Texans, with interesting results.
His first snaps came late in the third quarter, after the nickel defense relinquished a first down on third and five. Curiously, that first snap also came in the nickel, with McCullers as the left defensive tackle and Cameron Heyward on the right.
The right guard chipped on him before the center took charge as the line slid to the right. McCullers held his own, getting some push and staying in his gap.
This forced Arian Foster to bounce the run outside, which he was able to do with Troy Polamalu getting sucked inside with a charging penetration that was ironically aimed at cutting off the outside. As a result, Foster was able to ride the sideline for nine yards.
The Steelers remained in the same personnel alignment on second and one on the following play. McCullers was double teamed by the center and right guard, but was moved little. Heyward was less successful on the right side commanding a similar double team.
In fact, Heyward was driven into the ground, and that hole allowed Foster to find a lane to pound to get the necessary yardage to move the chains. Two largely unsuccessful team defensive plays to start his career, but two plays that he did a decent job on himself.
Of course, the most notable play of the night for McCullers came in the third quarter, and on the pass rush. With the Texans facing a second and 10, Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped back to pass, and Houston chose to leave center Chris Myers one-on-one with McCullers while double-teaming the two defensive ends.
After a very brief stalemate, McCullers quickly got the upper hand and proceeded to drive the former Pro Bowl center down the field, clean through the pocket. The line of scrimmage was the Steelers’45, and McCullers drove him back to the Texans’ 45.
Of course, the penetration opened a lane for Flitzpatrick to scramble—that’s one aspect of the game he must still learn.