Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has been playing about as well as could be expected following his knee injury that he suffered in last year’s season opener. As a matter of fact, he may be playing the best football of his career this season.
For those who have questioned the validity of his past accolades with Pro Bowl and All-Pro nominations, rest assured that there should be no skepticism if he finishes the season with similar statuses of recognition, because he’ll certainly have earned it.
And perhaps my favorite aspect of his performance thus far is that he’s simply stayed healthy. He has played 491 of 498 snaps, with the seven missing snaps coming at the end of the blowout victory over the Carolina Panthers when the Steelers chose to give him and Ben Roethlisberger the last series off.
Pouncey played some of his best football of the year on Monday night against the Houston Texans, providing a reminder as to why he was worth his new contract, rather than opting to proceed with Cody Wallace or Fernando Velasco at center instead.
This play came early in the game, on the opening drive, and though it’s a simple base block versus nose tackle Jerrell Powe, it helps open up the lane for the running back. The value of a center that can consistency win against a nose tackle one-on-one cannot be underestimated.
Later in the first quarter, on the Steelers’ second drive, he showed off some of his improved recognition skills in pass protection against a defensive line set off-center to the offensive right side. J.J. Watt was lined wide of the right tackle.
On the snap, Brooks Reed attempted to penetrate the gap between Pouncey and David DeCastro as a distraction while Watt crashed inside and the linebacker peeled off to his left. Pouncey was ready for it, and Watt wound up staring down the field with his back to the play as Roethlisberger completed a third-down pass.
The fifth-year center finished off the first half with perhaps the best downfield block that I can recall seeing from him on a 28-yard screen pass to Le’Veon Bell.
Pouncey veer blocked off the snap, jamming Reed before mirroring and then sealing off Mike Mohamed, keeping his back to Bell’s inside shoulder. Bell then helped out his center by following his block, which wound up taking out the safety as well.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Steelers facing another third down, Pouncey shaded left to assist Ramon Foster with the nose tackle until Whitney Mercilus stunted inside. The center picked him up with ease and stonewalled him, using his hands well to disarm the rusher and buy his quarterback time to make a play.
That play ended up being short of a first down, but the extra time bought resulted in the Texans committed a hold in the secondary to produce an automatic first down.