If you follow this site, then you’ve no doubt heard that rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers is reportedly in line to make his first career start—assuming the Pittsburgh Steelers open in their base defense—on Monday night.
If he does start, then that means nose tackle Steve McLendon will be sitting out to rest his injured shoulder, despite the fact that he went to distance in the Steelers’ last game. Pittsburgh has a bye week following the next game, so the coaching staff would like him to get a nice long rest.
McCullers was active for the third time in his career, logging 11 snaps, all at nose tackle in the base defense. Was his performance against the New York Jets the reason that John Mitchell is evidently ready to give him a chance to start? There’s one way to find out, and that’s looking at the tape.
McCullers got his first snap early on, about two and a half minutes into the game, on the Jets’ opening drive. Michael Vick had just thrown to Percy Harvin for a first down, and the Steelers gave McLendon a breather with the rookie.
McCullers line up as a one-tech on center Nick Mangold’s right shoulder. Mangold took him on one on one while the left side of the offensive line double teamed on Brett Keisel.
Both inside linebackers flowed to the A Gap, forcing Chris Ivory to cut around left tackle, but Eric Decker took out Will Allen and allowed the back to hit the hole. Obviously not much McCullers could do there.
The Jets line did at least hit McCullers with a combination block on the following second and two play, another carry by Ivory. Though he wasn’t moved much, it did create enough room for the line to push for a first down.
McCullers found himself back on the field late in the first quarter with the Jets on first and goal. Harvin took the ball around the left edge for two yards on first down, but Ivory got the handoff up the middle on second and goal from the two.
Mangold chipped on the nose tackle off the snap, but it was Willie Colon who picked up the nose tackle, and he was able to turn McCullers outside and perpendicular to the play. Cameron Heyward beat the right tackle, however, and was the first to jump on the back three yards in the backfield.
Late in the first half, the Jets ran a Wildcat handoff to Chris Johnson on first down. This time, McCullers was able hand fight his way off of Colon’s block as he showed good lateral movement chasing the ball, nipping at Johnson’s legs as he was tackled by the linebackers.
Midway through the third quarter, the Jets tried a back side double team on McCullers that wasn’t overly effective. The nose tackle had little difficulty flowing to the ball and falling onto the pile.
Late in the game, McCullers and the left side of the defense closed down the perimeter, forcing Ivory to cut his run back to the offensive left side, where he was met by two defenders for a loss of one, but the nose tackle showed awareness to get off the line and head toward the ball carrier anyway, even chasing after the ball when it popped loose after the whistle.