Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers defense did manage to hold the Baltimore Ravens offense to just 16 points on Sunday—and one of their two touchdowns came as the result of a fumble recovered at the Steelers’ 33-yard line—I’m still going to take a look at Cam Thomas and his role as a starter, and whether or not that is hurting the team.
It’s not like I don’t know that there’s already an established audience for that point of view, within the Steelers Depot community and around other Steelers-based communities. Quite frankly, it’s an easy argument to sell, even if this may have actually been one of Thomas’ better games of the season.
But given the fact that the Steelers do have two viable members of the rotation that can take on a larger role in Brett Keisel and rookie Stephon Tuitt, it’s fair to question the decision to keep Thomas in the starting lineup, which I wrote about earlier this week. Now it’s time to take a look at some of the film to see why this is a question on the minds of many who follow the team.
Even Thomas’ first snap of the game wasn’t a particularly good one, and despite that, the defense still bottled up Justin Forsett for a two-yard loss.
Having just settled down at the 20 after taking a touchback, the Ravens chose to get things started on the ground with a zone run toward the left between the tackles. Cameron Heyward blew up the play, and ordinarily, that would be the story here.
But watch Thomas on the left side of the defense as he gets buried by second-year undrafted right tackle Ricky Wagner after working a combination block with Marshal Yanda. You don’t want to see your defensive ends lying on their face five yards away from the line of scrimmage too often.
A few snaps later on the same opening drive, the Ravens used misdirection by scraping the line to the left while running off the right end. Thomas made no headway readjusting to the change of direction, and in fact even impeded the progress of nose tackle Steve McLendon from flowing down the line.
This is another example of one of the recurring problems the Steelers have had stopping the run toward the right side when Thomas has been in the game. Wagner was able to completely stalemate the left defensive end, giving him no chance to flow to the ball. With Jason Worilds also getting trapped inside, Forsett had the sideline easily for eight yards.
Take a look at McLendon on this play as well, because this is something that’s been visible throughout the season, and without taking a closer look, it could seem like things are his fault. The fact is that McLendon did an excellent job of working the center and moving laterally toward the ball.
The problem is that he looked like he was responsible for the play because Thomas was sealed inside. Watching it live, you might only see McLendon get run past, when the reality is he shouldn’t even have to be where he is from where he lined up.
Of course, there’s a play or two in every game that Thomas makes to put on tape and keep himself in the good graces of the coaching staff. He shed Wagner easily on this play and engulfed the running back for a short gain. Too bad this isn’t the norm.