The last time starting nose tackle Steve McLendon missed a game, the Pittsburgh Steelers moved Cam Thomas from left defensive end to nose tackle in the starting lineup. Last week, against the Tennessee Titans, however, they gave rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers the chance to start.
He was promptly cut to the ground on the second snap of the game, but he generally improved from there. Whether or not that performance earned himself any more faith or trust among the coaching staff is left to be determined, but the Steelers turned the nose tackle position over to Thomas for most of the second half.
In all honesty, it was one of his better performances of the season, at least when taking into account snaps exclusively at nose tackle. He had his usual struggles in the first half at defensive end, actually, and his first snap at nose tackle was little better than McCullers’.
As seen above. The Steelers opened the second half in the nickel and were ripped for six yards. On second down, despite the nose tackle falling to the ground, the defensive line only gave up two yards. Upon further inspection, Thomas wound up stepping on the back of the left guard’s foot as he went down, working to his right against the center.
But he and Brett Keisel helped force an opening drive three and out with this stunt on third and two, pressuring Zach Mettenberger into an incompletion. Keisel shot inside immediately at the snap as Thomas flowed around the right end, taking advantage of an inside cut by James Harrison to loop around the left tackle. He and Keisel met at the quarterback as he was plastered after delivering the incomplete ball.
Thomas’ best play of the day, as a matter of fact, did not count. It came in the middle of the Titans’ second drive of the third quarter, and it was negated by a holding penalty on the right guard. For his part, however, Thomas actually did an excellent job of flowing off the ball, ripping underneath the center, and releasing, burying the ball carrier for no gain.
The Titans only ran seven plays in the fourth quarter, with only one first down and two punts. Thomas helped get that first drive off to a poor start, pushing the center back at the snap and disrupting the running lanes, following the play as the back was cut down for a three-yard loss.
After gaining a first down on the first play of their final drive, the Titans run game was stopped after just a yard when Thomas got the left guard off his feet on a sweep right. With the left tackle also falling, it was all the runner could do to try to cut back, where Harrison and Keisel were there to make the tackle.