In their first playoff game in three years, the Pittsburgh Steelers got significant contributions—at least in terms of playing time—from many of their rookie players, which is, of course, rather out of the ordinary for a Steelers team that has playoff aspirations.
With Le’Veon Bell out, for example, the Steelers got a lot of snaps out of Dri Archer and Josh Harris, Martavis Bryant caught five passes, including the team’s only touchdown. Stephon Tuitt started on defense, and Ryan Shazier logged a healthy number of snaps.
Rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers also saw a career-high snap count in the most important game of his life up to this point. And, generally speaking, he played well—otherwise, of course, the Steelers wouldn’t have kept putting him on the field.
McCullers saw his first playing time of the game late in the first quarter, but neither of the first few plays for which he was in ran in his direction. After the Ravens got inside the red zone on second and three, however, McCullers was put back on the field to stop the run.
On this occasion, he failed to do so, as he allowed himself to be cut down by the left guard. Keeping his feet on plays such as this is one of the main things that he still needs to work on, and something that Steve McLendon can help him with.
Though, in truth, the gap allowed by Tuitt was wide enough that McCullers may not have been able to be a factor on this occasion anyway. Sean Spence played the gap improperly and was unable to recover as the Ravens gained 14 yards down to the five.
With the Ravens back near the goal line later in the second quarter, McCullers found himself back in at nose tackle working against Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah. The mammoth rookie got excellent push off the ball and drove the center back into the pocket, freeing up the lanes for his teammates to swarm and make the play, though, ultimately, you would like him to develop the vision and instinct to make this play on his own.
Early in the second half, he did make the play on his own against Justin Forsett in the running game. On second and three, he drove Zuttah back in the pocket as the offensive line slid right, eventually knocking him to the ground, coming off the block, and swallowing up the back as part of a gang tackle.
Once again, the Ravens were inside the red zone, and once again, the Steelers inserted McCullers at nose tackle. On the first snap, he got pressure on the pass rush and forced the quarterback to scramble for a short gain.
Here, on the second snap, he was able to control the center and clog the middle of the trenches to pen in Forsett, allowing others to make the play after a short gain.