Against the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey had perhaps his worst game of the season, faring poorly, overall, in both run blocking and in pass protection—with smatterings of good mixed in, of course.
Much of that had to do with Ravens’ second-year defensive tackle Brandon Williams, whom many are beginning to notice now, for good reason. He has much to do with the fact that Baltimore finished the regular season with one of the best run defenses in the league. Against the Steelers, eve even picked up a sack. But I will have a separate article on him and what he did against this Steelers front later.
The two butted heads on the first play of the game, and the nose tackle came out the winner, making the tackle on Ben Tate after a two-yard gain. Off the snap, the line shifted to the right, but Williams immediately got the upper hand and started driving Pouncey back and forcing Tate wide. When he was out of space, he tried to get inside of Williams, but the lineman came off the block and tackled the back by the waist.
Later, still in the first quarter, Pouncey attempted to reach block Chris Canty, who was lined up off his right shoulder—in fact, off the shoulder of the right guard. But the defensive end stunted left off the snap, causing Pouncey to overshoot his assignment. He only got a chip on the veteran defensive lineman as he flowed into the backfield off the left side and brought down Josh Harris for a two-yard loss.
At the start of this running play from Harris midway through the third quarter, it seemed that Pouncey might have done enough to keep Haloti Ngata out of the play, initially forcing him off the line of scrimmage and to the offensive right side. With nothing developing in the designed lane however—and perhaps some poor vision from Harris—the play wound up flowing nearer the middle of the line than was expected. Ngata came off his block and made the tackle along with the outside linebacker.
Plays such as these were a fairly common theme throughout the night for the Steelers in the running game, which is perhaps why they didn’t run the ball too often. But Pouncey had his difficulties in pass protection as well, as mentioned, and had a contributing hand in giving up at least two of the Ravens’ five sacks. But there was some good as well, even at a critical time.
Late in the game, two plays after Ben Roethlisberger went down, the Steelers’ season was on the line with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback facing a fourth and three, after picking up 18 yards the play before. While the Ravens only rushed four, they ran a stunt right up the middle, and Pouncey was able to pick up Ngata with ease, allowing the backup to complete his pass and keep the drive going.