While he may have only made one assisted tackle in the game, Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon made his presence felt at times and in ways that are not reflected in a simple score sheet.
The Steelers’ offensive line was largely dominated by the front seven of the Baltimore Ravens, but McLendon was among the front seven for the Steelers winning many of his matchups on the other side of the ball, particularly against Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah.
It was by no means a flawless performance—he actually played less than half the game as rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers was awarded a healthy, season-high snap count—but he did help remind those who question him by the Steelers are not concerned about the position, and likely believe that they have the pieces in place to rebuild their defensive line, with McLendon occupying the middle.
On just the Ravens’ second snap of the game, already backed in on their own seven-yard line, McLendon got an excellent jump off the snap, shooting his hands up into Zuttah’s chest and driving him back.
He was so successful penetrating into the backfield that quarterback Joe Flacco got his feet tied up with his lineman as he tried to hand the ball off to his running back. Flacco fell to the grass and was tagged down for a five-yard loss.
As previously mentioned, however, he didn’t win all of his battles. He was bested here on a second and one play, driven off the ball by Zuttah and fill-in right guard John Urschel as Justin Forsett ran off right guard for two yards.
Though he failed to make the tackle on this play—it was, I believe, just of his reach, realistically—it’s a good example of one of McLendon’s greatest strength as a nose tackle for the Steelers, which opponents have taken advantage of with others in the middle of the defense in the past.
Taking his lessons from Chris Hoke, McLendon has become quite adept at keeping his feet and avoiding being cut down, either from behind or in front, using his agility, vision, and footwork to keep himself flowing to the ball. it kept him in this play, even if he ultimately was out of range to make the tackle.
Just as he did in the first half, McLendon dominated Zuttah once again on the Ravens’ second play of the second half. On second and 10 on the 16-yard line, this time off the center’s right shoulder, McLendon timed the snap, shot his hands out, and worked the center back, freeing two defenders behind him to fill in the gaps and make the tackle on Forsett for a loss of four.
Later on that same drive, on Sean Spence’s sack fumble, it was McLendon getting inside leverage on Zuttah that opened the middle of the field for the inside linebacker to come in free on the blitz. McLendon even got a hand on Flacco himself on the play.