The individual goal of any player from one season to the next is to get better. Simple enough and it’s easy to say player “X” has to improve. It’s the specifics that are more interesting and the way to measure progression.
We may expand the focus but we’ll begin evaluating the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive lineman. The unit as a whole had a terrific season, Ben Roethlisberger’s sack percentage was easily the lowest of his career, but it doesn’t mean they were perfect.
For the purposes of this evaluation, with the GIFs on-hand from this year’s weekly sack breakdown, we’ll solely look at their pass protection from the sacks they were charged against. Obviously, sacks allowed isn’t the only way to measure how an OL can get better in pass protection, but it’s helpful to put their worst plays together in an attempt to find patterns that point out flaws. The goal isn’t to paint the picture of the player as a whole but specific areas he can get better at.
Today, we’ll start with right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
Gilbert gave up five sacks in 2014, according to my breakdown charting. That’s down from six in 2013. It’s definitely worth pointing out, however, the former number came in only 12 games compared to the full 16 game slate in ’13.
The first two weeks were unnerving for the right tackle, allowing three sacks over that span. From there, he settled down and though never spectacular, generally improved.
His first sack given up came Week One in the first quarter. Third and 14 in the Cleveland Browns’ red zone. Nothing mystical here. A strong bull rush from OLB Paul Kruger sends Gilbert into the pocket. Bull rushes are never easy to stop, and I tend to grade on a generous curve, but this is still ugly. Gilbert is too upright to even have a chance of absorbing the rush. Pads are exposed for Kruger to get his hands into and walk him back.
The second came on third and ten of the fourth quarter of the Browns’ game.
Gilbert short sets to defend the bull rush since the defender isn’t wide from him. But we get some poor weight distribution on his initial steps, his weight on his heels instead of being balanced. Hands are also outside the numbers are don’t make much of a difference. He’s an easy target to bull rush and that’s exactly what occurs with one of the worst attempts to catch the rusher you’ll see all season. Collapses the pocket and Roethlisberger is unable to escape.
At least, that’s what I thought until the second week of the season. If you want to put on tape on a tackle being schooled, look no further than the third quarter sack Gilbert gave up. Terrell Suggs, a thorn in the Steelers’ side, starts from a wide technique and uncoils a nasty bull rush into Gilbert, sending him flying into the ground.
There’s a strength issue at play here but more egregiously, I didn’t like his hand placement. They’re not in a position to get into his body or knock the defender’s hands away. Basically useless.
I can’t speak for how particular Mike Munchak is when he coaches it, but if it were me, I’d never let Gilbert drop his hands at any point. Not on his initial slide and certainly not when about to make contact. They’d always be up tight to the body, above the knee, elbows hinged – arms not dangling – and ready to shoot. Look at Kelvin Beachum. That’s the way I want to see it.
He was clean weeks three and four until allowing half a sack against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week Five. Again, we’re seeing Gilbert too easily get leveraged and buried into the ground. This can be attributed to failing to recognize the T/E stunt between the DE and DT. Tackle Sen’Derrick Marks shoots into Gilbert’s pads, knocking him down with relative ease. Forces the pressure, Roethlisberger has to escape, and is soon taken down.
I’m not sure if it existed in this case but often times, stunts can be predicted by a change in either the tackle of the end’s stagger. If he normally has his right foot up but suddenly has his left, it’s a strong indication the defense is stunting. Down/distance tendencies be a useful clue, going back to your film study.
A Barkevious Mingo spin turned bull rush allows pressure on the next sack attributed to Gilbert, a half sack, for the record. But it’s not so much that Gilbert was walked back the way he was in some of the other clips. It’s the realization that Gilbert is simply giving up too much ground to a much weaker opponent. Mingo has no functional strength and the tackle should have the confidence in being able to catch any such rush.
Maybe he thought Roethlisberger had a deeper drop, the barometer lineman use to know how much ground to give. Big difference in the landing spot of a three versus a seven step drop, for example. After successfully fending off Mingo’s spin, the chip from Heath Miller helps too, he doesn’t need to give that extra step of ground.
We can also see a little bit of upper half lean. Would like to see him do a better job of getting his feet underneath him instead of behind him to even himself out.
I just read a coaching clinic powerpoint yesterday that highlighted this.
Gilbert struggles with that last bullet point.
The last sack he allowed in the regular season came in November against the Baltimore Ravens. Again, nothing too complicated here. Elvis Dumervil is lined up in a wide technique and beats Gilbert on a speed rush. Nice job by the OLB to get his arms extended and punch first, never really allowing Gilbert to gain control. The tackle winds up falling down, unable to seal the edge.
Dumervil bested #77 again in the playoffs as Gilbert showed some poor technique. The tackle can’t absorb the punch, his feet get knocked back, causing him to double-over and be of little resistance to the defender.
Good offensive lineman know how to use two things well: their hands and their feet. Gilbert is still working on both. For me, the problem begins with his hands. Carrying them higher, which did get better throughout the year, with a more forceful punch is going to help the rest of his body. Like the last clip shows, that punch knocked his lower half off balanced and caused him to immediately lose the battle.
He’s also a segmented pass rusher whose upper and lower half aren’t in synch. It’s not that he has bad feet in the sense his feet are slow and he can’t move laterally. Rather, he’s had issue keeping his feet under him, sinking his hips, and playing with proper technique. Have your feet behind you, and not under you, and there’s little chance you’re going to play with good technique.
It’s again worth noting we are specifically looking at the bad plays, the sacks. Sacks don’t tell the entire story and there were plenty of positive plays from him throughout the year. He had a great camp, a poor start to the season, but ended the season making progress, and the sack numbers reflect it.