The Pittsburgh Steelers have thus far been able to make do with backup Cody Wallace at center during the first two games of the season, even if he had a number of issues on isolated incidents scattered throughout the first two games. But his performance this Sunday may very well be of paramount importance with respect to the end result of the game.
That is because the Steelers are facing what figures to be their most challenging defensive front on their schedule, in a hostile crowd, in the form of Aaron Donald and the St. Louis Rams.
And while Donald is rightfully the headliner—and Wallace’s biggest challenge—the Rams’ line is littered with talent, including Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley also in the middle. Chris Long and Robert Quinn are equally notable, but are not Wallace’s concern, generally.
Also of note is the fact that the Rams run a 4-3 front, which, in recent years, the Steelers’ offensive line has found greater difficulty contending with, due to the fact that they do not practice often against such a front, though they have run a low percentage of four-man looks under Keith Butler this year.
Wallace, as mentioned previously, has already had his issues through the first two games of the season. I broke down some of them in the season opener, which included a sack allowed on an A gap blitz from the middle linebacker. Stunts up the middle gave him trouble throughout that opening night loss.
Against the 49ers, Wallace was a bit better, but stilled flawed, particularly in the running game. He was stacked and shed by nose tackle Ian Williams on the first play of the game, for example, making the tackle for no gain.
Williams was able to get the better of the backup center on a number of occasions in the running game, it is true, but Sunday was without question a notable improvement for Wallace over the season opener. He was able to pick up the inside linebacker on a run blitz at the goal line for the Steelers’ first rushing touchdown, as one notable positive performance.
There is no escaping the fact, however, that the Rams front presents this Steelers offensive line with its biggest challenge yet, likely the biggest it will face all season, and perhaps the strong point of that Rams’ line is going up against the Steelers’ weakest point.
Donald, outside of his height, is tremendously gifted athletically, and has the work ethic to back it up. He consistently blows up double teams, so Wallace will have to be perfectly in sync with his two guards, as that defensive tackle can get into the backfield in a hurry.
A likely All-Pro against a backup is never a good matchup, and this one has the potential to be a game wrecker if Ben Roethlisberger is consistently under duress up the middle with his penchant to extend plays, and if Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are unable to get out to the edge due to penetration up the middle. The spotlight will be on Wallace.