With the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line dealing with a host of injuries this season, I fear we haven’t called enough attention to the fine play of Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, and especially Marcus Gilbert. The right tackle struggled last year after being signed to a lengthy extension, but the continued coaching of Mike Munchak has clearly had a big impact on Gilbert’s game, especially as a pass protector.
Alex Kozora has credited Gilbert with just one allowed sack this season, that actually came in two separate games where the offensive lineman gave up half-a-sack on each occasion. In addition to that impressive number, Gilbert has effectively shut down top-tier edge rushers like Justin Houston, Elvis Dumervil, and this week Khalil Mack.
Alex and I have talked a lot about how much higher Gilbert is carrying his hands this season, an improvement you could see from the first snap of the game on Sunday. Look how prepared Gilbert is to punch, hands ready to shoot, stance firm beneath him.
But unlike previous instances in his career, Gilbert doesn’t lunge, instead patiently waiting for Mack to get within striking distance, then unleashing his punch with a nasty physicality.
That’s such a powerful blow, leveraging Mack backwards and sending a message from the outset of the contest. That edge was something Gilbert, who possesses one of the most impressive physiques of any offensive lineman in the NFL, had been missing in past seasons, but has shown consistently in 2015.
More great form from Gilbert later in the game, not allowing the pass rusher to turn the corner by punching his right (outside arm) to the shoulder/collarbone area of the defender.
This allows Gilbert to control the edge while forcing the rusher to maneuver inside, where he can simply drive him down the line and out of the play. Many pass rushers don’t have the quickness, ability or time to counter when their initial move is stymied, so Gilbert’s ability to win off the snap again becomes huge. Obviously the right tackle possesses ideal physical tools to win one-on-one matchups, and you can see his length, power, and balance on display here.
I know this is a quick release by Ben Roethlisberger, but watch how excellent Gilbert’s form is against Mack here.
That’s picture perfect stuff from a guy who is fast-becoming as technically sound as he is athletic.
That athleticism still shines through however, particularly when talking about foot quickness. Gilbert has always been very fleet of foot for a man his size, but now that his kickslide has undergone plenty of refinement, winning the edge against the offensive tackles is a rare occurrence for a defender.
That’s an incredible get-off by Gilbert to reach his landing spot before another great pass rusher in Aldon Smith can. His hands get a little wide on this punch, but I’m impressed with Gilbert’s ability to reset his hands and anchor his lower half to avoid getting bull-rushed. Everything is not always going to go perfectly as an offensive lineman battling elite pass rushers, but the ability to keep fighting with proper technique is pivotal.
Locks up Mack here to give Roethlisberger tons of time to find Markus Wheaton in the end zone right before the half, but the receiver just couldn’t hang on. Mack is one of the quickest defenders in the NFL, but Gilbert’s ability to grip him up and show active feet to keep the edge rusher from shedding his block is impressive. It is often said that an offensive lineman’s butt should be like a video camera in pass protection, whose viewfinder never leaves the quarterback. Considering that analogy, Gilbert’s work here is commendable enough to be recommended for Best Picture at the next Oscars.
The key with Gilbert is consistency, as he’s now progressed to the point that he is easily one of the best right tackles in the NFL. He’s smart, understands his assignments, and has the strength, quickness, and technical ability to win against the best in the NFL. So far this season, Gilbert has had very few lapses in pass protection, a trend Pittsburgh will need him to continue with Alejandro Villanueva and Cody Wallace struggling to stop pass rushers.