Welcome back to the trenches or as the saying goes, where the game is won and lost. The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line has remained intact the last few weeks and the continuity is starting to show. The Steelers struggled mightily against a premier run defense last week against the Denver Broncos. They only ran the ball seventeen times total for a measly twenty-three yards; and a pathetic 1.4 yards per carry, but were much more efficient in the pass game.
Considering the Steelers threw the ball fifty-five times the offensive line had to be better in pass protection. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times but was only hit four times altogether on route to another 300+ yard performance. Similarly to last week there will be some basic grading that goes along to provide context of full game performance.
LT- Alejandro Villanueva– 4 negative plays, 0 exceptional plays (-4) 2 sacks allowed
LG- Ramon Foster- 3 negative plays, 1 exceptional play (-2) 1 knockdown block .5 sack allowed
C- Cody Wallace-5 negative plays, 4 exceptional plays (-1) .5 sack allowed, 2 blocks finished and 3 penalties
RG- David DeCastro- 2 negative plays, 5 exceptional plays (+3) 1 pancake
RT- Marcus Glibert- 4 negative plays, 1 exceptional play (-3) 1 penalty
TE- Heath Miller- 2 negative plays, 2 exceptional plays (even) 1 penalty
Here we have a first & ten and the Steelers lineup in an 11 personal. The play is a running back slip screen to the strong side. Right off the bat it’s a good set up as the Broncos bring a blitz. The center Wallace, left guard DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert are all covered each of them do a very good job of selling the pass. This is one of the most underrated aspects of a successful screen play.
Williams breaks a tackle right after he catches the ball and then heads down field. This is where the real beauty takes place. A fantastic amount of hustle by both Wallace and DeCastro to get down field and make key blocks. DeCastro in particular plants linebacker Brandon Marshall about 3 inches into the turf allowing Williams to gain an additional few yards and inch closer to the goal line. This kind of athleticism hustle and power are part of the reason that David DeCastro is going to his first Pro Bowl.
2nd & ten at the Bronco thirteen and the Steelers come out in a heavy 22 personnel formation. The Broncos load up the strong side and put nine men in the box to counter. The play call is a good one as the Steelers have a favorable matchup to the weak side. As the ball is snapped left guard Foster fails to get his reach block and is stacked and shed by Malik Jackson for the tackle. This was far from the only failed blocking assignment on this play.
Left tackle Villanueva false steps off of the snap and in return gets very little push on Shane Ray. This makes a very difficult block for the fullback Roosevelt Nix. Villanueva then goes to linebacker where he is beaten to the inside. On the back side Cody Wallace gets to the linebacker and whiffs. Although Foster is the biggest culprit on this play, the inability to seal the edge gives Williams very few options.
In the third quarter the Steelers were faced with a third & five. Todd Haley called for an 11 personnel formation strong left and in shotgun. The Broncos blitz, bringing six men and the Steelers do a fine job of picking up each man. Left tackle Villanueva allows himself to get his hips turned a little too much but anchors successfully. Foster and Wallace successfully pass off of Jackson and Marshall. Wallace mirrors Marshall to pick up the blitzing linebacker. Running back DeAngelo Williams stones blitzing safety David Bruton at the line of scrimmage, excellent pick up by the veteran running back.
DeCastro despite being a little tall in his set catches and anchors Derek Wolfe at the line of scrimmage allowing no penetration whatsoever. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert shows some unusual athleticsism as he hangs with DeCastro long enough to punch Wolfe and recover in time to make a nice block on outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. The Steelers were unsuccessful on this 3rd down however it was no fault of the protection.
This time we will peak in at a 1st & ten near the end of the 3rd quarter. Once again we see the Steelers in a shotgun set with 11 personnel. The Steelers run a little 25 zone sweep. The two key blocks on this play will be from Villanueva and Foster. Pre snap the play call looks very good as the Steelers have three against two on the left side. However the key double team between Foster and Wallace quickly goes south. The double team results in no push and Foster is forced to leave early to go to linebacker. This allows Antonio Smith to successfully clog the “B” gap. Coincidentally Villanueva gives up two to three yards and outside linebacker Shane Ray sets the edge forcing Williams back inside where Ray and Smith combine for the tackle with no gain.
The Steelers were forced into a 3rd and 11 situation and once again we see the shotgun set with 11 personnel. The Broncos initially Rush four however linebacker Danny Trevathan blitzes once he sees Williams stay in to block. Left tackle Villanova gets help from Williams and they keep DeMarcus Ware at bay. Foster goes big on big with Smith and completely stones him the only true 1 verse 1 block. Wallace sets to the right and helps DeCastro with Wolfe. Then DeCastro peels off to support Gilbert on Von Miller’s inside rush.
Even Heath Miller gets in on the action and chips Von Miller as he goes out into his route. The only pressure came on the delayed blitz from Trevathan as he found a way through the cracks. However Roethlisberger still has nearly four seconds to hang in the pocket and deliver an accurate pass thus converting an important third and long.
Despite the abundance of penalties and the utter lack of a run game this offensive line did not perform too poorly. Take into consideration the level of pass rush talent; in conjunction with the confusing blitz packages Wade Phillips like to use, and they kept Roethlisberger pretty clean. There is certainly room for improvement.
DeCastro, despite being the Steelers most consistent O-lineman, still is playing too tall and often times fails to come to balance prior to contact in space. Wallace is about as mean of a player as there is in the league and that is meant as a compliment. His hustle and will to stick with defenders and finish blocks to the whistle is unmatched. That will not make up for penalties and sacks allowed.
Villanueva and Foster had rough evenings. Foster was battling an underrated player in Malik Jackson most of the game. A battle that would have to go to Jackson. Villanueva was rarely left on an island and when he was the team paid for it. Considering his limited experience at the LT spot inconsistency is to be expected though. The amount of time and clean pockets Roethlisberger had in the second half did seem to jump. A great sign for a unit to come together when it matters most. Next on the docket will be hated rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Led by NT Brandon Williams it’s safe to the records go out the window when these two team matchup.