I’m spending a good portion of my film studies this week taking a good look at some of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive linemen, and for good reason. Not just because they had to play a big role in Sunday’s game against the Bengals, but because they will likely have to do so again tomorrow, as I don’t like the odds of Stephon Tuitt playing, or playing up to his usual caliber.
If Tuitt is down, that will have a ripple effect of pushing Javon Hargrave to seeing more defensive end snaps, which will also put Daniel McCullers in for more snaps as the nose tackle. He is bound to see some snaps in the nickel as well, just based on the rotation.
Because Tuitt went out early in the last game, McCullers also came in relatively early, and he recorded his first tackle of the game toward the end of the opening drive. With Cincinnati facing a third and one from inside the 10, he, lined up as a tilted nose, held the point of attack against the center and came off the block to make the tackle, but the back got enough forward momentum to get the one yard needed.
He came back to make the tackle on the next play as well, which was now first and goal. The center chipped him before passing him off to the left guard, but McCullers threw him aside and was able to meet the running back as he hit the hole, getting in on the tackle after a one-yard gain.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the Bengals were back at the Steelers’ end of the field encroaching on a score. On this occasion, it was second and goal from the one. With McCullers as the left one-tech, he did a great job of taking on the right guard while maintaining his outside hand, freeing himself to make the second of three goal-line stops, though three proved not to be enough.
In fact, the 350-pound nose tackle was walked back on that fourth-down play from a couple of inches out. Not far, mind you, but far enough to allow the Bengals’ quarterback to get into the end zone easily enough on a keeper. McCullers got too high off the snap, allowing the guard to drive under him and stand him up, which is an issue that he has had, though improved upon, since college.
Unfortunately, he struggled to leverage against the right guard again in the second quarter on Cincinnati’s second touchdown, as well. Again, it wasn’t a lot, just a step or two back and to the left, but it was enough to form the alley for the score, and also allowed the guard to pass the nose tackle off to the center and move on to picking off the last line of defense.
McCullers’ task on these plays is a thankless one, to be sure, and it’s very difficult to maintain consistency. Overall, though he hasn’t played a great deal, he is probably doing the best he has up to this point in his career, though he is still prone to the occasional technical slip-up, with his height doing him no favors in such situations.