I wrote an article last week discussing the progression of third-year Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Chris Hubbard and the evolution of his role in the offense. Over the course of the final seven games of the season, he played on nearly a quarter of the team’s total offensive snaps, being used as an extra offensive lineman.
The article largely fell on deaf or apathetic ears, with the general response coming from observers who attest that Hubbard has actually not been playing well, with the suggestion that the Steelers have been running the ball, if not in spite of him, then at least without him contributing positively to those efforts.
So I’m going to take a look at some of Hubbard’s work against the Dolphins on Sunday, and you can judge for yourself, from a fairly representative sample of his snaps, how he is playing. The bulk of his playing time, you might not be surprised to learn, occurred late in the first quarter and early in the second, when the Steelers dedicated an entire drive to running the ball, so the samples are going to skew heavily in that area of the game for good reason.
Hubbard declared as eligible on the first play of that drive, lined up off right tackle at the line of scrimmage. After chipping the end, he got out in front of the outside linebacker. Le’Veon Bell cut in Hubbard’s direction late and helped the linebacker shed, since the lineman can’t see what’s happening behind him, but it went for eight yards.
He was in the same spot on the second play of the drive on a run up the middle for five yards. With the line shifting left, Hubbard turned backside to seal off the outside linebacker, who was playing up at the line of scrimmage.
A few plays later, on the final play of the first quarter on a first-and-10 run, Hubbard was this time the inside tight end of three on the right side. He was able to do a nice job of keeping his hands outside as he washed the defensive lineman out of the play, allowing Bell to work off the right end for six yards.
On the next snap, at the top of the second quarter, running out of a 22 set, Hubbard moved to the left side and he, the left tackle, and the additional tight end all did an excellent job of walling off the left-side edge defenders and creating an alley for Bell to pick up a new set of downs.
He didn’t get a lot of playing time for much of the rest of the game, but he did see some snaps late in the third quarter. On a second-and-eight run inside the red zone, Hubbard, as the inside tight end of three on the right, did his part in getting in front of Bell and trying to seal the nearest defender. The runner was tackled from behind on his play for a three-yard gain.
The former undrafted lineman has been consistently getting better and better as the season has gone on functioning in this role, which is precisely the reason that the Steelers have continued to rely upon it so frequently. If Hubbard was not playing well, he would not be playing.