The offensive line has been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks, and for good reason. Their rise to prominence has been an essential ingredient in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ nine-game winning streak, during which they have primarily relied upon the running game—but they have also been among the best pass-protecting units in the league as well.
Earlier in the week, I provided at look at Alejandro Villanueva’s performance against the Chiefs, so today I want to flip over to the other side and give right tackle Marcus Gilbert the proper treatment that he deserves for his fine play. There is a reason that many of his teammates and coaches believe he has been a Pro-Bowl snub for two years running now.
The first play I’m going to take a look at comes at the top of the second quarter. The Steelers had a first and 10 from their own 40 and were sticking to the ground at that point. This is one of the plays on which Villanueva pulled, but Gilbert deserves credit for wrestling Dee Ford wide up the arc and providing a wide running lane that allowed Le’Veon Bell to escape back-side pursuit.
Later on that same drive, working in pass protection, Gilbert did a beautiful job against Ford, swatting away his lunging inside arm, allowing the right tackle to get his arms in the rusher’s chest and easily controlling him around the perimeter of the pocket.
Two plays later, the Steelers nearly had a touchdown if not for a fantastic defensive play in the end zone of ripping the ball out. But it was the pass protection that brought them that close to scoring. Once again, Gilbert deflected Ford’s inside arm and sealed him out of a clean pocket.
I do want to point out a minor blemish, and it came on what I believe was Gilbert’s only pull of the game. On the play after that near-touchdown, it seemed as though the right tackle believed he had another blocker, perhaps Jesse James, that was supposed to trail in behind him, as he seemed to try to flow by the first defender in the whole as though he were trying to get to the second level. But because of this, Bell had to bounce the run outside, which allowed the safety to come down and pop him for a loss of a yard.
Of course, when you’re a tackle, you’re not pulling very often, so it shouldn’t be a shock to see a miscommunication or two. I just hope it doesn’t happen again.
Later in the quarter, Gilbert got off an excellent down block on a short-yardage carry that allowed Bell to gain four yards off right guard when only one was needed. He may have slimmed down, but he still has the power.
Still later in the quarter, the Steelers ran an outside zone for Bell to the right. While there is plenty for the eye to take in on this play—such as Maurkice Pouncey here—Gilbert’s blitzkrieging of Ford out of the play left the run with plenty of space with which to operate, and helped contribute to the 17-yard gain.
A very legitimate argument could be made that the Steelers are playing with the best offensive line that they have ever had, and they did so with home-grown talent and development. With the exception of Pouncey, the entire line has grown dramatically since first coming in—Pouncey being the exception, of course, only because of how good he was from day one, and even he improved.