In the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday win over the Cleveland Browns, defensive tackle Daniel McCullers was forced to play a large amount of snaps as not only did defensive end Stephon Tuitt sit out the game, fellow defensive linemen Ricardo Mathews and Javon Hargrave both exited the contest with injuries. McCullers not only played extensively, he played well and impacted the game directly a few times in a positive manner.
McCullers first showed up on the stat sheet against the Browns in the second quarter on this 1st and 10 run by running back Isaiah Crowell. After lining up heads-up on the Browns right guard, McCullers, jumps inside to the strong side of the formation and crosses the face of the center. He then sheds the block and takes Crowell down for a gain of 1 yard.
Later on in the second quarter McCullers made a play that won’t show up on the stat sheet. With 3:46 left in the first half, the Browns faced a 1st and 10 from the Steelers 17-yard-line. Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III took the shotgun snap and McCullers proceeded to not only walk the left guard back into the pocket, he also got himself into the throwing lane. In doing so, McCullers likely helped Griffin not see Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who wound up intercepting the ill-advised throw. Good things usually happen when pressure is provided by the defensive line and such was the case on this particular play.
In the fourth quarter, McCullers registered his first full sack of his career on a 3rd and 5 play from the Steelers 23-yard-line. This time the behemoth defensive tackle worked the rookie Browns center over one-on-one by using his hands along with a strong leg drive. Without any exit lanes, Griffin is easily eaten up by McCullers for a loss of 8 yards. That lost yardage wound up being as big as McCullers as Browns kicker Cody Parkey missed his 49-yard field goal attempt on the very next play and the game remain tied at 14 as a result.
In overtime, McCullers again made his presence felt. In a repeat performance of the first play I highlighted of his, McCullers once again crosses the face of the Browns center to corral Crowell for no gain on a 1st and goal run from the Steelers 9-yard-line.
While the Steelers run defense fared well overall when McCullers was on the field against the Browns, it certainly appears as though he wasn’t sure where to line up on this fourth quarter touchdown run by Browns running back George Atkinson III. It looks like there’s a lot of confusion pre-snap and just before the play gets underway, linebacker Bud Dupree taps McCullers. The two defensive players wind up in the same gap and McCullers is easy turned out by the Browns left guard.
McCullers was far from perfect against the Browns, but it was probably his most complete and impactful game that he’s played so far during his career.