While it may be true that the Pro-Bowl status of Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva came about largely for reasons beyond the football field, it would be disingenuous to deny that he is a quality player who is continuing to ascend, now in his second full season as a starter.
As he did last year, Villanueva got off to a rough start at the beginning of the season, but has really solidified down the stretch, and had a strong game against the Texans, including some good battles with Jadeveon Clowney.
Take the second play of the game as an example. Villanueva controlled the outside linebacker for the duration of the play, getting is long arms into the pass-rusher’s chest. Despite the fact that Ben Roethlisberger didn’t immediately have anybody open, Clowney never came close to being a factor in this play.
Later in the quarter, working against another player off the edge, Villanueva used his forearm swat to bat the edge rusher’s hands down as he spilled down the ground, the left tackle getting on top of him. Roethlisberger completed the third-down pass for a conversion.
In to the second quarter, with Stevan Ridley getting his first snap as a Steeler, he was able to clear the edge as he anticipated the running back’s cutback. While the play only picked up three yards, he helped in at least getting that much.
A play later, the Steelers pulled a couple of linemen to get Le’Veon Bell down the right edge to the sideline, but Villanueva deserves credit for booking it down the field and helping clear the final obstacles on a 22-yard run.
A bit later, still on the same drive, Villanueva put Clowney on his back as Roethlisberger dropped back to pass. Without much pressure, he scanned the field and checked down for Bell, who had room to run for 10 yards.
A bit later into the game, Clowney had a bit more success than the previous example where he was put on the ground, but Villanueva still stopped his rush in its tracks and drove him back.
Although this play ended up losing two yards, it’s another example of how the left tackle handled Clowney for most of the game.
There were times, to be sure, where he didn’t look as well as he does in the above examples. He ended up on the ground a few times trying to keep up with the strong and agile former first-overall pick. But Villanueva is a player who is closer to a true Pro-Bowler right now than many might think. In fact, it was around this time last year that he began playing his best football.