The Pittsburgh Steelers have gone through the majority of the regular season without starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert, though the truth is that the above-the-line play of his backup, Chris Hubbard, made his absence, as Mike Tomlin said, “a non-discussion”.
Still, while Hubbard has been a solid player for the team, and I have no doubt has earned himself a pretty decent contract and a chance to start—or at least compete for a starting job—somewhere else in the league next year when he hits free agency, Gilbert is the better player, and a Pro-Bowl talent.
Monday’s game in Houston was his first since returning from a four-game suspension, and he played as though he had not been away. Pro Football Focus even rated him the second-best tackle of the week, for whatever mileage that gets for you.
On an early play, Gilbert was up against Jadeveon Clowney, who gets moved around a fair bit. While this pass on third down was incomplete, he was able to usher the former first-overall pick out of harm’s way. Clowney won with an initial speed rush and dip, but Gilbert recovered and ended up sending him spilling to the ground, knocking others over, as he turned the corner.
Later, actually working next to Hubbard, who checked in as a tackle-eligible, Gilbert’s interior work on a reach block, after a slight assist from David DeCastro, helped to open up a small crease that allowed Le’Veon Bell to pick up five yards on first and 10.
A bit later on, with the Steelers facing a third and 12, the right tackle was given a very touch ask, attempting to reach Zach Cunningham on a pass to the tight end. It’s little surprise that he wasn’t able to get there in time. I find it hard to put much criticism on a lineman failing to make a block like this in such a situation.
He and DeCastro really busted open wide a running lane for Roosevelt Nix’s first career rushing touchdown on a fullback dive. Facing the entire defense up in the box against 23 personnel, it’s almost hard to believe how much real estate these two created on their own.
Another example in the running game here is worth a look, even though the play was not technically successful, gaining four yards on second and nine. Gilbert did an excellent job of framing the gap and placing himself in front of the lineman, walling him off.
While Hubbard did a very commendable job filling in for Gilbert, it is the latter who is the starter, and not without justifiable reason. He is a legitimate talent, and if he can ever put together a healthy 16-game season, he has the ability to go to the Pro Bowl.