Where would the Pittsburgh Steelers be without Tyson Alualu this season? It’s a bit hard to say. We saw how much they struggled at times a season ago while dealing with injuries along the defensive line, and it wasn’t pretty. While he is something of a downgrade as a pass-rusher, his overall play filling in was crucial to holding the fort during the early stretch of the season.
In that regard, his start in the season finale with Cameron Heyward resting can almost be viewed as something of a reward for the work that he put in, and he was able to deliver big time on the stat sheet as well, posting two sacks and eight tackles, a couple of which went for negative yardage.
Alualu’s first sack of DeShone Kizer came on the Browns’ first offensive play of the game, and honestly it was one of the easier ones you’ll see. While not unblocked, he was given free reign into the backfield with a wide split and separation between center and left guard, and he easily bounced off the glancing blow from Isaiah Crowell for the sack. He did a strong job of finishing the play.
Later in the quarter, following an interception, the defense forced a quick three-and-out, aided by a tackle for loss by Alualu on second and six. On the play, he got ahead of Spencer Drango at left tackle on a line shift right, so when Joel Bitonio released to move up to the second level, he was already on a path to the backfield, taking Crowell down for a loss.
Still in the first, with the Browns backed up deep in their own end, the veteran threatened a safety when he brought Crowell down at the one-yard line for another loss. He swam inside of the tight end off left tackle, who simply could not handle the athletic big man.
While Duke Johnson went for seven on this run, and does how Alualu as a bit of a slow starter from a standing position, this is yet another example of the contagious hustle that is essential to playing for John Mitchell’s unit, and is a tradition handed down from lineman to lineman.
Another run here that went for seven, this time Crowell, but not Alualu’s doing. Coming from the back side, he played the tackle well before freeing himself and showing some agility to scoop and toss the back from behind.
The Jacksonville product got himself his second sack of the game—his first two-sack game of his career—in the second quarter. Aligned as a three-tech over Bitonio, he looped around Drango at left tackle to push the pocket, catching Kizer as he flushed to within range of his arm span. Again, he did a great job of finishing the play.
Alualu logged nearly 450 snaps for this Steelers defense and put in some very solid work, even improving against the pass as the season wore on, which has never been a strength. Most impressive has been his coordination in tight spaces and ability to get off blocks in running situations. He has been a very valuable asset, but I just wish there was more than one year left on his deal.