The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have an odd obsession with the running back position and pass protection, don’t they? I mean, how important can the running back really be in protecting the quarterback when you have five big offensive linemen in front of them?
Well, you can probably ask Cam Newton about that, as Christian McCaffrey didn’t necessarily do him many favors. While he wasn’t responsible for every one of Newton’s five sacks, he was involved in one way or another in all of them, and I can really only give him credit for doing his job on one of them.
The first was Vince Williams’, which was clearly McCaffrey’s worst effort. The second-year back had clear one-on-one blitz pickup duty on the same side of the field, but Williams schooled him, taking advantage of a premature chop to swim right over him for an easy sack.
Later in the game as Cameron Heyward got his first sack, this is the one on which McCaffrey did a solid job. He at least had to come across the formation to pick up a blitzing Jon Bostic and prevent him from getting involved in the play.
Then there was the unblocked effort of T.J. Watt, but should it have been? Somebody made a mistake here. Either McCaffrey ought to have been responsible for chipping Watt as he went out for a route, or Newton should have checked to the back as his hot read. Based on Newton’s field of view, I would lean toward the latter being the intended.
Bud Dupree got a sack of his own, but it very nearly could also have been given to Bostic, who got the better of McCaffrey this time around. Blitzing through the A gap as the nose tackle stunt around the other side, he drove the second-year man back into the pocket, penning Newton in.
And finally, there was Heyward’s second sack of the game, and the one that looks the worst for the young running back. The veteran lineman checked him so hard that he seemed to fall spinning backward for several yards.
Of course, there was also an oversight in the protection responsibilities, as should be obvious with the left guard not blocking anybody against five rushers. So obviously McCaffrey wasn’t supposed to be taking Heyward on one-on-one.
Still, you don’t want to see yourself sprawling backward on the highlight reel as you give up a sack.