The Pittsburgh Steelers had the unenviable task of preparing to play against Von Miller while starting their fifth option at tackle to start the season, behind Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert, Jerald Hawkins and Matt Feiler. Rookie Chukwuma Okorafor got the nod, and they provided him with a lot of help that resulted in a solid overall effort, but it was not without its issues.
But first I want to provide an example of the sort of assistance they gave their 21-year-old rookie. Take this early second-down play, which provided strong enough protection to allow Ben Roethlisberger to pump fake literally five times before completing a pass.
Another example is below, with the Steelers dedicating James Conner in pass protection to stay in. He spent a higher percentage of his snaps in protection than in any other game this season. Here, Okorafor held up enough to allow a completion on third down for a first down.
It was a more difficult assignment when the play was designed to go down the field, however, and he allowed pressure on a couple of deep targets, starting with a bomb to JuJu Smith-Schuster that he couldn’t bring in.
The Steelers didn’t give him any help this time and Okorafor was driven back into the pocket. Roethlisberger himself confirmed that the pressure forced him to release the ball early on this throw, which could have gone for huge play, even a touchdown, if completed.
The quarterback got off a better throw to James Washington later in the quarter, which has been considered a drop, but again, the pass was affected by pressure Okorafor allowed. It was Derek Wolfe again providing the pressure, turning the rookie inside and getting around the edge.
Miller had more and more clear rush opportunities against Okorafor as the game wore on, and he also found more success. His speed rush here forced Roethlisberger to scramble with no hot route immediately available.
And of course that culminated in a sack late in the game. I watched this play over carefully and Miller moved before the snap but was onside. It would be hard for any lineman to recover against such a jump, but he slid between the tackle and Conner to get Roethlisberger down.
Obviously the intention here is to focus more on a lowlight reel, but it was far from a bad game from Okorafor, especially considering it was his first meaningful snaps at tackle in a real game.