Yesterday, Matthew Marczi passed along the study Pro Football Focus did showing how well the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line was at picking up stunts last season. It was one of Mike Munchak’s hallmarks. The year before he got here, the team was a mess. Since then, attend almost any training camp practice, and you would see Munchak make the group work on stunt pickup. All the time, consistent repetition. Sometimes they’d work in pairs of two (away from the slide side) or in groups of three (the slide side).
So with that info in mind, let’s revisit the tape. And comb through some plays that showed just how good this line has been about communicating twists and stunts and why it’s gotta continue for this line to continually find itself at the top league wide.
1000%, this is my favorite stunt from two linemen working together. Second matchup versus Baltimore. By this point, Matt Feiler had plenty of reps at RT and you can see the chemistry and communication between him and RG David DeCastro.
Baltimore running this game with the end crashing and the d-tackle looping around. DeCastro and Feiler stay on the same plane, not creating space between them for the crasher to squeeze through, and seamlessly pass the one off to the other. No wasted time or motion. They’re each square to the block with the new defender they’re picking up and it creates a perfect pocket for Ben Roethlisberger.
This is art.
Linemen have to show physicality on these stunts. Make defenders pay for trying it. Get a great example of it here against Jacksonville. Maurkice Pouncey eliminates the crasher. It’s not the cleanest pass ever between him and DeCastro – #99 sells it well – but Pouncey’s able to finish it with violence. Slam the crasher, knock him down, create the clean throwing lane for Roethlisberger.
Ditto with DeCastro here. #98 trying to crash inside. DeCastro knows it but is physical, a hard shove to send him down the line. You can do that as the linemen because that crasher isn’t attacking you. He’s slanting away. Not using his hands, easily moved. After DeCastro sends Trey Flowers (#98) out of the club, way out of the gap he was trying to hit, he easily picks up the looping DT, who had to slow up with Flowers flying through. Again, a clean pocket.
Lastly, let’s watch the whole line come together. This is one of their best reps of the season. Week 16. Saints are running a T/E stunt to both sides of the line. Really tests the communication of the Steelers’ o-line. If one dude fails, doesn’t know what he’s doing, this whole thing falls apart. That’s the point of the stunt. You just need one guy to screw up and it’s a win.
But the Steelers pass things off so pretty I can’t even find the words to explain it. Let’s break down each play.
LT Alejandro Vilanueva – Vertical set, key the DT coming upfield, square to the block and turn him upfield, maintaining the pocket
LG Ramon Foster – “Feel” the DT looping (he’s not rushing hard like normal), so Foster doesn’t bite and anticipates the looper coming. Stays in his gap, square to the block, and picks it up, able to repunch and anchor against the bull rush
C Maurkice Pouncey – Part of the three man zone slide to the right. Ends up initially taking the crasher who gets thrown into his gap and then helps on DeCastro’s guy.
RG David DeCastro – Rides the crasher way out of his gap, finishing the play and removing the LDE out of the play. Keeps that clean pocket so the defender can’t even get his hand in a throwing lane and knock down the ball
RT Matt Feiler – Really like what Feiler does here. Strongest dude on the team and he shows it. Recognizes the LDE is crashing so he, like DeCastro did above, shoves him down hard. That alone eliminates the crasher and makes it easy for DeCastro to wash him. Feiler then gets square to the looper and wins the rep there too, even if he fell off at the very end (by then, the ball is out of Ben’s hand).
If you’ve read our thoughts on the site before, you know we’re comfortable with the transition to Shaun Sarrett being the new offensive line coach. And the players have echoed those thoughts.
But in order to prove Sarrett is the right guy going forward, one area the line will have to keep excelling at are stunt pickup. That comes from a good gameplan set forth by the coaches tape study and hopefully, and I expect this to be true, Sarrett will rep stunt pickup just as hard as the last five years.