As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. The key area to watch in Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.
X Factor: Offensive Line Shuffle
With Matt Feiler finishing the week at LG and Chukwuma Okorafor at RT, it seems all but certain those two will start in those respective positions against the Rams. It’s a borderline shock for a team who has shown no hesitation turning to B.J. Finney in the past and seemingly making the move for no other reason than they think Feiler and Okorafor give them the best chance to win.
Moving two players to fill one spot? Without an injury even forcing their hand? Uncharacteristic for this team, to say the least.
Why the change? Some of it is likely due to Aaron Donald. Having a wide body like Feiler, who much more closely resembles Ramon Foster and is a better athlete, matches up better against the ultra-quick Donald. Even if he disengages in pass protection, getting around a 330 pound human in Feiler is difficult. That’s partly what’s made Ramon Foster so effective in pass protection throughout his career.
But Donald lines up all over the entire front and the Rams have plenty of potent pass rushers. So to make the move solely because of Donald, great as he is, is a reach.
Perhaps they’re trying to find a jolt in the run game. With the team down James Conner and Benny Snell, their best pure runners on the rosters, and the run game struggling as a whole, having Feiler as someone who can pull more effectively and get a better push up front makes some level of sense.
Long story short, Feiler should do well enough at left guard. The microscope falls on Okorafor to step up. This is his first NFL action of the season. He last logged time in the preseason where he noticeably struggled and didn’t take the step forward fans had hoped. He’ll be tested by facing guys like Dante Fowler, their sack leader, Clay Matthews, second in sacks, and yes, expect Donald to square off against him a few times.
Plain and simple. This is a risk. Is there a payoff? Sure. Maybe this is the jolt the run game needs. Maybe they’re comfortable with how Okorafor has been developing behind the scenes. I sure hope so. The Steelers’ offensive line had done an incredible job in pass protection this year and changing things now, putting guys in spots they’re inexperienced playing, is dicey. Sure hope the coaching staff knows what they’re doing here because this feels like a desperation move from a team who doesn’t need to act desperate.