If anyone deserved a game ball from yesterday’s win over the Houston Texans, it’s RT Chukwuma Okorafor. Okorafor held JJ Watt off the stat sheet all game, the eldest Watt finishing with just four tackles, only one solo, and zero tackles for loss, QB hits, or sacks. So who better to ask about his performance than the man who played next to him, RG David DeCastro?
“I thought Chuks played really well,” DeCastro recently said in a Q&A session with the media. “I mean, Chuks is immensely talented. Get a chance to go against a guy like JJ Watt. It just shows he’s had game experience before. He’s calm and collected. And has the athletic ability to do it. I thought he looked great.”
Sunday was just Okorafor’s fourth career start at right tackle. And they haven’t been easy matchups. His first start came his rookie year against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos. Okorafor played well enough that day but received plenty of help from slide protections, tight ends, and running backs. His next start came last season against the LA Rams, facing a flurry of pass rushers led by Aaron Donald and Clay Matthews.
Though he lost out to Zach Banner to begin the year, Okorafor is playing like someone capable of being a longer-term solution at right tackle. Potentially even left tackle knowing Alejandro Villanueva is in the final year of his deal.
Containing a player like Watt is a team effort, and he has increasingly moved around the Texans’ front, but Okorafor won his fair share of 1v1 battles. DeCastro broke down when the team decides to give Okorafor help and when they leave him on an island.
“A lot of it depends on the protection and how many guys are rushing. I think a lot of times there are rushing kind of three and try to get those one-on-ones for Chuks. But with the protections we had, I could go out there and kind of look back and make sure it was clear on the left and help him out. When there’s a good rusher like that, you try to help out. Help out Pouncey, help out whoever I can. We call it T protection. Make sure everyone is taken care of. It’s usually five on four. You want to make sure you’re helping out each other if there’s no one on top of you.”
The two sacks Ben Roethlisberger absorbed Sunday came from the left side of the line. Overall, the front five has done well protecting their 38 year old quarterback while the run blocking has been excellent, springing a 100 yard rusher in each of the first three weeks. The group can still get better, it’s finally getting healthier, but young guys like Kevin Dotson and Okorafor have stepped up in big ways to begin the season.