There are many problems with the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. Many of those problems can be traced back to the offensive line, even. Perhaps the least of those problems, however, comes from the left tackle position, where Alejandro Villanueva has been the closest thing to consistency that they have had on offense all year.
Granted, he had a hard time going up against Carl Lawson for the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. Lawson is a talented and underrated player who is rediscovering the form of his early career after recovering from a severe knee injury, who now has the opportunity to start with Carlos Dunlap gone.
If you look to Pro Football Focus, then you will find that Villanueva played like a pile of doodoo. The outlet credits him with giving up a whopping seven pressures on the night, including one sack and three hits, giving him a pass blocking grade of just 22.2, by far his worst performance all season—it’s not even remotely close, even according to PFF.
Asked if he was concerned with Villanueva’s play yesterday, head coach Mike Tomlin said, “it was concerning yesterday. I don’t know that it has been a pattern. Part of that has to do with the quality of play that Lawson has been providing them. I talked about him at the top of the week being the catalyst for that front, and he proved it. He played well, and they played well because of it”.
Lawson has 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks this season in 14 games with nine starts for the Bengals this year, logging 633 defensive snaps overall. He had six tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, and according to Pro Football Reference, an astonishing six quarterback hits in the game against the Steelers.
Should one game be a concern for Villanueva? He has gone up against plenty of other similarly talented players over the course of the season and over the years and performed much better. Sometimes some players just match up poorly against others.
The Indianapolis Colts use a pretty healthy rotation of pass rushers, but among those Villanueva will see is Justin Houston, who primarily lines up on the right end of their defensive line. They, of course, face Indianapolis on Sunday. Myles Garrett awaits in week 17.
Villanueva is in his sixth season as the Steelers’ primary starting right tackle, and he has made the Pro Bowl multiple times during that span. He will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in 2021. Although he has never been a plus run blocker, he has played in pass protection at an elite level in stretches, and will have a robust market for a team looking for a blindside protector.