Last week I wrote an article analyzing Steelers OT Chukwuma Okorafor’s strengths and weaknesses in pass protection. With Chuks recently speaking to the media about OL Coach Adrian Klemm’s desire for the OL unit as a whole to play more physical this season in the run game, I wanted to dive into what we have seen out of Chuks thus far as a run blocker.
When I plunged in the tape, I saw scenarios you would expect Chuks to win given his size and athleticism relative to said size. For example, Chuks is a viable down blocker in the run game, being able to wash out interior defensive linemen and edge defenders. Here we see Chuks line up as a reported-eligible receiver in a jumbo set on the right side, picking up the edge defender and hooking his outside shoulder, moving his feet well laterally down the line and washing and eventually planting him into the ground for the pancake.
We see a similar situation here on this down block on #65 Larry Ogunjobi of the Browns, double teaming him with guard #69 Kevin Dotson to keep the defender from getting penetration on the jet sweep.
On this play we see Chuks pick up #53 Darius Leonard coming down to fill in the gap, helping #85 Eric Ebron initially with a jab on the defensive lineman and then jacking up Leonard in the hole, knocking him off balance and taking him to the floor.
Here against the Packers during his rookie season, we see Chuks line up at LT and have the edge rusher cross his face inside. However, Chuks sticks out his arm into the defender’s midsection, knocking him down to the ground and finishing on top of him. Personally, this came off a little as tripping and made me wonder if this play could be penalized. Wish you saw better reactiveness and footwork here, but Chuks still takes care of his man.
So, you have seen some of the good of Chuks in the run game! Now for the not so good. While he has proven capable to be an effective down blocker, his motor definitely runs hot-and-cold. He seems tentative when asked to climb to the second level of the defense to pick up backers and will tend to lose his base and lunge forward, shooting his outstretched hands and torso out to try and make a block that he cannot sustain. On this play against Houston, Chuks is in position to pick up #55 Benardrick McKinney on the down block, but he gets lazy with his feet and lunges forward, completely whiffing on the block. McKinney makes the easy tackle in the backfield.
He is not an effective reach blocker, not playing with the needed anchor or nastiness to get a push forward as he tries to step in front of the man he is in charge of blocking. Here on this rep against the Texans, we see the defensive end walk back Chuks on his reach block attempt right into the hole that #30 James Conner is supposed to run to. If he would get a small push forward or even stalemate him at the LOS, Conner is able to hit the right-side A-gap with DeCastro climbing to the linebacker for a good gain. Instead, Conner tries to bounce it to the left, being limited to little-to-no gain on the play.
Another example here against Dallas where Chuks is slow to try and get his head across the defensive linemen he is supposed to reach block, not getting his shoulders turned and allowing the DL to get good inside penetration right into #24 Bennie Snell shortly after he takes the handoff in the backfield.
As mentioned earlier, Chuks isn’t the best when asked to climb to the second level to pick up a backer or a rolled-up safety. This clip is skewed, as Chuks gets impeded on his path to the backer by Vance McDonald who misses on the cut block, but the overall lack of urgency and effort is what disappoints me. He gets a hand on the guy he is supposed to help DeCastro on as he climbs up to the backer, but more or less passes him off to DeCastro instead of really coming in with a violent side shot he has on the defender’s shoulder to throw him off-track. He also doesn’t show the urgency to pick up the safety coming downhill in run support after he misses the linebacker, lightly throwing his hands forward and proceeds to jog forward and watch the defense pile up on #26 Anthony McFarland Jr., having not blocked a single soul on the play.
I went back to watch some of Okorafor’s college tape at Western Michigan and saw similar results. He succeeds when he has a distinct size advantage and can engulf defenders, but really underwhelmed in terms of effort and physicality like we see in these few clips. Is this a death sentence to Chuks as a run blocker? No, but I do think it is very telling that Chuks is bringing up that the whole unit needs to be more physical when he especially is at fault based off of his lack of aggressiveness at the point of attack last season.
Hopefully, Coach Klemm and other members in that OL room are able to get more aggressive play out of him, because he has the size and movement skills to get the job done on the ground. However, it can be hard to teach a dog new tricks, and that lack of desire and simply getting a body on a defender rather than running through someone’s face like Chuks has tried to get away with the past three seasons can be a difficult habit to break for a player (although still pretty young) heading into year four and a pivotal contract year.
I will be hoping for the best in terms of improved play from Chuks in the running game, but the film study has me leaning toward him possibly being the weak link in Pittsburgh’s desire to have a revamped, physical play style up front in 2021.
What are your thoughts on Chukwuma Okorafor and his play in the running game? Do you think that he has the ability to improve in this facet, or giving the team just enough to have the running game improve as a whole in 2021? Do you think that his play is what it is an may be a weak link up front? As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below, and thanks again for your time and support!