Film Room: OT Chukwuma Okorafor Takes Lumps In Season Opener

Anyone watching the game Sunday against the Buffalo Bills could watch the sporadic offense and attribute the lack of execution to the play of the offensive line. I would agree with that statement, especially when considering this unit had little time to play with one another in hopes of becoming a cohesive unit to kick off regular season play. One member of the offensive line that I have personally been critical of this offseason was Chukwuma Okorafor who got the start at RT with rookie Dan Moore Jr. getting the nod at LT due to presumed starting RT Zach Banner falling on short-term IR to begin the season. While the offense struggled as a whole, I particularly wasn’t impressed with Okorafor’s erratic performance.

Chuks had several moments throughout Sunday’s contest against the Bills where he got exposed in a similar way to how he performed in 2020. Last year, he hardly inspired confidence as a run blocker, lacking the physicality and effort to accomplish his assignment. Watch this play early in the first quarter where Chuks is assigned to kick out #50 Gregory Rousseau at DE. He engages Rousseau at the snap of the football, but exposes his chest to the defender’s long arm, getting extended and bench pressed backward rather than controlling his block. Rousseau easily sheds Chuks to the side and wraps up Najee Harris as he approaches the hole for the stop for minimal yardage.


On the first run of the game, we see a similar complacent demeanor from Okorafor, looking to absorb the defender coming off the ball rather than famously “running through someone’s face” like OL Coach Adrian Klemm has emphasized throughout the offseason and in training camp. Chuks gives ground on the run play, portraying more of a pass protection look whilst standing up with poor knee bend and leverage. His man doesn’t make the play, but the lack of urgency and aggressiveness coming off of the football in the run game is concerning.


There were plenty of instances Sunday where Chuks seemed outmatched against the Bills defensive front. He struggled to consistently get a push forward at the LOS, lacking that power and nasty demeanor to move his man off his spot. On this failed rushing attempt, we see Chuks get pushed back into the backfield by #57 A.J. Epenesa, causing Najee Harris to run into the backside of Chuks and the defender pursing from behind to catch him for a loss of yardage on the play.


While Okorafor does have good athleticism for his size, he doesn’t always utilize it to the best of his ability. Sometimes he seems lost out there on the field, not knowing who exactly to pick up on a block like we see on this toss run to the left where Chuks sprints out of his stance to try and pick up a defender in the secondary, but ultimately runs himself out of the play, not putting a body on a soul with multiple defenders rallying to the ball that he could have attempted to pick up.


Pass protection is normally the strength on Okorafor’s game in comparison to his run blocking, but he still struggled to consistently protect Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket against the Buffalo defensive front. Here on this rep on third down, we see Chuks shoot his hands with too much forward lean rather than moving his feet to set the pocket, whiffing his punch on the defender who hits the two-hand swipe to get around Okorafor and pressure Ben as he releases the football, throwing up a prayer to #11 Chase Claypool along the sideline that results in an incomplete pass.


Here is another bad rep on third down where Chuks is matched up with #57 A.J. Epenesa. Chuks initially does a good job running Epenesa up the arc of the pocket to allow Ben to step up to pass, but Epenesa capitalizes on Chuks standing straight up with poor bend in his lower half and counters back inside, sending Chuks on stakes as he closes in on Ben to deliver a big shot on him as he releases the football. Ben ends up completing the pass for the first down, but Ben takes an unnecessary hit due to Chuks being out of position.


Initially when I watched this throw live to Najee Harris on third down in the red zone, I placed all of the blame on Ben for a poorly thrown ball. However, after going back, I realize that Chuks did Ben no favors with his pass protection on this rep, allowing #55 Jerry Hughes to easily cross his face on the inside rush and pressure Ben in the pocket. While this is a pass that Ben needs to complete to Harris who has an easy first down (if not a touchdown), Okorafor’s lack of executing in pass protection in a key moment of the game is discouraging, relying on shooting his hands and lunging forward rather than keeping his feet moving underneath him.


Now that I have pointed out the major concerns in Okorafor’s performance Sunday, I do want to acknowledge the good that came out of his tape. As I highlighted earlier, Chuks is fairly athletic for the tackle position and is capable of getting out in space and executing blocks in OC Matt Canada’s offensive system. Early in the game, we see Chuks make a good block on the screen pass to #18 Diontae Johnson, sprinting out to cover up #27 Tre’Davious White to spring Johnson for the first down.


When Chuks played with an anchor in pass protection and kept his feet in good position, he did well keeping the pass rush away from Ben Roethlisberger. On this rep, we see Chuks get good hand placement inside the defender’s chest while playing with a good base to keep Jerry Hughes out of the pocket and give Ben time to find #19 JuJu Smith-Schuster for the first down.


On this second-and-short situation in the third quarter, we see Chuks generate just enough push upfront to displace his man off the LOS, turning him away from the to allow Harris to fall forward for first down yardage.


Here at the end of the game, we see Chuks execute a great down block on the defensive lineman, washing him out of the play and putting him on the ground to create a big hole for Najee Harris to run through for his longest run of the day of 18 yards.


Overall, there was a mixed bag of positives and negatives to take away from Okorafor’s performance against the Bills. Sure, he had moments where he represented himself well out there, but there were far too many valleys against the Bills to aspire confidence in him as your starting RT moving forward. Alex Kozora has pointed to the possibility of Joe Haeg getting the nod at RT over Chuks, and I would be in full agreement given Haeg’s strength as a run blocker and Chuks’ deficiencies in that area of his game. Regardless, should Banner return from IR ready to go and Moore hold his own at LT the next two games, I would be all for sitting Okorafor for Banner for hopefully more consistent play.

What are your thoughts on Chukwuma Okorafor’s performance Sunday against the Bills? Do you think that he will be able to overcome his inconsistencies in pass protection and lack of aggressiveness as a run blocker? Would you be in support of playing Haeg or Banner over him in hopes of improving the push upfront in the run game? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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