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With Zach Banner Out, If The Steelers Want To Run The Ball, They Need To Play Joe Haeg

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is already off to a rocky start with the news OT Zach Banner will begin the year on injured reserve. Losing a starter anywhere in the NFL is a tough blow but losing an offensive lineman is especially difficult. Teams tend to have as little depth there as any spot on the team because O-line talent is so scarce.

That puts Pittsburgh in a tight spot. Banner’s out. So who shifts to right tackle, and will there be a domino effect because of that? The Steelers have reportedly been practicing with Chukwuma Okorafor at RT and Dan Moore Jr. at LT. That’s the most likely tackle pairing the team rolls with come Week 1.

But it’s the wrong one. At least, if the Steelers want to run the football. If Pittsburgh’s interested in doing that, and all offseason they’ve claimed as much, Joe Haeg should start at right tackle.

And I get it. There’s a stomach-churning feeling in saying that. Haeg isn’t a great tackle. He’s not even a good one. But he’s the best run blocking tackle healthy and on the roster. We noted as much in our training camp review.

“Haeg is an above average run blocker with leg drive and gets a push…”

National services like Pro Football Focus say the same. Haeg graded out *the* preseason’s best run blocker at 93.8.

Let’s look at the tape. Here’s a cut-up of preseason snaps from Haeg (#71) this season. Most at right tackle but some at left tackle. You see the movement he creates on downblocks, base blocks, and some nasty in his game the Steelers need. I’ll briefly annotate each one.

Clip 1 (Eagles) – RT. Pin/pull scheme. Down block on 3T.
Clip 2 (Eagles) – RT. Combo on the 3T. Good lower body drive to wash the defender down, allow RB to run off his hip.
Clip 3 (Eagles) – RT. Has luxury of leverage and the angle but creates a lot of power on contact, blowing the 1T out of his gap and letting the back run behind to a huge hole .
Clip 4 (Lions) – LT. Zone run. Haeg out in space to reach the RDE. Runs his feet and finishes to knock the defender off balance, RB runs behind for a good gain.
Clip 5 (Lions) – RT. Combo 3T. Again, good finish and drive to take the DT to the ground.

 

That’s what the Steelers have been looking for. And that’s what they need.

Make no mistake. Haeg is below average in pass protection. He got beat quite a bit in camp, especially on speed/finesse moves. The Steelers will have to slide to his side, make sure the tight end is chipping, get the back to release that way to make it harder for the LDE to win to the outside, Haeg is going to need help. But it can be done.

The pros outweigh the cons. Running behind Okorafor isn’t fruitful. Last year showed that. And odds are, it probably isn’t going to change. I understand why Okorafor is getting shifted over instead of Moore, Okorafor is a lot more comfortable there with 15 starts last season, but the results were poor.

Hypothetically, if the Steelers made Haeg the starter, who would be the left tackle? I could live with either option, Okorafor or Moore. I suspect the Steelers would choose Okorafor. But that’s less problematic than the right side. Banner is/was supposed to be that guy because he’s a solid run blocker who creates a lot of movement. Haeg is the closest thing to that. He probably won’t, but he should be next man up.

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