Pittsburgh Steelers RT Chukwuma Okorafor missed last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers with a concussion, resulting in backup swing tackle Joe Haeg to play in his stead. I did a film room breakdown on Haeg’s performance against the Packers as he represented himself well out there last Sunday, noticeably being more aggressive as a run blocker and more consistent in pass protection than his running mate Okorafor. When it was announced that not only Chuks would be active Sunday but that he would also log the start at RT, it frankly came to the dismay of myself as well as several other Steelers fanatics. Early in the game, we saw Chuks get off to a rocky start with a false start penalty.
Fellow Steelers Depot contributor Josh Carney and I messaged back after the incident, calling for Chuks to get a seat on the bench and for Haeg to replace him. However, Chuks was able to settle in and put together a respectable performance against the Denver Broncos. Chuks had the task of facing All-Pro EDGE Von Miller for much of the game, which is no easy task for any tackle, let alone one coming off a head injury. Alex Kozora reported after the game that Von Miller only recorded 2 tackles 0 TFL 0 PBUs 0 sacks 0 QB hits. He did have a pressure on the Claypool TD but other than that, he was quiet for most of the game due to Chuks’ effort.
Granted, Okorafor did benefit from the quick passing game of one Ben Roethlisberger, but he did his job and did it well keeping #58 Von Miller from getting around the edge. Watch this short completion by Roethlisberger where Okorafor has a great pass set out of his stance, sealing off Miller from getting the corner and keeps his hands and feet in-phase as he stalls the rush, giving Ben time to find #88 Pat Freiermuth over the middle
Chuks was quick out of his stance for most of the afternoon, respecting Miller’s speed, and explosiveness by making sure he got to his landmarks on his pass set. Here is another example of a good pass set rep by Chuks as he maintains good position with Miller off the snap, mirroring him with active hands and feet, making him run around the arc of the pocket.
You did notice some of the same issues in Okorafor’s game that you had seen in previous weeks, mainly lack of anchor and balance at times along with aggressiveness at the point of attack. However, he was able to do just enough to keep Ben clean and find his receivers down field. On the TD pass to #18 Diontae Johnson, we see Okorafor overset a tad, giving away his inside shoulder. Miller exploits this by giving Chuks a long arm into his left side, knocking him off-balance and opening the inside gap. However, Miller can’t get to Roethlisberger in time as he releases the ball, finding Johnson running deep down the field for the long TD bomb.
On this rep, we see Okorafor again show patience out of his stance in his pass set but looks to lunge forward and extend to try and get his hands on Miller. He pauses his feet for a split second, giving Miller the advantage to get the edge around Okorafor. Okorafor recovers just enough by getting his hands on Miller’s right shoulder and run him around the arc to keep Ben clean, but then #65 Dan Moore Jr. loses his man #59 Malik Reed as Miller gets in Moore’s way, resulting in Reed getting to Roethlisberger and causing the strip sack that Denver recovers. Should Okorafor keep Miller from getting the edge so easily, there is a good chance Moore can recover as Chuks did.
When asked to run block, Chuks overall had a mediocre performance. There were flashes of aggressiveness and physicality that we have been waiting to see from Chuks for basically his whole career as the offensive line as a whole had its best performance of the season on the ground. Like on this play, we see Chuks execute a good down block on the 4-i tech, walling him down to help create a big hole on the right side for #22 Najee Harris to run through as he makes a defender miss one-on-one in space.
However, there were plenty of instances where Chuks continued to struggle as a run blocker Sunday. For example, on this play, Chuks is asked to kick out Miller on the right side of the formation as #29 Kalen Ballage runs up the hole. However, Chuks again lunges on his block, playing with poor leverage has he drops his head and shoots his hands, completely whiffing on the attempt and allows Miller to get around him and catch Ballage from behind.
Along with whiffing on a couple block attempts, Chuks also had several occasions where he struggled to create a push upfront. On this play near the goal line, Chuks gets pushed back almost immediately on the snap, allowing LB #45 A.J. Johnson to fill in the hole and keep Harris from getting to the goal line. Watch as Chuks stalls his leg drive on contact and leans into his block rather than attempting to get a surge forward.
On the very next play, we see Pittsburgh run a similar play design to the opposite side of the line which gets a significant push forward, allowing Harris to leap over the plain and score the goal line TD.
Overall, Chukwuma Okorafor was solid in his return from injury against the Broncos. He managed to keep stud pass rusher Von Miller from having a significant impact on the game, something that he did before in his first start his rookie season at Denver as well. It may be just a thing where he raises his game against the Broncos and Miller, but for whatever reason, Okorafor probably had his best game of the season Sunday.
However, I personally don’t want to be quick to anoint Okorafor as the clear starting RT going forward, either. He benefited a lot from the short passing game and the scheme avoiding Miller whenever possible. He also failed to provide a consistent push in the running game, again struggling to home in on the aggressiveness and physicality the rest of the unit has seemed to embrace to help Najee Harris have his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. I understand that Okorafor has a higher athletic upside than Haeg, but should he struggle going forward or Zach Banner get cleared soon to return from IR, I wouldn’t be surprised if Okorafor got sat down later on this season.
What are your thoughts on Chukwuma Okorafor’s performance against the Denver Broncos? Do you think he had his best game of the 2021 season? Do you think that he should keep the starting RT job going forward, or that Banner should take the job once he returns from injury? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!