It would be safe to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line has underwhelmed to start the 2021 season. The team is currently dead last in the league in rushing yards per game (53) and has already surrendered eight sacks in three games played. For reference, Ben Roethlisberger only took 13 sacks in 15 games last season, putting him well on his way to pass that number this year should the pass protection fail to improve in a big way. Part of the problem comes due to the fact that the team throws the ball at a ridiculously high rate, completely abandoning the running game altogether and opting to throw 58 passes like in their last game which resulted in a loss to the Bengals.
Still, the pass protection has not been where it famously had been the last decade in terms of keeping Ben clean in the pocket. Rookie fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. isn’t free from criticism either, despite having a fairly impressive showing in the preseason. Currently, Moore grades out with a 60.5 overall grade via Pro Football Focus, including one recorded penalty and one sack allowed. However, when you turn on the tape of the last two games, you see a player that is struggling to hold his own out there on the blindside.
One thing that was noted about Moore coming out of Texas A&M was his need to set an anchor in pass protection to avoid getting walked back into the lap of the QB by pass rushers who hit him with power coming off the edge. After having an up-and-down performance against the Bills Week 1, this particular part of his game needs to be highlighted. Going back two weeks to the matchup with the Raiders, we see Moore get walked back by power on several occasions by the Las Vegas pass rush, including this rep against #94 Carl Nassib where Nassib gets into Moore’s chest and stands him up, walking him into Ben and affects his throw.
The same issue persists in the matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. Watch on this rep as #91 Trey Hendrickson gets underneath Moore’s shoulder pads and gets him off balance, taking him into the lap of Roethlisberger who manages to get the ball off to #19 JuJu Smith-Schuster before Hendrickson can get a hand on the QB.
Moore has had is whiffs in pass protection as well, either misplacing his hands or dropping his head when engaging with the edge rusher. We see the former here on this rep against #91 Yannick Ngakoue as Moore shoots his hands but fails to connect as the edge rusher rips through the block attempt on the speed rush. Luckily, RB Najee Harris is there to keep Ngakoue from getting home, but Moore ends up getting beat pretty cleanly on this rep.
Another example from the same game again against Ngakoue where Moore shoots his hands and drops his head when attempting to land his punch on Ngakoue, shooting his hands to the defender’s arm rather than his chest. The edge rusher knocks Moore’s hands down cleanly with an inside swipe move to get around the corner. This time, Ngakoue is able to evade Harris’s attempt to help block him and get into the pocket to pressure Ben.
Another problem in pass protection that shows up often in Moore’s tape entails giving up his outside shoulder to the rush. In the Cincinnati game, specifically, we see Moore get beat around the edge multiple times due to his inability to seal off the defender with his outside shoulder. Here is one example against #91 Trey Hendrickson where Moore engages Hendrickson upon the snap, but immediately cedes ground and gets his outside shoulder turned inside, giving Hendrickson the inside track to the passer in the pocket. Luckily, Ben releases the ball before Hendrickson can get home, but he still gets his hand up in the passing lane, almost tipping the pass.
Another example here against #93 Wyatt Ray where Ray shocks Moore’s shoulder back with his outside arm then rips through with his inside arm to get the pressure on Roethlisberger who checks it down to #14 Ray-Ray McCloud for a short gain.
Moore does a slightly better job on this rep against Hendrickson, but still noticeably struggles to seal off the edge and keep Hendrickson from getting around the corner. Watch as Moore’s hands go high on Hendrickson’s shoulder pads, nearly neck tying him as he tries to rip through the block. Moore could easily have been called for holding on this rep, having his hands outside the defender’s frame and still allows Hendrickson into the backfield and would have given up the sack in the backfield had #81 Zach Gentry’s man not have beaten got there first.
Now the play where Moore gets exposed for the continual mistake of giving the defender his outside shoulder. Here on first-and-goal, Moore gets a good first step to take on Hendrickson in pass protection. However, Hendrickson gets his inside hand on Moore’s outside shoulder, turning him around like a turnstile and works his way into the pocket to finish the play with a sack on Ben. Notice how when Hendrickson gets Moore’s outside shoulder that Moore gets overextended and freezes his feet, being unable to recover and allowing Hendrickson to control him where he wants to go.
Obviously, the rep lost to Hendrickson was clearly in the back of Moore’s mind the very next play as Moore attempts to get a head start on Hendrickson, going before the snap and gets the false start penalty and noticeably irritates his quarterback in the process.
Overall, Moore has gotten a taste of what to expect playing left tackle in the NFL the last couple weeks, facing some top-notch pass rushers including Ngakoue, Hendrickson, among others. While this shouldn’t be a death sentence to Moore’s prospects of manning the blindside for the rest of the season or potentially past 2021, the way he has given up pressure needs to be addressed. Moore is struggling to play with consistent anchor in pass protection, getting driven back far too often rather than holding his own. He allows the defender to round the corner often against the rush, whether it be by bad hand placement on his blocks or giving up his outside shoulder to the defender to exploit.
There are enough moments on film to say that Moore can still figure it out and be a capable player at the LT spot. However, his consistency and technique with his hands and feet need to improve in order to keep Ben clean in the pocket and give Pittsburgh a reason to think he can develop into the future at the LT position moving forward. If not, Moore may be relegated to a swing tackle role in 2022, having the likes of Zach Banner man the RT spot and either a FA or highly-touted draft pick take the LT spot should Chukwuma Okorafor not be retained this offseason.
What are your thoughts on Dan Moore Jr. in pass protection the last couple of games? Do you consider the lumps he has taken just part of the learning experience for the rookie making his transition to the pros. Should he be held accountable for the pressure Ben is taking, and can his technique be salvaged with more reps and coaching? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!