The Pittsburgh Steelers head into their bye week after a thrilling 23-20 OT win at home Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks. With the extra week of rest, Pittsburgh hopes to get the likes of OT Zach Banner, RB Anthony McFarland Jr., and potentially DE Stephon Tuitt back in some facet working with the team in hopes of having them contribute down the stretch starting in Week 8 against the Cleveland Browns. Banner has already been activated off IR prior to the game Sunday night but was named a game day inactive with HC Mike Tomlin, stating afterward that the team wanted to give Banner more time to acclimate back to the football field after missing time coming back from ACL surgery last season.
Assuming Banner is ready to go after another two weeks of rehab and prep in practice, he should be able to play as soon as Week 8. The question remains, however, is where does Banner fit into the equation? Banner normally slots in at the RT position, and he was signed a two-year contract this offseason with the intention to be the starting RT in 2021 and going forward based on his conversation with Tomlin dating back to 2020. Up until this point, OT Chukwuma Okorafor has been the starter at RT for Pittsburgh in 2021, missing one game due to a concussion, but has started every game on the right side much like he did last season after Banner went down.
Okorafor has had his ups-and-downs so far this season, as I have been critical of his performance during regular season play as well as in the preseason action. Still, Okorafor’s play has seemed to steady out the last two weeks, holding his own against the Broncos and All-Pro Von Miller as well as putting together a good performance Sunday against the Seahawks. He lacks that nastiness and physicality you want to match the philosophy OL coach Adrian Klemm is implementing with this unit, but he has been serviceable as a run blocker and has the traits to be viable in pass protection.
The original plan was to have Chuks start at LT with Banner manning the RT spot this season, but when Banner was placed on IR to start the year, Chuks moved back to RT and rookie fourth-round selection Dan Moore Jr. was thrust into the starting role for the offense. Overall, Moore has done about as well as you can expect for a rookie mid-round pick manning the blindside in his first six career starts. He has the athleticism and aggressiveness to generate a push in the run game, but has struggled with speed off the edge, allowing defenders to get around his outside shoulder as well as had issues with his anchor, getting walked back in the pocket leading to pressures and sacks.
Moore left the game in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks with a hip injury and was later deemed questionable to return. There has been no update as to the severity of Moore’s injury, and with it being the bye week, we won’t likely get an update until early next week.
This begs the question: Who should the Pittsburgh Steelers start at both offensive tackle spots coming off the bye? Banner needs to be cleared to play and Moore may be banged up yet from the hip, making this scenario fairly predictable. However, should both Moore and Banner be good to go, that would complicate things. Many would point to benching Okorafor for Banner, but Banner hasn’t played since last year and may need to knock off some rust going against the likes of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney his first week back against the Browns. Okorafor hasn’t been exceptional, but he has played well enough to make it difficult to put him on the bench based on starting every game so far this season.
Another potential solution that Pittsburgh may consider is starting Banner at RT, kicking Okorafor back to LT, and placing Moore on the bench. This appears to be the team’s initial plan to start the season before Banner hit a delay in his return to play, so it would make sense that they would go back to this lineup. However, they would have to put Moore on the bench who hasn’t been amazing by any means taking his lumps as a rookie, but he has flashed at times and could be counterintuitive to his development to put him on the bench as the team tries to figure out if he can be a starter going forward past 2021.
Moore has struggled as of last, particularly in pass protection, which could lead to the move in order to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright and give the team a better chance of competing this season as they intend to do every year. It mainly comes down to the development and physical play style of Moore vs the experience and more consistent option in pass protection in Okorafor for that LT spot should Banner earn the RT job. Needless to say, questions will be answered when the team comes back from the bye week, but this will be a situation I will personally be having my eyes on in relation to the outlook of the offensive line in 2021 and potentially beyond.
What are your thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive tackle position going into the bye week? Who do you think should be the starting tackles going into their Week 8 matchup against the Browns? What do you think the team will do at the position? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!