Earlier this September, OLB Taco Charlton was signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad while starting OLBs T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith were dealing with groin injuries. Charlton remained on the practice squad up until Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns when Melvin Ingram was declared out with a groin injury of his own, prompting Pittsburgh to elevate Charlton from the practice squad to the active roster to serve as a reserve/rotational pass rusher against the Browns.
Charlton is infamously known as the 2017 first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas made the decision to select Charlton ahead of Watt by two spots in the draft since Carlton was seen as a better systematic fit in the Cowboys’ 4-3 defensive system at the time. He spent two seasons in Dallas, playing in 27 games, including seven starts. He then signed with the Miami Dolphins in 2019 and Kansas City Chiefs in 2020, playing a combined 17 games. While he has been seen as more of a journeyman during his time in the league and only logged ten snaps on defense Sunday, I argue that Charlton’s impact in limited playing time against Cleveland proved to be greater than anyone anticipated.
On his very first defensive snap of the game, we see #98 Taco Charlton line up in the left side A-gap between the center and left guard as a standup pass rusher. On the snap of the ball, he engages #77 Wyatt Teller in his pass rush, hitting him with the long arm in attempt to push him back in the pocket. However, Teller does a good job anchoring in against the rush, stalling Charlton’s pursuit of the QB as #6 Baker Mayfield fires the completion to #80 Jarvis Landry for first down yardage.
Here on this play on first-and-ten, we see Charlton do a great job keeping outside contain on the zone run to the right side, getting his right hand into #78 Jack Conklin’s chest and counters back with his left hand, knocking Conklin to the ground to shed the block as #24 Nick Chubb gets stuffed at the LOS for no gain. Charlton forced Chubb back inside into the teeth of the defense by accomplishing his assignment, and actually led to Conklin getting hurt on the play when he broke his fall with his elbow, causing him to miss the rest of the game.
The very next play, we watch Charlton line up LOLB across from backup RT #62 Blake Hance. Cleveland has TE #81 Austin Hooper chip Charlton on the snap of the football before going into his route to help Hance who is playing his first snap off the bench. Ultimately, Mayfield throws the pass incomplete down the field, but it is noteworthy that Cleveland thought enough of Charlton’s matchup against Hance to have to dedicate another blocker to him.
On this first-and-ten passing situation, DE Chris Wormley is credited for the sack of Mayfield, but I would argue that Charlton did the dirty work on this play and that Wormley should be buying him a steak dinner after this game. Watch as Charlton lines up across LT #71 Jedrick Wills and gets a good bull rush on the snap, pushing Wills back into the pocket, causing Mayfield to try and scramble out to his left. Charlton recognizes this and gets off the block yet is unable quick enough as he just gets a hand on Mayfield as he dives for him. Still, Charlton does enough to throw Mayfield off-balance, causing him to trip and fall, giving Wormley the opportunity to fall on top.
Here is a zoomed-in version of the same play, and you can clearly see Charlton is the one who makes Mayfield fall to the ground and gives Wormley the easy sack on the stat sheet.
Despite being listed at 6’6, 270lb, Pittsburgh still required Charlton to drop into coverage on a couple of his snap on the afternoon just like they have the rest of their OLBs do on occasion. For being more of an angular, long-legged athlete, Charlton represents himself well here on this coverage snap as he drops to the right flat, running with the TE to the sideline as he then redirects to the middle of the field once Mayfield is pressured in the pocket, throwing the ball high over the middle to Landry who can only tip the ball with his hand as the pass falls incomplete.
While Charlton showed he can win on a bull rush and pressure the pocket, sometimes his long frame and inconsistent pad level can get the best of him. Case-in-point here on this rep where Charlton again rushes from the right-side A-gap in-between the C and RG in a standup position, attacking the LOS and engages the RG while the RT comes in to help. Teller eventually takes Charlton solo and latches on to his chest, using his momentum to toss him to the ground like a bully on the playground, putting him on his back as Mayfield completes the pass just short of the sticks.
I may catch some flack on this call, but after watching the play several times over, I think Taco Charlton is the one who actually forced the Jarvis Landry fumble at the end of the game rather than #93 Joe Schobert. Before you scroll to the comments to blast me, hear me out. Charlton is asked to drop into coverage again in the flat on this second down pass that Mayfield places just over Charlton to Landry on the slant. Landry catches the ball and turns up field, but Charlton follows in pursuit, meeting Schobert at Landry and puts his right shoulder into Landry as Schobert wraps him up. Notice how the ball doesn’t come loose until after Charlton makes contact with Landry?
Here is a slowed-down, zoomed in version of the same play. Watch as Schobert wraps up Landry but doesn’t noticeably rips at the ball. However, watch the play again as Charlton flies in from the side, knocking Landry’s left shoulder with his right, likely causing Landry to lose grip of the ball as it drops to the ground that #90 T.J. Watt recovers. I could be wrong, but based off this angle of the play, I am fairly positive that it was Taco Charlton that knocked the ball out.
Overall, Charlton does need to work on his ability to play with more consistent leverage and get off blocks faster on his pass rush, as these were key areas of his game, I highlighted in a film room when Pittsburgh signed Charlton back in September. However, Charlton proved to be great depth on limited snaps in his first game as a Steeler, showing the ability to keep outside contain on the edge, rush from the edge as well as the inside, and also is capable of dropping into zone coverages as long as he can keep potential pass catchers in front of him in the flats.
After watching the film, I can argue that Charlton should have been credited for at least half of a sack on Mayfield that Wormley claimed for himself, and also was the one who likely separated the ball from Landry’s grasp on the key turnover in the final minutes of the game. While he did record any stats on the stat sheet, Charlton made an impact in his brief debut as a Pittsburgh Steeler and given the opportunity to play more snaps and be in good position to make plays.
What are your thoughts on Taco Charlton’s performance against the Cleveland Browns Sunday? Do you think he deserves credit for the sack of Baker Mayfield? What are your thoughts on the forced fumble of Jarvis Landry? Did Charlton do enough to warrant more snaps moving forward? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!