The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame a 23-0 deficit in the first half to make things interesting Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings, getting the game within one score, but ultimately fell short by a score of 36-28. Pittsburgh got embarrassed in this one on both sides of the football, looking flat from the start after that emotional win against the Ravens only a few days ago. The defense got shredded on the ground by Dalvin Cook who was questionable coming into the game with a shoulder injury and the offensive line didn’t fare any better with Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked five times and the run game failing to get anything going until the final quarter of the game.
Rookie center Kendrick Green looked completely overwhelmed out there last night, leading to plenty of the offensive woes. He was all over the place with multiple high snaps, late snaps leading to delay of game penalties, and several missed assignments that led to Ben taking a licking. Ben was visibly frustrated with Green on several occasions, asking for the football with clock winding down but Green failing to get the snap off in time.
Green may have been struggling to hear the snap count in a hostile environment at Minnesota, but even for a rookie center, the first job is to get the ball snapped. Whether it be the fact he couldn’t hear Ben, or he just wasn’t aware of the play clock, Green’s inability to snap the ball on time led to multiple penalties for Pittsburgh.
One delay of game penalty got bailed off on a neutral zone infraction penalty on the defense, but with Green nearly being responsible for three delay of game penalties and a couple false starts by his teammates, that can be crippling for an offense already struggling to move the ball consistently.
Along with mistimed snaps, Green had several snaps sail on him in this game, causing Ben to have to jump up to corral that ball to avoid a disaster like Pittsburgh had in the Wildcard Game last season against the Cleveland Browns. For example, ben gets the high snap here and the run is successful by #22 Najee Harris, but Green needs to have better control on his snaps from the shotgun.
Now it wasn’t all bad from Green Thursday night as there were moments where he showcased the skillset that made Pittsburgh draft him in the third round with the intention to move him to start at center. Watch this down block on #92 James Lynch where Green runs Lynch out of the way, clearing a big hole up the middle for Harris to burst through for first down yardage.
However, it should be noted that Lynch is one of Minnesota’s rotational interior defenders and that Green struggled mightily against both Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce who overpowered Green often inside. Dave and Alex mentioned that Green could struggle with size and power on the Terrible podcast in lead up to this game, and that was the case, rarely generating a push up front. Green also couldn’t drop anchor in pass protection against size in this one, as was the case with his coming out of Illinois. Watch this rep where ben takes a shot to the end zone on the final drive of the game, but Green gets bulldozed by #94 Dalvin Tomlinson, falling onto his back as Ben lets go of the football.
Another issue that popped up last night that was a reoccurring theme in Green’s college film was him ending up on the ground too often even when not contacted. Whether he is slipping or generally has poor balance, Green falls off blocks far too much for the man in the middle of the offensive line. Watch here as Green starts to climb to the second level to pick up #54 Eric Kendricks, but trips over himself and Kendricks continues his pursuit to Harris, getting in on the play.
Not only did Green struggle with falling off blocks, but his aggressiveness in pass protection and commitment to keep the pocket clean also was suspect on plenty of occasions. When Green’s calling card coming out of college was his nastiness, this is concerning. Watch as Green helps John Leglue on Tomlinson, but merely gives the defender a shove and proceeds to watch as he shoves Tomlinson right into Roethlisberger who goes down losing the football in the process.
Another example here as Green and #51 Trai Turner work against #58 Michael Pierce, initially having him contained, but pierce starts to get penetration on Turner and Green fails to stay in front of him, letting pierce run past him like a turnstile right into Ben for the sack.
On several occasions, Green just whiffs on his assignment entirely. Take, for example, this long completion to #18 Diontae Johnson where Green snaps the ball and has Pierce working across his face, whiffing on his punch and pauses his feet as Pierce crosses his face and lays a hit on Ben as he lets go of the ball.
Here is another play where Green fails to recognize Kendricks coming through his gap on the blitz, rather committing to double Pierce with Turner beside him. I have always been taught inside most dangerous when working with offensive linemen in pass protection at the college level, and unless the expectation is for Harris to immediately pick up the blitzer after faking the handoff, this is clearly a blown assignment by Green.
Overall, it was a poor performance for Green on the night that HC Mike Tomlin would label “junior varsity”, but I would call more of a freshman/middle school effort. The issues Green has dealt with in college have obviously followed him into the league, and that was to be expected for a undersized center coming off a transition from playing more guard when at Illinois. However, the mental acumen of the game is concerning for Green as it is imperative to be able to snap the ball effectively and on-time, not killing your team with avoidable penalties by doing the very basics at your position.
Couple that with the lack of aggressiveness at times in pass protection and seeming lack of effort at times with his play, and I have real concerns about Green’s future as the projected answer at center for Pittsburgh, let alone a capable player at the NFL level. Sure, he is a rookie and will have his growing pains, but Pittsburgh’s inability to run up the middle of the defense falls on his shoulders a good bit not being able to generate that push. His awareness is poor when it comes to picking up blitzes and stunts, and his struggles with handling sheer size and power on the bull rush is going to get the QB killed, whether it be Ben this season or the QB of the future.
Simply put, Pittsburgh is in a position where they really need to look at the offensive line as a whole and evaluate the places that need the most improvement to be better in pass protection and try and establish a running game. I know that Green and Moore were just drafted, but if they are the weak links, their position shouldn’t be safe heading into next season. Whether that means drafting a Tyler Linderbaum and moving Green to guard or simply making him a depth player, Pittsburgh needs to field the best starting five possible. With Green’s continued struggles this season, I really question whether he would meet that qualification.
What are your thoughts on Kendrick Green’s performance against the Vikings? Do you think that he just needs more time at center and more experience, or do you think he is overwhelmed playing out of position? Is Green the answer at center for Pittsburgh? Should they continue to play him there as the locked in starter next season if he continues to struggle? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!