Yes, The Steelers Tackles Got Plenty Of Help In 2022 (And Here’s What Analytics Miss)

The chart below doesn’t look pretty for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ tackles. I saw this graph right before leaving for the Senior Bowl and finally have a chance to circle back to and explain it.

PFF’s Arjun Menon put together “island rates” for offensive tackles to measure how often they are 1v1 against defensive ends. The idea being the teams and tackles who get more help are trying to compensate. And the numbers look bad in Pittsburgh. Steelers’ tackles, Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor, had the third-lowest “island” rate at about 57%, meaning they were consistently given plenty of help from tight ends or guards.

Here’s the data Menon tweeted out late last month.

According to his numbers, only the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders gave their offensive tackles more help. A lot of these numbers are closely bunched together, the league’s media was roughly 61%, but the graph makes it look like Pittsburgh didn’t have much trust in their tackles.

But there’s another explanation. Offensive line coach Pat Meyer, hired for the 2022 season, has a system designed to give his tackles plenty of help. In reviewing his pass protection philosophy last year, we noted Meyer’s idea of guards doubling DEs more than many other systems. Here’s what we wrote:

“If the guard is facing an inside shaded defender with help (the center sliding to him) he will immediately get eyes on the tackle and leave the block if the tackle gets into trouble.

The offensive tackle will have help if there is a “guard bubble,” meaning one defender aligned as a three tech or outside shade/head up on the guard. If there is a three-tech to the tackle’s side, there is no bubble and the tackle must assume he is working 1v1.”

Meaning, if the guard doesn’t have three-tech to his outside shoulder and the center is sliding his way, the guard can immediately give the tackle help. And we saw that throughout the year. Here’s one crystal clear example. Against the New Orleans Saints, the DT is head-up on center Mason Cole. On the snap of the football, RG James Daniels immediately takes off to give RT Chukwuma Okorafor help on LDE Cam Jordan.

Not something you saw under Mike Munchak, Shaun Sarrett, or Adrian Klemm.

Curiously, in my tape study I saw Daniels offer more help to the tackle than Dotson did. But this was common under Meyer and a big reason why the “island” rate was as low as it was. Of course, away from the center’s slide, the tackle was often 1v1 but Meyer’s system puts more pressure on the center to win 1v1 blocks. Under previous coaches, it was the center often giving the guard help or the guard and center doubling the one-tech. It made Mason Cole’s steady play all the more important, a serious upgrade over Kendrick Green and his struggles in 2021.

Analytics are important and they help paint a picture of the “what.” The Steelers tackles weren’t 1v1 a lot this year – the data proves it. But it doesn’t always explain the “why.” So I wanted to clear the air to explain the graph. No matter how the line looks in 2023, you can expect similar results.

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