The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t going quietly into the offseason. After signing OG Nate Herbig, it felt like the team was done addressing the interior offensive line. But oh boy, were they not. They took a big swing in signing OG Isaac Seumalo to a three-year deal. While the configuration of the Steelers’ o-line remains unclear, and at this point, it may just be worth waiting until after the draft to really guess, Seumalo is obviously going to be a starter at one of the guard spots.
So what is Pittsburgh getting? We’ll have more breakdowns in the future but here’s a brief overview. And may favorite part of Seumalo’s game is his ability to protect the depth of the pocket in the pass game with his strength, punch, and lower body strength ability to anchor.
That’s where I’ll start focusing things. As we wrote about in Pat Meyer’s coaching clinic, broadly speaking, the o-line has two purposes. Here’s what we wrote last year of how Meyer broke it down.
“Interior Offensive Line – Set the depth of the pocket. Don’t let the DTs collapse it and make the quarterback get comfortable and used to hitching up into the pocket.
Offensive Tackles – Set the width of the pocket. Keep the edge rushers wide.”
So the interior o-line is responsible for setting the depth of the pocket. Don’t let the defensive tackles push the pocket and force the quarterback to bail and roll to one side, cutting down half of the field and making life hard on the tackles. Either the quarterback drifts and gets depth and the junction point changes or the quarterback is now scrambling and the play has broken down.
Seumalo has a wide base and big lower half to create power and stall out bull rushes. My favorite example comes in the NFC Title Game this past year. Watch him be able to anchor against this heavy bull rush by DT Arik Armstead. It jolts Seuamlo back but he’s immediately able to anchor and stall it out to preserve the depth of the pocket. He’s the RG here and in all of these clips, #56.
While I don’t know if he was taught the same way under the Eagles’ Jeff Stoutland, regarded as one of the league’s top o-line coaches, their pass sets can be similar. Meyer teaches an aggressive pass set, especially versus “on-body” defenders, defensive tackles aligned on the guard’s body. That requires a set that comes forward, not even staying flat like “off-body” sets, and requires the guard to have a heavy punch, create first significant contact, and be able to shut the rush down early. You see that on Seumalo’s tape. Watch these two clips against Pittsburgh, he’s the right guard, taking these aggressive sets on Chris Wormley and Carlos Davis (not top-tier guys, especially Davis, I recognize) but his ability to play with heavy hands and win early in these rushes are key.
That’s going to be huge for Kenny Pickett to allow him to navigate the pocket. There were points his rookie year where he was too quick to bail the pocket and some of that’s on him, typical of a young and mobile quarterback, but some of that may have been from him sensing the pocket beginning to collapse on him and trying to leave the pocket early before it got messy and inescapable. Seumalo is going to keep Pickett’s sight-line clean and allow him to hitch and drive the football.
So what else does he bring? I can’t speak to the exact system Stoutland ran in Philadelphia, not in just one night anyway, but Seumalo has been lauded for being a heady and intelligent player. The Twitter account Honest NFL, one of the best football guys online who covers and follows the Eagles, had this to say shortly after the signing.
Center Jason Kelce gets a lot of love for his football IQ but Seumalo shouldn’t be forgotten about either. On tape, you can see him talk and communicate against shifts and his stunt/game IQ is strong. Watch him immediately ID the game as the DT spikes down and he picks up the crasher.
Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty. And that’s ok – these are offensive linemen, it’s not supposed to be. Watch him literally spin here to pick up this looper. Yes, Jalen Hurts gets sacked here but that’s because he was stepping up to run. If he stayed in the pocket, Seumalo is picking this up. It meshes with Meyer’s ideals who even teaches the spinning/butt blocker, “spin the spinner’ so this is a perfect system fit.
Finally, what about run game? Seumalo is physical and aggressive. I don’t know if he’s quite as nasty as Nate Herbig or some of the top maulers in the game but he’s definitely in that bucket. Watch him combo and get on fellow free agent signing LB Cole Holcomb here.
Seumalo is also able to pull. He’s still pretty springy, even pulling wide on trap passes and other schemes, sort of like Maurkice Pouncey used to do (I was literally watching a clip earlier Sunday before the signing). In the run game, I like him logging the EMOL as the QB runs off his hip on this BASH concept.
Does he have issues? Sure. Similar to Herbig, he’s a little heavy-footed in pass pro and struggles laterally. Specifically, he struggled more when trying to mirror and push to inside against outside shade rushers. He’s better when he can set more flat against shades and head-up players than step laterally off the ball against three-techs. Those outside shade three techs are able to win more often with long-arms and finesse moves and Seumalo can allow too soft of an edge.
Overall, the Steelers are getting big and beefy up front with tough and smart guys who really love football. There are some overall athletic limitations here against quicker and more finesse rushers and there could be some quick losses along with quick wins, Meyer’s system doing well against power but being more vulnerable to swipes and dips with less chance to recover given the aggressiveness of these sets. But that’s the system he teaches; live by the sword, die by the sword.
If I had to guess, and we’re reacting right after the signing without the vision of what else could be coming, I would guess Seumalo starts at left guard, his home prior to the 2022 season. James Daniels stays at right guard while Mason Cole stays at center and we’ll see if they add a tackle in the draft. They at least need depth. At the moment, there’s literally nothing there.
Of course, this could go in other directions. Seumalo could start at RG, Herbig at LG, and Daniels at center. That’s not an impossible scenario. But the first scenario seems more likely with Herbig being interior swing depth (he wasn’t a Week One starter in 2021 or 2022) and depth here is needed knowing the group won’t be as fortunate and healthy as last year. Kevin Dotson appears to be odd man out and Kendrick Green looks as good as gone. Perhaps the team re-signs J.C. Hassenauer to give them another option at center and possible 8th offensive lineman with him, Herbig, and a tackle being the three gameday backups.