Jonathan Scott’s Not Likely the Answer

The Steelers are getting ready to begin the season without their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, but that may not be the most costly loss the Steelers have suffered this offseason.

Whatever the reason, Steelers’ backup quarterbacks have played pretty well in relief of Ben Roethlisberger. But the Steelers’ offensive line has been pretty poor even at full strength, and when Willie Colon snapped his Achilles’ tendon, they just lost their best offensive linemen.

So who will replace him, there are plenty of candidates, but there seems to be a lot of belief that recent free agent signee Jonathan Scott will get the first shot at the job–ESPN.com’s Len Pasquarelli ($), USA Today and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac all suggest that Scott is one of or the favorite to start.

Hopefully they are all wrong. It is possible that Scott could start and that he could turn in a passable performance at right tackle, but all the evidence we have says otherwise.

The big reasons that Scott is expected to start are that 1) he started eight games last year and 2) he played for new Steelers’ line coach Sean Kugler at Buffalo.

Here’s two big reasons he isn’t the answer: 1) he was one of the worst starting tackles in the league last year. 2) if Kugler couldn’t fix his footwork problems in Buffalo, why will that change in Pittsburgh?

In fact, the fact that Kugler has worked with Scott in the past is actually a detriment to his signing. If Scott was coming in to work with a new offensive line coach, you could grit your teeth and hope that a new coach could find a way to fix the problems that his old coach in Buffalo couldn’t solve.

It is true that Scott started eight games last year, but that’s more of an indictment of why he shouldn’t start for the Steelers. Buffalo came into the 2009 season with the worst offensive tackle situation in the NFL. They cut supposed starting left tackle Langston Walker the week before the season began, even though it meant the team was left without any experienced tackles and three rookies in its starting front five.

But that didn’t mean Scott was a starter–he was a backup behind Brad Butler. That wasn’t much of a surprise for Scott-he’d started only six games in his first three years in the league, and the Bills still had tackles they liked better than him.

Scott only moved into the starting job when Butler blew out his knee in the second week of the season, one of a seemingly endless run of offensive line injuries for the Bills.

Over the next three games, Scott played every snap until he suffered his own injury–an ankle sprain–against the Browns. At this point Buffalo was signing guys off practice squads one week and putting them in the starting lineup the next, so it’s not a huge accomplishment to say that Scott had earned a starting job.

During the next two and a half games, Scott was as dangerous to Bills quarterbacks as a baby with a meat cleaver.

We’ll go through Scott’s sacks allowed one by one. And I’m going to link to the NFL.com’s video of each and every sack he allowed so that you can see his work for yourself.

Against the Saints in Week Three, Scott gave up one sack to Charles Grant (who was helped by Randall Gay). Admittedly this one was partly center Geoff Hangartner’s fault, as a bad shotgun snap forced Trent Edwards to hold the ball longer than he would have wanted.

Things really fell apart against the Dolphins in Week Four. Fill-in right tackle Kirk Chambers was being terrorized by Cameron Wake on one side, but Scott wasn’t doing much better at the left tackle spot. In the third quarter, Jason Taylor knocked Scott off balance and drove him back into the quarterback for half a sack (Wake was beating Chambers on the other side to share the sack).

In the fourth quarter, Taylor finished off Scott and the Bills with a pair of sacks.  For a sack on first and 10, Taylor again drove Scott back into the quarterback with superior leverage for an easy sack. On both of those sacks, Scott’s fears about being beaten to the outside led to him not keeping a proper base with his feet that would allow him to properly absorb the blow of a bull rush.

Just two plays later, Scott made the opposite problem. In his concerns to not get caught leaning to the outside, Scott was too slow off the snap, so Taylor just ran right past him for another sack.

Technically Scott gave up another sack the next week against Cleveland before leaving with his ankle injury, but in this case, it wasn’t entirely his fault. Fred Jackson did a poor job of picking up a blitzing safety, which forced Trent Edwards to step up. That caused Scott to lose his grip on Kenyon Coleman who picked up a garbage sack.

So in roughly three and a half games, Scott gave up three and a half sacks and had a hand in another sack allowed. That was a pace that would have made him the NFL’s worst pass blocking offensive tackle over a full season. Thankfully for him, he missed the next four games with his ankle injury–Adam Snyder’s spot as the league’s worst pass blocking tackle would be safe.

That did give Scott a chance to regroup, and when he returned he played better. Not well, but better.  By this point in the season, the Bills were shuffling their line every week to try to fill holes created by injury after injury. Kendall Simmons, the former Steeler, was plucked off the waiver wire to start at guard–he quickly showed that he wasn’t the answer with 2.5 sacks allowed against the Dolphins. Scott was having his own trouble in a second matchup with Miami. The two linemen shared Scott’s first sack allowed against Miami, as he unwisely lunged forward at the snap, only to see Randy Stark sidestep his punch block and step around him for a clear run at the quarterback.

Scott’s trouble at staying low and maintain a solid base showed up again on a Joey Porter sack in the fourth quarter. Porter got his hands on Scott’s chest and actually lifted the 315+ pound Scott off the ground. Porter than shed Scott to pick up the sack.

The final of the 4.5 sacks Scott allowed against the Dolphins came later in the fourth quarter. In this case Scott didn’t do an awful job. He did a good job of staying with Porter on a speed rush, but when Simmons lost his man and Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped up, Porter could see it and Scott couldn’t, so Porter reversed direction to jump Fitzpatrick from behind while Scott kept on going.

Scott did make it through the next week’s game against the Jets sackless. But Chiefs defensive end Tamba Hali ruined that one-game sackless streak with an easy sack the next week. This may be Scott’s worst sack allowed of the season. He listlessly took his drop on a pass play, then watched Hali cut to his inside for an easy sack–Scott barely got a hand on him.

Scott’s sack allowed streak continued against the Patriots in Week 15. Tully Banta-Cain had already beaten running back Fred Jackson for a pair of sacks before he simply steamrolled Scott for an easy sack. Scott’s troubles again revolved around his feet. He struggles to maintain a base with his butt “dropped” to handle bull rushers. Even when they (like Banta-Cain and Porter) are significantly smaller than him, Scott’s difficulties at maintaining leverage mean that the smaller outside linebackers can actually knock him off his feet. In Banta-Cain’s case, he didn’t actually lift Scott off the ground, but he did knock him backwards for the easy sack.

Thankfully for Bills’ quarterbacks and the length of this post, Scott had to leave the Falcons game in Week 16 after only one series and missed the rest of the season.

So what do we have? Scott played the majority of nine games. During those nine games, he gave up 7.5 sacks that he could be blamed for, plus another sack that was really the fault of a teammate. If you’re wanting to be optimistic, only 1.5 of those sacks (plus the one sack that wasn’t really his fault) came when Scott was playing right tackle. His biggest problems came in his 6+ games at left tackle. But wherever he played, Scott struggled to stay balanced enough to handle bull rushes from smaller outside linebackers and he sometimes could be caught lunging against bigger defensive ends.

It’s worth noting that despite all of their problems along the offensive line (and the lack of significant help with their 2010 draft), the Bills didn’t make a push to keep Scott–they could have likely kept him by simply offering the lowest level restricted free agent tender. And in a league where any tackle with talent becomes very rich, the Steelers were able to pick up Scott for a simple one-year bargain veteran minimum. The rest of the league didn’t see a whole lot of potential in Scott, and an injury to Willie Colon doesn’t change that fact.

If you expect Scott to serve as a decent Barrett Brooks type–someone who participates in practice and provides some versatility–he could probably fill that role, but for him to start every week, the Steelers will likely be quickly looking for a replacement.

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  • Dean Keaton

    You could have avoided all of your article by just invoking the name Barrett Brooks at the beginning…

    Seriously, though, thanks for the eval of Scott. Hopefully you're wrong and he's much better than any of this indicates.

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  • Randy Steele

    Well that was terrifying.

  • Bigswa

    Nice Article – Check out my Podcast
    http://whatchatalkinbout.com/?cat=12

  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    Guys, please go back and watch some more film…Willie Colon was not the best element of this o-line…we are just going to replace a mediocre RT with and unproven element…nothing to be desperate about…by the way, whats your take on Tony Hills?

  • JJ Cooper

    JC,

    I have watched a ton of film of the Steelers' o-line (hours and hours), and to me, Colon was the best member of the O-line last year. He's the best run blocker (he got the best push off the line) and he has turned into a very solid pass blocker. He picks up too many penalties, but otherwise he's become (pre-injury) a very solid right tackle. Who do you think was better last year, and explain why?

  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    JJ, in my opinion the whole left side is better, of course, not stellar, but my perspective that either Essex or Chris K would be even harder to replace, was confirmed when I looked at FO advanced stats for last season, and clearly you can see that they were more succesful on that side. Do not get me wrong, I am not taking any of the 5 startes a Pro Bowler, but I am not feeling THAT bad because of the lost of Willie…the player, not the person…heck, the best pure blocker on the team is Heath Miller…anyway, guys, I do enjoy your stuff, keep it up…

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