Now that Pittsburgh has a franchise quarterback, now diehard fans can turn their attention to worrying about the line responsible for protecting him.
But while we all spend time worrying about Flozell Adams’ feet and whether Justin Hartwig should make the roster, the Steelers defensive line has been carrying on a very interesting battle of their own. It doesn’t get as much notice because the Steelers’ starting three are set in stone, but among Nick Eason, Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington, the Steelers have three quality linemen battling for either one or two spots.
To get a better idea of how that battle is shaping up, I went back and logged each snap in the Giants game for each of those three defensive ends, plus the snaps of Ziggy Hood. Hood has clearly made the team, but since so many people are wondering about why he hasn’t made more of an impact this preseason, it was worth taking a look at his work as well.
Like I did with the offensive line, I tried to put together some sort of Yes/No grade on each snap. It’s not easy to do that for the offensive line, and it’s even tougher when you are talking about defensive ends. For instance, on a pass play it’s just not fair to expect a DE to consistently pressure the quarterback. So when it comes to grading them out on pass plays, a little bit of penetration into the backfield or in some cases just keeping containment is enough to get a yes on the question of whether it was a good play or not. It’s a little simpler on running plays, but even then your expectations for a DE often have to be downgraded. If a defensive end gets his hands on the offensive lineman blocking him and stalemates him at the line, he’s generally doing a good job, even if it looks like he just stood up and stood at the line.
And even then there are a number of plays where a defensive end is irrelevant. If the Giants run a sweep to the left, left end Ziggy Hood isn’t going to be making the tackle no matter how well he dominates his man. And again, I’m not looking at technique or all the myriad things that a coach grading the film would use in determining a grade. I’m just looking at the results based on what I think the player was being asked to do.
As mentioned in other posts, we can’t know the play call, so there is a chance that there are some misinterpretations, although in most cases I don’t think that’s an problem here — if a player gets driven five yards off the ball by the offensive lineman, he didn’t do his job. Eason actually had 27 snaps, but on one of them the TV feed came back from a worthless interview so late that it was impossible to tell what he did on the play (similar deal for Hood, but he was laying on the ball carrier, so it seemed safe to say he did a solid job).
|Ziggy Hood||20 of 24||83.3|
|Nick Eason||21 of 26||80.8|
|Sunny Harris||12 of 15||80|
|Doug Worthington||11 of 15||73.3|
Nick Eason: Eason’s play on Saturday makes it clear that making a big play will get you noticed. The general consensus among watchers was the Eason was the standout among the backup defensive linemen. That was based largely on an excellent play he made at the goal line where he got a fantastic jump off the snap, drove a guard into the backfield and shut down the run.
It was a great play. And he made another one that was nearly as good three plays later. But he also was driven out of the play on a 21-yard run to his side of the field and had a couple other running plays where he was blown out of the play. Eason is generally pretty solid against the run, but, like most of the Steelers’ defensive linemen, he’s not going to put much heat on the quarterback. He’s clearly the safest bet among the backup linemen, but he also is on the downside of his career where the two guys he’s battling for the final defensive end spot(s) are young players with room for improvement.
|1||Gets some push, but handled on pass rush||Yes|
|2||Driven back on run his way||No|
|3||Not much rush, but helps clear way for Foote’s blitz||Yes|
|4||Handled, but hustles on run the other way||Yes|
|5||Awful play. LT drives him back 7 yards on run his way that goes for 21 yards||No|
|6||Bad TV work. Looks like he got some push||Yes|
|7||Bottled up inside on run outside||No|
|8||Good effort, few results on pass play||Yes|
|9||Stuffed at line on Burnett INT||Yes|
|10||Plays paddy-cake with OL||No|
|11||What you want a Steeler DE to do. Drives LG into backfield which disrupts running play||Yes|
|12||Reads screen his way pretty quickly||Yes|
|13||Reads toss his way extremely quickly, helps jump on pile||Yes|
|14||Quick pass means not much to do||Yes|
|15||Bad TV work again, can’t say||?|
|16||Driven outside by OT||No|
|17||Double teamed, no pass rush||Yes|
|18||Excellent job. Fires out low to cause traffic jam at POA||Yes|
|19||Solid effort few results on pass play||Yes|
|20||Stalemate at line||Yes|
|21||Both he and Hood serve as decoys in pass rush, looping to outside left as LBs come from right||Yes|
|22||One of his worst plays. LG hooks him and turns him on run right at him||No|
|23||Gets low, causes havoc by creating traffic jam||Yes|
|24||Best play of the night. Amazingly quick off snap, drives LG into backfield. Stuffs play||Yes|
|25||Stuffed at line on pass play||No|
|26||Good push on p/a pass play||Yes|
|27||Again does his job. Fast off snap, moves his man into backfield||Yes|
Ziggy Hood: With the talk of Hood’s amazing development in training camp, Steelers’ fans were expecting Hood to look like Joe Greene V 2.0 this fall (or at least Aaron Smith V 2.0). Instead he’s been OK but the only time he got his name called on Saturday night was when he was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty.
But Hood’s play isn’t nearly as poor as that makes it sound. He didn’t have many great plays, but he was pretty consistent. He showed that he can drive his man into the backfield at times and he has more pass-rush ability than any other backup defensive end. He did get flagged for going too low at Rhett Bomar, but it’s also worth remembering that he showed excellent burst to get to Bomar.
|1||Double-teamed on pass rush||Yes|
|2||Gets good penetration but run is going other way||Yes|
|3||Drives his man back, but not much else||Yes|
|4||Bad play. RT #65 drives him back 8 yards on run his way||No|
|5||Goes outside, not much to do on run other way||Yes|
|6||Hustles, but stuffed at line||Yes|
|7||Bottled up inside on run outside||No|
|8||Gets a little push, but nowhere near QB||Yes|
|9||Little penetration on INT||Yes|
|10||Double teamed on pass play||Yes|
|11||Uses arms to control RG, slides off to help on tackle||Yes|
|12||Some penetration, but screen pass going to other side||Yes|
|13||Had some trouble fending off cut block||No|
|14||Same as Eason too quick a play to do much||Yes|
|15||Bad TV work, but was lying on ball carrier at end||Yes|
|16||Suckered by draw play, RB runs right past him||No|
|17||I know he got a penalty, but good pass rush by Hood, slides off man quickly. Gets flagged for roughing passer||No|
|18||Great job. Gets inside OL, slides down line to help on tackle||Yes|
|19||No real push on pass play||Yes|
|20||Better job staying home on draw||Yes|
|21||Both serve as decoys in pass rush||Yes|
|22||Run other way, isn’t a factor||Yes|
|23||Stalemate, which is good enough||Yes|
|24||Helps push pocket back||Yes|
Doug Worthington: For a rookie, Worthington offers a whole lot of energy. He played hard, he hustled to the whistle and every now and then you saw some flashes — like when he beat his man to the inside, read a running play and hustled to make a tackle on the Giants’ first play of their last possession.
But he also struggled in goal line play. On back-to-back plays Worthington was so focused on firing out low (something that is important) that he ended up on all fours and out of the play. On the second of the two plays a Giants’ lineman laid on top of him once Worthington had lost his balance.
|1||Unblocked, but ends up crawling on ground. Not a factor in play||No|
|2||Again ends up on all fours, this time with blocker on top of him||No|
|3||Stood up, but slides to outside. Not a factor on run other way||Yes|
|4||Driven three yards inside on run his way||No|
|5||Double teamed on three-man rush||Yes|
|6||Ends up getting double-teamed again||Yes|
|7||Good hustle, slides off block late to help on tackle||Yes|
|8||Quick pass, not much he can do||Yes|
|9||Not generating much pass rush||Yes|
|10||Run at him again, does good job of getting penetration and flowing to ball||Yes|
|11||RT handles him pretty well||No|
|12||Quick screen. Not a factor||Yes|
|13||Outstanding, gets inside of RT, flows down line to make tackle||Yes|
|14||Doesn’t really do much on pass play||Yes|
|15||Good job. Loop gets him into end zone to help pressure Bomar||Yes|
Sunny Harris: I want to offer up any biases in advance. I was impressed with Harris last year (to the point of watching a Panthers’ game to see how he did for them after his early-season signing). And I liked his work in the Lions’ game. But I tried to grade him to the same level that I did the other three DEs.
Harris also was relatively consistent. His worst play was his first play — he was blown off the ball on a goal line play in the third quarter. But at his best Harris gets good leverage and drives linemen back.
|1||Destroyed and driven into end zone by double team||No|
|2||Much better, gets into backfield||Yes|
|3||Good job of attacking OT’s hip.||Yes|
|4||Overaggressive to outside, but not factor on run other way||Yes|
|5||DT’d on three-man rush||Yes|
|6||Shows strong legs. Gets push to drive OT back||Yes|
|7||Doesn’t anchor well, gets driven out of hole||No|
|8||Too quickly released to get into backfield||Yes|
|9||Works stalemate on pass||Yes|
|10||Gets inside LT and drives down line.||Yes|
|11||Sylvester gets sack before he makes contact with OT||Yes|
|12||Gets into backfield on screen||Yes|
|13||Fires off snap too high, LT gets under him and pushes him back||No|
|14||Shows some strength, gets into backfield.||Yes|
|15||Almost gets a safety on Bomar||Yes|