Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Giants, Preseason Week 2

We don’t know yet how good the Steelers will be. There are concerns about whether Flozell Adams will get Byron Leftwich killed and a Troy Polamalu injury could take the season from promising to frustrating very quickly.

But two weeks into the preseason, it is pretty clear that the Steelers’ backups are better than the Lions’ and Giants’ backups. Watching and rewatching the Steelers’ second- and third-team offensive line gash the Giants defense helps to wipe away any of the heartburn that came from watching Adams’ struggles in pass blocking.

I want to credit Todd in Syracuse (a regular here and on the Steel City Insider message board) for the idea of listing my log for each and every play for a lineman (instead of  trying to do a plus-minus system). It takes a little longer writing down notes on each player for each snap, but it does seem to give a better feel for how a lineman performs and hopefully allows those who want to dig a little deeper to read the notes or even compare them to your own observations.

You may notice that I didn’t log the play of Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex. Those three have virtually guaranteed starting jobs to begin the season, which means that there isn’t that much to be learned by logging each of Starks’ snaps for instance. Even if Kemoeatu is struggling (which he has been at times), he’s going to start the first and the last game of the season if he’s healthy. If I had unlimited time, I’d add them to the list, but it’s time move on and to start looking at the defense.

If you’re looking for the logs on Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott, the breakdown of how well they did ran on Sunday.

For each play, I tried to give an answer to whether the block was successful or not, as you can see in the chart below. Don’t think of this as the grades that coaches give out — they are grading in much more detail than this and with a whole lot more information. I’m not grading on proper technique or anything like that, I’m just looking for results as best they can be determined. And making a play pass/fail isn’t always easy to do — so think of these stats as helpful but don’t view them as hard and fast rules.

It’s time for me to mention a disclaimer. When watching we can’t always know the play call or the linemen’s assignments (although often it’s quite clear), so there can be some inaccuracies here, although I believe that those inaccuracies are few in number.

Justin Hartwig 17 of 19 89.5
Tony Hills 26 of 30 86.7
Kraig Urbik 18 of 21 85.7
Doug Legursky 32 of 39 82.1
Maurkice Pouncey 26 of 32 81.3
Adrian Jones 7 of 9 77.8
Jonathan Scott 30 of 39 77
Ramon Foster 23 of 30 76.7
Flozell Adams 13 of 21 61.9

If you want the thumbnail sketch of what happened, Kraig Urbik and Tony Hills were the two backup linemen who impressed the most. Both of them are fighting for roster spots and both of them did everything they could to help their chances on Saturday night. Among the backups no one had an awful game.

Kraig Urbik: Just when it seemed Urbik would slip onto the waiver wire without any notice, he did everything he could short of setting himself on fire to get noticed against the Giants. There are two more weeks before the final cuts, and if nothing else Urbik has made sure that the coaching staff will take a second look at keeping him around.

This is the guy we heard about at draft time last year. Urbik may not be the quickest guard in camp, but he did show plenty of power as he blew defensive tackles off the ball play after play.

Urbik didn’t play center on Saturday, but he did snap against the Lions, so he has some versatility. And unlike Adams’ struggles to learn how to switch sides of the line, Urbik showed little problem bouncing between left and right guard.

Kraig Urbik
Play No. Result Good Block? Position
1 Drives #93 3 yards back, excellent block Yes LG
2 Double-teams #93 with Pouncey, creates massive hole Yes LG
3 Uncovered, so he helps Pouncey block #93 Yes LG
4 Uncovered. With four-man rush has nothing to do Yes LG
5 Drives #93 back, but eventually loses him on run other way. So he puts block on LB too Yes LG
6 Screen other way, hustles but no one to block Yes LG
7 Loses #98 to outside, but run other way means it doesn’t matter No LG
8 Handles MLB easily, helps create hole Yes LG
9 Stalemates #97, which is good enough on run up middle Yes LG
10 Fumbled snap. Solid, but short-lived lock on DT Yes RG
11 Very good block on DT, moves him back several yards Yes RG
12 Poor block on LB. One punch but doesn’t stick. No RG
13 Drives his man two yards off LOS Yes RG
14 Quick pass adequate block Yes RG
15 Uncovered and really unchallenged but does help out Legursky Yes RG
16 With help from Legursky creates nice hole on run up gut Yes RG
17 Is destroying his man snap after snap. Again drives him three yards off LOS Yes RG
18 #75 (Collins) is no match for Urbik. Play-after-play he is being blown off the ball, as he is here. Yes RG
19 Finds a LB to block, but loses him because he’s inside of LB and play is run outside No RG
20 Stalemate at line, but maintains block until RB has nice gain Yes RG
21 Had fun on this one. Finds LB and drives him off the screen. Yes RG

Justin Hartwig: Maurkice Pouncey’s development may earn Hartwig a trip to the waiver wire, but he isn’t going out without a valiant effort. He was nearly flawless against the Giants. That’s impressive but not overwhelming, as on a number of his 19 snaps, he did not have any one lined up over him on most plays (the Giants run a 4-3) and on several plays all he had to do was help out the guards.

Justin Hartwig
Play No. Result Good Block?
1 Finds OLB drives him back on run up middle. Yes
2 Misdirection boot leaves Hartwig little to do. Yes
3 Stuffs DT (#96) eventually puts him on ground. Yes
4 Doubles DT with Essex, but they don’t get much push No
5 Reverse. Doesn’t have much to do. Yes
6 Solid job of helping out on pass blocking. Yes
7 Help block with Kemo then quickly locks up MLB on solid run by Redman Yes
8 Decent job blocking Canty on backside as Steelers’ run outside Yes
9 Combins with Kemoeatu to block Canty Yes
10 Solid job on Canty again. Stalemate at line on run to right. Yes
11 Is the reason Mendenhall gets almost 10 yards on run up the middle. Picks up MLB to create hole. Yes
12 OK job blocking OLB, but loses block late Yes
13 Adequate block on backside of run right Yes
14 Good job in pass blocking. Handles DT Yes
15 Not much to do, but helps out Kemo in pass blocking Yes
16 Blitz up middle, picks up LB nicely and stops him. Yes
17 Gets initial block but loses LB (#52) too quickly No
18 Not much to do again. No one lined up over him and no one rushes his way on pass play Yes
19 Good job of blocking DT, then handing him off to pick up blitzer. Yes

Maurkice Pouncey: When I was rewatching the game with a focus on Adams and Scott, I’d occasionally notice a nice block by Pouncey. So I was very excited to rewatch the game with a complete focus on the rookie center.

What I found was a center with great energy and an excellent ability to help out on a defensive tackle before picking up a linebacker — his agility is excellent for a man of his size and strength. But what you didn’t see was a center who was heads and shoulder above his teammate. At his best, Pouncey played a key role in Isaac Redman’s third-quarter touchdown. But he also was the player who was stuffed on Mewelde Moore’s unsuccessful goal line run on the final play of the second quarter.

Maurkice Pouncey
Play No. Result Good Block?
1 Pulls, puts LB (#54) on the ground Yes
2 Helps out in pass protection, solid work Yes
3 Helps out G, then slides off and picks up LB Yes
4 Just so aggressive. Fires out for quick block on DT, then turns LB to create hole. Yes
5 Keeps head up, picks up DE coming inside on loop Yes
6 Doesn’t get much movement, but does stay locked onto DT Yes
7 Mass of bodies in the middle on pass play. Decent job of locking up a DT Yes
8 His worst block up to now. Sees and picks up Kiwanuka looping inside, but Kiwanuka gets pressure and a QB hit No
9 Double teams DT with Legursky. Solid block on Wallace TD bomb. Yes
10 Goes way downfield to block S on long run by Moore Yes
11 Not great pass blocking, but keeps looking for people to hit. Eventually lights up DE downfield. Yes
12 Solid job of pass blocking on quick pass Yes
13 Doesn’t get any push on fake spike/QB sneak No
14 OK block on quick pass to outside Yes
15 Blame him for lack of TD. Pouncey stood up at line, Moore runs into his back and is stuffed. No
16 Blocks DT then LB again, but eventually loses block of LB who gets assist No
17 Gets solid push on DT as Redman gets solid run Yes
18 Combines with Urbik to stuff DT’s pass rush Yes
19 DT gets free, but Justin Vincent helps out to stop him No
20 Puts his man on the ground. Unfortunately his man gets up to help make tackle No
21 Solid job on quick pass outside Yes
22 Handles Joseph’s pass rush with no problem Yes
23 Puts DT on the ground for pancake block Yes
24 Excellent job to create hole up middle on Redman TD run. Again blocks two players. Yes
25 Gets ridden into backfield, but that helps create running lane Yes
26 Fake screen to right leaves nothing to do. Yes
27 Locks up safety on big run up the middle Yes
28 Keeps his man well occupied on draw up middle Yes
29 Solid job in stopping DT to give Dixon plenty of time Yes
30 OK block on running play outside Yes
31 Creates massive hole with some help on run up middle. Steelers turn Dts to outside to open canyon Yes
32 Puts DT into end zone on touchdown run up middle Yes

Doug Legursky: If I expected to be blown away by Pouncey’s work and was disappointed that it was just good, not great, the reverse was true with Legursky. I went into watching him expecting to be disappointed because I remembered seeing a block or two that didn’t go well. But Legursky actually was pretty reliable. Like Pouncey, he gave up one quarterback pressure, but he also was the man who created the hole on Redman’s touchdown run. In fact, he had as many excellent blocks as bad ones. And as he showed again on Saturday he has plenty of versatility with the ability to play guard and center.

Legursky doesn’t make it look pretty. There was a play where his pass blocking made it look like he was going to be knocked on his butt, but he hung on to handle his man.

Doug Legursky
Play No. Result Good Block? Position
1 Good double team, chips DT then picks up LB and pouts him on the ground on run his way Yes RG
2 Stops DT with help from RT Scott Yes RG
3 Doesn’t have perfect form, but drives DT outside on pass play Yes RG
4 Uncovered, so does good job by helping out Pouncey then sliding out to help out Scott Yes RG
5 Slides down line on run other way. OK block. Yes RG
6 Pierre-Paul loops inside, beats Legursky to inside, gets QB pressure which forces Leftwich to run No RG
7 Gives ground on bull rush, but stays in front of his man. Yes RG
8 All kind of confusion on surprise sneak No RG
9 Quick pass, little to do. Yes RG
10 Does a pretty solid job. Initial block on DT, then picks up LB. Yes RG
11 Joseph gets penetration to stop Redman’s momentum No RG
12 Does good job turning #97 Yes RG
13 Plays too high, gets driven back, but manages to stop DT anyway Yes RG
14 Solid pass blocking against DT Yes RG
15 Solid job on #95 early, but doesn’t maintain block so DT crawls along ground to make tackle No RG
16 Screen other way, hustles but no one to block Yes RG
17 Adequate block on DT on run outside Yes RG
18 Puts shoulder into DT, then helps out Pouncey on “0″ technique NT. Adequate, but doesn’t maintain. Yes RG
19 His best block of the night. DT’s #95 with Pouncey. Seals inside edge as Redman runs through hole created for TD Yes RG
20 Decent block, controls his man on run up middle Yes RG
21 Fake screen throwback means not much to do but run. Yes RG
22 Another excellent block. Drives DT out of hole, which helps Vincent go for 10+ Yes RG
23 Again, not getting too much push, but drives his feet and does a good job of sticking to his man. Yes RG
24 Stuffs DT on pass play. Doesn’t give up any ground at all. Yes RG
25 Good job of reading blitz. Switches block at last second to stop blitzing MLB. Yes RG
26 Excellent push, drives his man back three yards Yes RG
27 Double teams DT with Pouncey. They put him in the end zone. Yes RG
28 OK job of sliding off DT to block LB, but fumbled snap. Yes C
29 Outstanding job on MLB. Seals him off to help create solid run Yes C
30 Struggles to move DT this time No C
31 Not a great block, but gets initial shot then looks around for guys to hit Yes C
32 Quick pass adequate block Yes C
33 Quick shot to DT slows him down in pass blocking Yes C
34 Is still chugging. Teams with Urbik to create big hole up middle Yes C
35 One of his worst blocks of the night. Gets tossed aside as Wright is stuffed up middle No C
36 DT lined up in 1 technique, drives him back, then finds a LB too Yes C
37 Gets tossed aside by #75 No C
38 Drives #74 off the ball Yes C
39 Bootleg. OK block. Yes C

Ramon Foster: With all the competition for the Steelers’ backup line jobs, Foster hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention, which is somewhat surprising because he’s as versatile as any of the backups. Foster can play both guard spots and right tackle (in a pinch). Against the Giants Foster wasn’t spectacular, but he was solid. He showed a little more mobility than I remember seeing last year and when he got a good grip on a guy, he usually manhandled him.

Ramon Foster
Play Result Good Block
1 Good block on Gerris Wilkerson. Shows mobility to reach Wilkerson and handle him Yes
2 Teams with Pouncey to block DT on pass play Yes
3 Handles #97 on pass play Yes
4 Excellent block on #97′s bull rush on bomb to Wallace Yes
5 Hard to say if this was play call or not. Turns at snap, finds DT and blocks him, but allows DE to fly through his gap. Since it was a misdirection will give benefit of the doubt. Yes
6 Blows #97 almost off screen on pass that turns into scramble Yes
7 Keeps his head up. Doesn’t block anyone but makes sure LB threatening with blitz doesn’t Yes
8 Like everyone else, no push on surprise QB sneak No
9 Quick pass leaves little to do Yes
10 Driven back a step by LB, although doesn’t affect the run up middle No
11 Pulls and tries unsuccessfully to cut a LB No
12 Misdirection with fake screen left and throw back to the right, just slides and blocks air as designed Yes
13 DT fires out low, so Foster takes step back, then falls on him. Yes
14 Excellent job blocking an OLB Yes
15 Pancakes DT (#93) Yes
16 His best block? Finds LB (#98) puts him on ground and lays on top of him Yes
17 Turns #49 and puts him on ground on run up middle Yes
18 Excellent block on #74 on run up middle (TD for Wright) Yes
19 Gets a stalemate on fumbled snap Yes
20 Not pretty, but gets enough of #73 to allow Vincent to turn corner Yes
21 Doesn’t really block anyone No
22 Again really doesn’t block anyone on run other way No
23 Hustles to get outside on stop route, but cut block fails to slow DE No
24 Solid block on pass play Yes
25 Turns and handles #74 Yes
26 Worst block of night. Misses #98 on blitz (too slow), who knifes into backfield No
27 Drives #74 back several yards Yes
28 Run other way. Little to do Yes
29 With help from Legursky gets good push on #74 Yes
30 Pretty much carbon copy of previous play Yes

Tony Hills: As Ted mentioned Sunday, Hills was the surprise star of Saturday night. In previous preseasons (which has been Hills’ only real game action–he’s played in one regular season game), he’s looked overmatched and sluggish. On Saturday he showed good feet in pass blocking and a willingness to hustle in run blocking. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be a dominating run blocker, but he showed enough on Saturday to make sure the coaches take a closer look over the next two weeks before deciding whether to keep or cut him.

Tony Hills
Play No. Result Good Block?
1 Blocks down on DE, stays with his man to whistle Yes
2 Handles bull rush of #94. Joseph does slide to outside, but Hills keeps hands on him and pushes him past Leftwich. Yes
3 Hills picks up LB coming off edge. Plays a little high and gets caught lunging, but keeps hands on LB enough to control him Yes
4 Pittsburgh going deep. Hills gets leverage on #94 forces him to buckle. Completely stuffs him, great block. Yes
5 Hills dekes #94 into slanting inside on draw. Leaves him to lead Moore on outside run. Finds a CB and buries him. Yes
6 #94 tries speed rush. Hills slides feet well, drives him past Leftwich to outside. Yes
7 #94 tries swim move on Hills. Hills swats it away then puts him on the ground. Great block. Yes
8 Surprise sneak. Slow off ball, doesn’t do much. No
9 Quick pass, so not much do to, but keeps #94′s hands down. Yes
10 Stones Kiwaunuka, drives him outside on run from one. Yes
11 As 2H starts, Hills now facing Tollefson. Drives him back with DT help from David Johnson. Yes
12 Gives Tollefson a relatively ineffective arm throw (to try to get Tollefson to flow outside on run to Hills inside shoulder). But the block does work. Yes
13 Tollefson goes low, so Hills just lays on top of him. Tollefson does get free to crawl at Dixon late, but no pressure. Yes
14 Doesn’t do a good job with his hands. Tollefson wins battle to get leverage, starts to break free to outside, but Hills hangs on for effective block. Yes
15 Makes one hit on OLB, but doesn’t stick block. That LB doesn’t make tackle but is able to flow over to help out. No
16 Quick pass. Cuts Tollefson to ensure pass gets over DE’s hands. Yes
17 Shows some power with his hands. Quick right hand shot knocks Tollefson off balance. Yes
18 Controls Tollefson, walls him off on run inside. Blocks til whistle. Yes
19 Excellent block on OLB Wilkerson, handles him as Redman runs inside for touchdown. Yes
20 Asked to block down on run right. Misses his block. No
21 Quick pass other way. Not much to do. Yes
22 Rocks safety backwards on run up middle. Yes
23 Blocks Tollefson well til whistle on run up middle. Yes
24 Good job on Tollefson (who doesn’t give much effort). Yes
25 New DE (#70), drives him outside on run the other way Yes
26 Decent block on #70, but loses him late so #70 jumps on pile. No
27 Turns OLB outside as Wright runs bhind him for touchdown. Yes
28 Fumbled snap, but Hills handles Tollefson Yes
29 Hills gets good push on Tollefson to create hole outside. When Vincent gets past Hills, Hills does lose his block (would have been hold otherwise) and Tollefson makes tackle after gain of 8 yards Yes
30 Shoves his man backward on run the other way. Yes

Adrian Jones: At this point unless there are injuries Jones is playing for the game tape. It’s extremely unlikely that he’ll make the Steelers, and nine plays don’t really give much chance to get a feel for what he can do. But during those nine plays, Jones didn’t show anything that would make you think that he should be getting a lot more playing time.

Adrian Jones
Play No. Result Good Block?
1 Loses his man after good intial block. DE helps make tackle. No
2 Quick pass. Not much to do. Yes
3 Handles his man on bull rush Yes
4 Doesn’t really block anyone on run inside. No
5 Stuffs his man #70 on run inside. Yes
6 Locks up OLB. Gets good push, but OLB twists inside to fill hole and make tackle. Only needed 1 yard for first down. Yes
7 So-so block on run other way. Yes
8 Shoves with one arm on run the other way. Yes
9 Run the other way, stands up his man. Yes
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  • Wd_mchan

    I think of the term “energy” when I watch Pouncey, too. I think it matters. Nice write-up.

  • countertorque

    Love your analysis. How many man hours go into an article like this?

  • JJ Cooper

    I don’t really want to add it the hours as it may depress me. Let’s just say that I don’t have manyany other hobbies during football season. I’m either spending time with my wonderful wife and kid or I’m watching tape.

  • ToddInSyracuse

    No props necessary JJ.

    Charting this many lineman went above and beyond. Save it for the regular season…

  • Bigswa

    WOW – I thought I was bad. This took hours – Excellent

  • Bigswa

    The transition from RG and LG is minimal because you’re not in space. Any Guard worth a grain of Salt can play both.

  • Tbart213

    Well done, as always, JJ. Thanks!

  • Bigswa

    JJ, I also thought Hartwig played really well. He played like a guy fighting for a job. To bad he can’t or doesn’t want to play guard. After reading your thoughts on Urbik, I re-watched and he looked solid.

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