Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Lions, Preseason Week 1

After taking a look at the Steelers defense yesterday, here’s a look at some of the players who stood out (for good and bad) on the Steelers’ offense. I’m focusing entirely here on line play — it’s much easier to tell on the initial viewing which running backs and wide receivers stood out.

Players Who Impressed

Matt Spaeth: I’ve been harsh on Matt multiple times in the past. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that it’s hard to explain why the Steelers would use him as their regular No. 2 tight end when a) he can’t block and b) the Steelers don’t throw to their second tight end. In fact, there’s a post floating around in my head about why David Johnson (all-block/no-catch) should be the No. 2 tight end instead of Spaeth because of this very fact.

But if Spaeth keeps playing like he did on Saturday, I need to shut up. Spaeth looked like  a much better blocker in his 2010 debut. On the Steelers’ third play from scrimmage he found a safety locked him up and blocked him to the whistle. On the first play of the Steelers’ third drive, he locked up a linebacker and drove him back seven yards off the line. On the play where Trai Essex was flagged for holding in the second quarter, Spaeth drove a defensive end five yards off the ball (with an assist from Johnson).

As good as his best blocks were, Spaeth’s consistency was even more surprising. He blocked defensive ends, linebackers and safeties and he did a good job whether he was driving a man off the line or going to the second level to block on the move.

Spaeth was excellent, in fact I didn’t see one block of his that wasn’t effective. If Spaeth has become a solid blocker, the Steelers’ decision to forgo fullbacks on most plays won’t be nearly as controversial.

Jonathan Scott: Maybe this is mea culpa week. If you were making a list of Steelers’ offensive linemen expected to struggle on Saturday, Scott would have been near the top of the list. Instead he had no problems in pass blocking and helped open some holes in the running game. He was facing second and third-team Lions players, so we’re not talking about a group of future Hall of Famers, but that doesn’t detract from what was a very solid first game.

One of Scott’s best plays was on 1st and 10 with 14:11 left in the second quarter. Scott moved quickly to the second level and blocked a linebacker to help free Isaac Redman for an eight-yard gain. Two plays later he found a Lions safety and blew him five yards off the ball (as you would expect) and carried out his block to the whistle. Scott consistently showed the agility to block on the move and he had none of the balance and strength problems in pass blocking that was such a problem in Buffalo last year.

Maurkice Pouncey: This Steelers’ draft is looking really good. Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders are impressing at wide receiver, Crezdon Butler is looking like a steal as a late-round defensive back and Thaddeus Gibson appears to be ahead of schedule in adjusting to the Steelers’ 3-4.

But Pouncey is the guy this draft will be remembered for, and it may not be long before he’s the Steelers’ best offensive lineman. Pouncey got more snaps at center than guard on Saturday, and he looked better at center. Pittsburgh was facing a 4-3 defense, so it will be worth seeing what Pouncey does against a 3-4, but we’ll have to the third week of the preseason (and Denver) to see that. He has a feel for the game, good functional strength and plenty of agility.

If you want to see more on Pouncey, check out this video that Dagger over at Post Game Heroes put together.

Players Who Didn’t Impress

Flozell Adams: If you’re willing to dive into a story like this, you’re probably astute enough to figure out that Adams had some problems. He gave up one sack and one quarterback hurry and generally struggled to keep Byron Leftwich’s jersey clean. Adams was better in run blocking — if he could use a defensive end’s momentum against him, he was able to create some massive holes.

Adams was generally awful, but it was 11 snaps. Hopefully the Steelers will see something better from him in the next couple of games, because if not, there aren’t a whole lot of backup plans. If you want to watch all of Adams’ snaps, the guys over at Steelers Depot put together this cutup.

Ramon Foster: Foster is in competition to be the primary backup at both guard spots and right tackle, but he struggled at both spots on Saturday. Foster was driven into the backfield and also had plays where he blocked no one.

Mixed Results

Tony Hills: The general opinion after Saturday night was that Hills did a lot to help himself with his play against the Lions. That seemed to be based off of Hills’ excellent block on a one-yard Isaac Redman touchdown run. But other than that, Hills was mediocre at best. He did put a nice block on a linebacker on a one-yard run by Redman on a 2nd and six (6:48, 3Q), but he also showed some clumsiness and indecision when he was facing second-teamers. The excellent Steelers Depot also put together a five-play cutup on Hills’ first five plays.

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