Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Panthers, Preseason Week 4

Week 4 of the preseason is usually boring in the best of situations. When Byron Leftwich left Thursday’s game with a knee injury, it became the equivalent of re-ordering your sock drawer. Charlie Batch came in and handed off — repeatedly — as Pittsburgh tried to burn through the clock as quickly as possible.

That also meant that the Steelers didn’t really get a great evaluation of the backup offensive linemen fighting for the final spots. We got to see plenty of looks at how they run block, but most of the backups got very few chances to pass protect.

But a preseason game is a preseason game, so here’s a look at each and every lineman who played for the Steelers on Thursday night. If you’re looking for positives, Pittsburgh did get plenty of chances to shuffle the line spots — Ramon Foster (right tackle, left guard, right guard) and Doug Legursky (left guard, center, right guard) played three positions each and multiple linemen played two different positions.

Here’s the breakdown of how each linemen did. My DVR did not grab the first eight minutes of the game, so there is a sack I’m missing here — on the replay I saw Pouncey had a bad snap and added to his problem by whiffing on his block for the sack. There were another six  snaps for the starters I missed. That said, I figured it was better to get this post up now rather than waiting for the NFL Network replay to include the missing plays.

We’re going on results here, so it’s not a look at who has good technique. The only question is was it a good, effective block or not. And it a player if flagged for a penalty, it’s automatically a bad play.

Adams 9 10 90.00%
Starks 16 18 88.89%
Pouncey 16 18 88.89%
Hills 30 34 88.24%
Jolly 20 23 86.96%
Legursky 33 38 86.84%
Foster 26 31 83.87%
Urbik 23 29 79.31%
Essex 13 18 72.22%
Scott 7 10 70.00%
Kemoeatu 9 14 64.29%
Hartwig 7 11 63.64%
Brooks 3 7 42.86%

Flozell Adams: This is what we were hoping to see. In the final two games of the preseason, Adams has looked significantly better than he did in the first two. Part of that would appear to be an improved understanding of the offense. But another part is the paucity of competition he’s faced the past two weeks. Denver didn’t have the kind of speed rusher that would give Adams’ problems and Carolina didn’t play any of its starters.

But Adams did play better. And when he gives a guy a shove, the defender often reels like he’s been whacked with a 2×4.

1 Solid job, once again shows massive strength Yes
2 Speed rush gets around outside, but Flozell pushes him so Ben can step up Yes
3 Locks up LB then just stands there with him Yes
4 Tosses his man aside. Adams’ strength is very apparent Yes
5 OK shove on run up middle Yes
6 Not much to do on run other way Yes
7 Forces DE to give up on rush Yes
8 Screen pass. Doesn’t do much at all No
9 Not being challenged by bull rushes Yes

Trai Essex: If there is a starter other than Adams to worry about, it’s probably Essex. At times this preseason he’s struggled with picking up blitzes, and he’s also having difficult when he’s asked to block a moving target at the second level. He wasn’t all that good on Thursday while facing backups, which is a little disconcerting.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Driven into backfield. His man is controlling him No
2 Three-man rush leaves nothing to do Yes
3 Good block on DE Yes
4 Not textbook form (he falls down) but reaches LB and takes him out Yes
5 Goo block on LB #54 Yes
6 Solid block on #99, but doesn’t create good angle because he can’t get ahead on reach block Yes
7 3-man rush again. Helps out Pouncey Yes
8 Pulls out on screen pass, but whiffs on block of safety No
9 Pushed back briefly, but puts his butt down and anchors well Yes
10 Poor job on LB. Can’t maintain block No
11 Double teams well with Pouncey Yes
12 Too slow to block LB on run other way No
13 Doesn’t see LB blitzing til too late. Allows QB hurry No
14 Good job of recognizing stunt. Handing off his original man Yes
15 OK job. Not pretty but it works despite giving up ground Yes
16 OK block on run other way Yes
17 Pushes #93 back several yards Yes
18 Solid job. Yes

Maurkice Pouncey: As I wrote earlier this week, I’m not ready to send Pouncey to the Pro Bowl, but it’s also clear that he is significantly better than Justin Hartwig. What Pouncey does is give Pittsburgh a center who can block 320-pounders one-on-one. He doesn’t always win those battles, but he does win enough of them to allow the Steelers to do some different things in the run game.

Having seen the highlights of the Steelers’ sack allowed, Pouncey had a bad play there. He snapped the ball over Roethlisberger’s head, then was beaten up the middle for the sack.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Good job one-on-one on #93 Yes
2 Three-man rush means he shares with Kemo Yes
3 Helps out Essex, but seems to get caught up when he was supposed to pick up LB. LB makes tackle. No
4 Handles NT one-on-one. Good block Yes
5 Excellent block. Drives #99 back Yes
6 Good job blocks down then goes out and chases down LB 15 yards downfield Yes
7 Initial shove then no one to block Yes
8 Great block. Locks of NT and blocks him for six full seconds. Yes
9 No one over him so just helps on double-teams Yes
10 Driven back by #68, loses his man who helps on tackle No
11 Good job with help from Essex Yes
12 Pushes his man right well on run left Yes
13 Good shove block then keeps head up to see LB. Halfway dirty block to cut LB. Yes
14 Nothing much to do. Yes
15 DT’s with Legursky for solid protection Yes
16 Locks up #98 Yes
17 Traffic too much as he tries to reach LB. But play was busted by offsides Yes
18 Good job on slant Yes

Chris Kemoeatu: Kemoeatu has been starting long enough to have established that he is what he is. He’ll show some amazing strength in run blocking. He’ll show solid mobility when he’s asked to pull and he’ll also commit enough penalties and blow enough blocks to make you shake your head and wish he would show a little more development.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Great job blocking LB out of the hole Yes
2 Three-man rush means he hands off to Pouncey Yes
3 Solid block on #93 Yes
4 Turns DE and moves him Yes
5 Outstanding. Starts by chipping DE then hurries to find and put LB on the ground Yes
6 Bad block. Reaches #93 but holds him as he tries to get away. Flagged for holding No
7 No one to block Yes
8 Leads screen. Whiffs on block of LB who makes tackle No
9 Driven back too much by #61. Not a QB hurry, but close No
10 Gives shove to LB, but can’t stick block. Helps on tackle No
11 Awful block. Driven back, then loses his man for QB hurry No
12 Drives his man completely across line on run his way. Great block Yes
13 No one to block Yes
14 No problems with bull rush Yes

Max Starks: On a better line, Starks would be a guy to worry about. But on this team? He’s a rock of stability. He isn’t a great left tackle, but he’s adequate, and that’s something to celebrate with this team.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Finds safety, handles him as expected Yes
2 Starks drives him man outside so Ben can step up Yes
3 Not quick enough to get to LB who reacts and flows to ball No
4 Good job going to second level, picks up LB Yes
5 Drives DE #93 back with help from Kemo Yes
6 Great job. Pancakes #76. Yes
7 Not great technique, lets DE get inside too much, but it works Yes
8 No one to block on screen other way Yes
9 Solid job. Controls edge Yes
10 Good job. Allows DE to take inside slant, then turns him to seal corner Yes
11 Solid block with help from TE Yes
12 Quick reaction to pick up blitzing LB and shove him aside Yes
13 DE has coverage responsibility so little to do Yes
14 Leaves too much room to inside. Sustains block, but DE gets QB hit No
15 Power move no problems for Stark Yes
16 Finds LB, one punch. Works well enough Yes
17 Turns DE with help from Legursky Yes
18 Good protection Yes

Jonathan Scott: Leftwich’s injury may have played a part in the Steelers decision to run out the clock, but when Scott went down with an ankle injury, Pittsburgh really pulled the plug on doing anything interesting. In his limited action Scott showed some less-then-ideal technique, but an ability to usually figure out a way to succeed anyway.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Asked to block down. Can’t get in front of DE No
2 Good job anchoring against bull rush Yes
3 No problems handling #76 on run other way Yes
4 Gets beaten to outside on QB hit No
5 Solid job cooperating with Essex Yes
6 Excellent block as DE tries to work inside Yes
7 Not much to do on run outside to left Yes
8 Adequate block on run other way Yes
9 Gets caught leading with head. Loses his man who gets QB hurry No
10 Finds LB, but gets rolled up on his knee from behind Yes

Doug Legursky: Legursky has been rightfully overshadowed by the improved play of Kraig Urbik’s and Ramon Foster’s solid work this preseason. At times he’s looked a little weak (he sometimes gets shoved into the backfield) but Thursday in extensive action he looked better. If you could put together a combination of Urbik’s strength, Legursky’s mobility and Foster’s feet you’d have a very interesting guard.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Combines with Pouncey for double team Yes
2 Gets a good grab of jersey and holds on for solid block Yes
3 His man jumps offside, but he still gets decent block Yes
4 Teams up with Pouncey again Yes
5 Great block to open hole Yes
6 Hard to say how he does it, but he manages to block two men Yes
7 Like Urbik gets push, but can’t stop his man from making tackle Yes
8 Stalemated at line then loses control of his man No
9 Does good job shoving man away from run Yes
10 Just keeps working at it. Not pretty but works Yes
11 Teams up with Foster to drive DE back Yes
12 One man who does get downfield and lays good block Yes
13 Very good block on LB Yes
14 Good job occupying his man Yes
15 Decent job of creating hole Yes
16 Loses battle. DT slides down line for tackle No
17 Finds LB and handles him Yes
18 No one to block Yes
19 Wins the battle against DT Yes
20 Quick pass makes easy block Yes
21 Turns his man nicely Yes
22 No one to block Yes
23 Nice job of pull to block outside Yes
24 Blocks no one No
25 Gives up ground, but stays in position Yes
26 Three interior OL team up to block 1 Yes
27 Just keeps battling. High effort play Yes
28 Pulls. OK job Yes
29 Looks busy, but blocks no one No
30 Very active. Blocks two men Yes
31 Driven into backfield No
32 Helps out Foster Yes
33 Rides his man down line, using his own momentum against him Yes
34 Turns his man on run outside Yes
35 Picks up LB, springs Dwyer Yes
36 Gets good drive Yes
37 Picks up LB, throws him down Yes
38 Shoved into backfield No

Justin Hartwig: This was probably the final game in Hartwig’s Steelers’ career. Pittsburgh has plenty of guards and centers who are quite happy to play both positions (unlike Hartwig who views himself as only a center) for a good bit less money. Hartwig falls down a lot, which I believe is because he’s caught lunging, but he also knows the tricks of the trade like any good veteran: he will let defenders run themselves out of plays and he knows how to grab at the right time.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Turns his man, creates room Yes
2 Responsible for Redman’s long run by finding and sealing LB Yes
3 Adequate job on DT Yes
4 Doesn’t find LB who makes tackle No
5 Ok job on #99 Yes
6 Finds LB but can’t hang on to him No
7 LB shoots gap before he gets free from chip block No
8 Falls down as he’s been know to do No
9 Gets shoved back a little. His man makes tackle, but only after 5 yard gain Yes
10 Lets NT run himself out of play Yes
11 Misses initial block but recovers well Yes

Tony Hills: The final preseason game was not a good test for Hills; we didn’t get to see much of what he can do in pass blocking, but he again showed his willingness to block to the whistle. Somewhere along the line some coach taught him how to cut block, because he takes defenders legs out more than any other Steelers’ lineman. If you’re asking who is the most nimble Steelers’ linemen, it’s Hills by a pretty significant margin. Starks may be the left tackle, but really he’s a bruiser who has long enough arms to shut down speed rushers (most of the time). But Hills is an athletic left tackle who has to use enough technique to generate push in the run game. At this point, I don’t think there is any backup linemen I’d be more disappointed to see get cut, because he has the potential to be a starting left tackle, something no other Steelers backup can really say.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Pushes DE outside on run inside Yes
2 Very good cut block on DE Yes
3 Relatively effective inside arm shove to create hole Yes
4 Misses his target as LB slips his block No
5 Draw play leaves little to do Yes
6 Doesn’t get much push. Can’t maintain block as his man makes tackle No
7 Nice arm throw, then tries a cut too Yes
8 Throws man on draw. Goes downfield but misses next level block No
9 Hills likes to cut. Good cut block again Yes
10 Another arm throw to outside. Works OK Yes
11 Throws DE outside again. Then helps out on DT. Yes
12 Does just enough to create hole Yes
13 Pulls across to pick up man well Yes
14 No one to block Yes
15 Run other way. Decent work. Yes
16 Quick pass other way Yes
17 Hills doubles with Foster to seal inside Yes
18 Very good job. Blocking inside, see loop so picks out man going outside Yes
19 Pushes his man inside to set up nice run Yes
20 Pulls, picks up S, but he goes low to create traffic Yes
21 Fine job on quick pass Yes
22 Ducks head at first, but gets hands up to redirect DE Yes
23 Lets DE take himself out of play Yes
24 Gets away with hands nearly holding on LB Yes
25 Again with a cut block. This time on S Yes
26 Good job on #67 Yes
27 Shoves his man outside Yes
28 Gives ground, but maintains position Yes
29 His man makes tackle, but it’s 10 yards downfield Yes
30 Again takes his man outside Yes
31 A++. Takes LB, erases him Yes
32 Busts play by being driven back No
33 Cuts his man again Yes
34 Fine job on run inside Yes

Ramon Foster: If there was any bright side to the Jonathan Scott injury, it was the chance to get Foster some snaps at right tackle. There is a decent chance that Foster will be one of the two active backups on gameday (along with Doug Legursky). If that’s the case, he’s playing right tackle if something happens to Starks or Adams. He actually looked OK at right tackle, but he also didn’t get challenged much.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Can’t get to LB in time on run No
2 Beaten initially, but recovers to lay good block Yes
3 Doesn’t do much, but run is other way Yes
4 Decent block. Run other way Yes
5 A+. Takes man, throws him to ground. Creates a good run himself Yes
6 Finds a LB and drives him 5 yards Yes
7 Good shove. Doesn’t hurt that he got help from Legursky Yes
8 OK cut on #94 Yes
9 Carries out his block to whistle. Almost starts fight Yes
10 Keeps good position. A win. Yes
11 Excellent. Puts his man on the ground Yes
12 Blocks LB to the whistle Yes
13 Beaten badly as DT shoots gap for TFL No
14 Solid work in pass pro Yes
15 Second level nice pickup of LB Yes
16 Quick pass other way Yes
17 With help from Hills, seals corner Yes
18 Works well with Hills Yes
19 OK job on DE with help from Hills Yes
20 Pulls, blocks no one No
21 Drops back, quick pass so no real opportunity Yes
22 Three interior OL team up to block 1 Yes
23 Beaten to inside by DT No
24 Solid job. Yes
25 No push at all from his man Yes
26 Excellent. Picks up LB blitzing his gap Yes
27 Run other way. Keeps man occupied Yes
28 Puts his man in another county Yes
29 Finds LB. Yes
30 Beaten by his man on reach block No
31 Blocks two men. Solid Yes

Kraig Urbik: The Steelers’ other happy surprise this preseason has been the play of Urbik. He looks a good bit stronger than he did last year. That being said, I’d be much less disappointed if Urbik was cut instead of Hills. It’s hard to say that he’s significantly better than Legursky or Foster, and in several ways he’s worse. Urbik shows the ability to move the pile, but he also struggles when he’s asked to play outside of the phone booth. Ask him to blow a defensive lineman off the line and he’s in his element. Ask him to pull out and block a defensive back or linebacker and he’s likely to struggle.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Very good block. Turns his man, picks up another Yes
2 Gets push on #99, but his man eventually makes tackle, but downfield Yes
3 Outstanding shove. Drives his man out of hole Yes
4 Pulls but misses block on DB No
5 Good push. Maintains contact Yes
6 Solid job on #99 Yes
7 Again not as good in movement. Glancing blow on LB who makes tackle No
8 Good job finding LB at second level Yes
9 Not good going downfield. Overruns LB he was supposed to block No
10 Pull goes better this time OK block Yes
11 OK job on run other way Yes
12 Destroys his man, drives him off TV screen Yes
13 Anchors well Yes
14 Good job on LB Yes
15 Quick pass, little to do Yes
16 Pulls picks up #76 Yes
17 No problem with bull rush Yes
18 Called for holding, doesn’t look too bad No
19 No one blocks anyone, Urbik no exception No
20 Pulls out, but finds no one to block Yes
21 Three interior OL team up to block 1 Yes
22 Puts #68 on ground Yes
23 Decent job on #68 Yes
24 Two steps back, then shoves him out of pocket Yes
25 Drives man back. Yes
26 Nice job of locking his man up. Yes
27 Good job on LB, but Dwyer runs up his back Yes
28 Beaten badly by DT firing off ball No
29 Good job on #60 Yes

Kyle Jolly: Now here is where you know that the Steelers were in “don’t get hurt” mode. Jolly had barely played this preseason. Now he’s logging 23 snaps. He actually wasn’t that bad, but then, it really doesn’t matter except for giving him a chance to make the practice squad.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Blocks no one on run other way Yes
2 Decent job on run inside Yes
3 Gives up too much ground No
4 Not pretty but effective on DE Yes
5 Quick pass, little to do Yes
6 Good job turning DE Yes
7 Maintains good position Yes
8 Fine job on run other way Yes
9 Run other way leaves him targetless Yes
10 Nice cut block Yes
11 Decent job. Yes
12 Run other way. Poor angle Yes
13 Good job driving his man Yes
14 Fails to do arm throw like Hills does, so his man is in position to stop draw No
15 Helps Urbik put #68 on ground Yes
16 OK job. Drives feet Yes
17 Gets unneeded help from Dwyer Yes
18 Run other way stalemate Yes
19 Long run to his outside shoulder. Good job Yes
20 Very nice block Yes
21 Zone blocking run other way Yes
22 Just keeps going. OK block Yes
23 Gives up too much ground again No

Dorian Brooks: I was surprised to see Brooks play as I figured the Steelers’ were sitting him to ensure he makes it to the practice squad. But after watching him a little bit longer, there’s no real reason to worry. There’s just no way that any other team is going to sign a rookie undrafted free agent to their active roster after the limited amount of just-OK gametape Brooks has.

Play Result Good Play?
1 Misses block on his man who makes tackle No
2 Blocks no one No
3 Cagey move. DT shoots gap, which takes him out of play Yes
4 Takes two steps back No
5 Occupies man, ho-hum Yes
6 Fine job on second-level block Yes
7 Blocks no one No
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