Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Titans, Week 2

It may not have been their best performance, but the Steelers offensive line deserves some credit for surviving Sunday’s Titans’ game. Pittsburgh began the game without left tackle Max Starks. Then Flozell Adams started melting in the heat, forcing Tony Hills into the lineup. Late in the third quarter Trai Essex suffered an ankle injury and Doug Legursky stepped in. When Chris Kemoeatu needed a break in the fourth quarter, Hills played guard for the first time as a member of the Steelers. At that point, Pittsburgh was a dehydration and/or injury away from running out of linemen.

By the fourth quarter, it was tempting just to throw up your hands and say “job well done.” The Titans knew that the Steelers were trying to milk the clock, so they would walk up the strong safety, as well as a cornerback and the linebacker (or two) already standing at the line. I don’t care how well you block, it’s hard to get consistent yardage against nine in the box, especially when the linebackers are selling out completely to stop the run by shooting gaps immediately instead of checking to see if it’s a pass. Throw in the fact that the Steelers were shuffling linemen in and out (see: Hills, left guard) and it was a grin-and-bear it type of situation.

Here’s a look at how each of the linemen fared along with the weekly disclaimer: I’m not a coach, and I don’t know the assignments for each play, so I’m making judging based on results and making inferences when I have to. This is all done to the best of my ability, but it’s clearly not official.

(One more thing: I’ll have a look at the tight ends and running backs tomorrow.)

Lineman Pressures Sacks Good Plays Total Snaps PCT
Adams 36 39 92.31%
Legursky 11 12 91.67%
Scott 0.5 41 48 85.42%
Pouncey 3 46 55 83.64%
Essex 1 46 55 83.64%
Kemoeatu 0.5 41 53 77.36%
Hills 2 1 14 25 56.00%

If you check the stats from the game, you may notice that I have two sacks missing in the breakdown above. I didn’t feel confident giving a sack to Jonathan Scott on Dennis Dixon’s fumble. Scott blocked down on the defensive end and then started to pick up a stunting defensive tackle while an outside linebacker came unblocked from the outside on a delayed blitz. Without knowing the line call, it’s hard to say that Will Witherspoon was his responsibility, especially since lineman are almost always taught to go “inside-0ut” which means to block the rusher closest to the quarterback first.

Dixon was also officially sacked when he tucked and ran out of bounds at the line of scrimmage on a play where Trai Essex missed his block. I credited Essex with a pressure allowed, but Dixon could have easily thrown the ball away; it was his choice to step out of bounds long after Essex’s man had been avoided.

Jonathan Scott: I may have been hard on Scott when he was signed and during the preseason, but he deserves a medal for what he did Sunday. With Flozell Adams needing frequent breaks because of the heat, Scott slid back and forth from right tackle to left tackle and back again, which is a pretty difficult assigmment. In the end, 16 of his 48 snaps were at right tackle while the rest were as the blindside protector. Scott did give up one sack that he shared with Chris Kemoeatu, and he was flagged for holding on a Mike Wallace touchdown pass. Those two plays will lead many fans to think Scott had an forgettable day, but overall his pass blocking wasn’t awful and his run blocking was actually pretty good — the screw-ups were notable but not numerous. Scott’s biggest problem continues to be maintaining a low base (sinking his butt) to keep from being driven into the backfield.

Play No. Result Good Play
1 Quick Pass Yes
2 Drives DE outside Yes
3 He blocks down, LB comes from outside unblocked, but doesn’t look like his fault Yes
4 Nice and nasty. Fights DE until whistle Yes
5 Gets helped out by DE who runs into his man Yes
6 Quick pass. Solid block Yes
7 Drives DE outside Yes
8 Blocks his man with one arm. But on back side of play Yes
9 Bootleg. Solid work Yes
10 So-so block on LB, but it works Yes
11 Nice butt block of DE after getting chip help from Redman Yes
12 Solid pass block Yes
13 Puts his man on ground, lays on him Yes
14 Fumbled snap Yes
15 Helped by Miller chip, but still loses man to outside No
16 Pulls. Makes poor block on LB No
17 Fumbled snap Yes
18 Quick Pass Yes
19 Solid job against 4-man rush Yes
20 Cuts his man OK Yes
21 Loses his man, but comes back and blocks him again Yes
22 Lays down on DT Yes
23 Gets driven into backfield by DE who trips RB No
24 Solid job Yes
25 Loses his man late, but rollout other way Yes
26 Finds LB and handles him Yes
27 Good work Yes
28 OUTSTANDING. Takes Witherspoon and throws him to ground Yes
29 Called for holding on Wallace TD No
30 Throws CB outside Yes
31 Drives man outside Yes
32 Fine work outside Yes
33 Helps Kemo Yes
34 Excellent Yes
35 Very good block on DE Yes
36 GREAT. Drives his man back 5 yards Yes
37 Good job on LB Yes
38 Good block Yes
39 Beaten to outside for sack No
40 So-so reach block Yes
41 Very good block on DE Yes
42 Gets lots of help from Miller Yes
43 Driven back loses his man No
44 Doesn’t really maintain block, but good first push is enough Yes
45 Good job Yes
46 Blocks no one, but is on backside where it didn’t matter Yes
47 Solid work Yes
48 Decent job Yes

Chris Kemoeatu: Maurkice Pouncey played the entire game, but Kemoeatu wasn’t far behind that; he took just three snaps off all day. He also knocked Trai Essex out of the game accidentally when he threw Sen’Derrick Marks to the ground with an awesome block. Unfortunately Marks ended up landing on Essex’s leg. Kemoeatu was better than he usually is in pass blocking. His only real problems came when he was asked to pull or go to the second level to block a linebacker–I know the Steelers like to pull Kemoeatu a lot, but he’s not that nimble.

Play No. Result Good Play
1 Throws DE into Dixon for QB Hit No
2 Brawls with DT on run his way Yes
3 Falls down, but his man doesn’t do anything Yes
4 Blocks LB with one hand, DT with another. Doesn’t do great job, but too many to block. One of two makes tackle. No
5 Good block on LB leading screen Yes
6 Quick pass, solid block Yes
7 Ugly but effective block on S Griffin from behind Yes
8 Pulls. Doesn’t do much blocking, really for lack of good targets Yes
9 Bootleg. Solid work Yes
10 GREAT. Makes run happen with good pull block on LB Yes
11 Solid job on #94 Yes
12 Solid pass block Yes
13 No one to block, helps Pouncey, knocks man to ground Yes
14 Fumbled snap Yes
15 Helps Pouncey Yes
16 Good job on plays backside Yes
17 Fumbled snap Yes
18 Quick Pass Yes
19 Solid job against 4-man rush Yes
20 Solid job on screen Yes
21 Misses block on LB No
22 Good job blocking down on DT Yes
23 Can’t get to LB who makes tackle No
24 Nice bunch job inside Yes
25 Pulls out decent block as Batch rolls out Yes
26 Pulls, but gets stopped in hole No
27 Good work Yes
28 Turns his man inside Yes
29 Gives ground, but maintains position Yes
30 Solid block Yes
31 Solid block Yes
32 Gets caught in traffic, doesn’t do much No
33 Stands up his man Yes
34 Helps Scott Yes
35 Very active Yes
36 Driven into backfield by Marks Nno
37 Pulls, does OK Yes
38 Poor position on LB No
39 Beaten to inside No
40 Decent block Yes
41 Drives LB out of play Yes
42 Drives man out of hole Yes
43 WOW. Amazing strength display—tossed DT to ground Yes
44 Good job on LB Yes
45 Gets stuck in traffic because Adams gets driven back. Aggressive play by Hope makes for tough block, but he makes it Yes
46 Loses helmet still makes block Yes
47 Gets caught in traffic, can’t get to LB No
48 Driven into backfield by Marks No
49 Solid block Yes
50 Good awareness slides off his man to slow down blitzing LB Yes
51 Good block on Marks Yes
52 Decent job Yes

Maurkice Pouncey: So we got a little reminder that Pouncey is a rookie. He was still very solid, but he did give up three pressures and botched several snaps.

Play No. Pouncey Good Play
1 Quick Pass Yes
2 Doesn’t block LB ut makes LB take bad angle because he’s gunning to block him Yes
3 Helps out Kemoeatu Yes
4 Drives Witherspoon off the screen Yes
5 Whiffs on block of Finnegan No
6 Quick pass. Yes
7 Stays with DT despite spin move Yes
8 Drives his man away from flow of run Yes
9 Bootleg. Solid work Yes
10 Takes man out of play Yes
11 Loses his man who gets a pressure on Dixon No
12 Solid pass block Yes
13 Good job with Kemo help Yes
14 Fumbled snap No
15 Solid pass block Yes
16 Pulls, solid block on Chris Hope Yes
17 Fumbled snap No
18 Quick Pass Yes
19 Solid job against 4-man rush Yes
20 Pulls to lead screen. Good downfield block Yes
21 Can’t maintain block on run outside No
22 Good block on LB Yes
23 Good job with DT, then LB Yes
24 Lots of traffic Yes
25 OK job Yes
26 Drives man well out of play Yes
27 Good work Yes
28 GREAT. Pulls to kick out DE Yes
29 Not a great block, his man gets hand on Batch No
30 Hand fights with LB Yes
31 Solid block Yes
32 Loses his man on run up middle No
33 OK block on DT moving away Yes
34 Driven into backfield, gives up pressure No
35 Puts his man on ground Yes
36 Great job on LB Yes
37 Very aggressive block Yes
38 Drives his man out of hole Yes
39 Solid work Yes
40 Blocks LB Yes
41 Doesn’t get much push Yes
42 Driven back, but away from hole Yes
43 Pulls to get decent kickout block on DE Yes
44 Drives man outside Yes
45 Very good block Yes
46 Solid block Yes
47 Good block on DT Yes
48 Trying to help Kemo, but driven into backfield No
49 Puts Marks on ground Yes
50 Good help, but struggles to get to LB who is shooting gaps Yes
51 Not much movement, but sticks with it Yes
52 Good job Yes
53 Does same as Kemo tries to pick up LB Yes
54 Solid work on Haye Yes
55 Decent job Yes

Trai Essex: We may be missing Essex for a week or two thanks to a sprained ankle. Considering his play last year, it’s surprising to say that Essex may be missed — he’s playing a good bit better this year. Coming out of college, Essex, a former tight end, was thought to be a decent pass blocker who might not be strong enough to be a left tackle. Now he’s an entirely different player. He’s proving to be one of the team’s best run blockers with a nice little nasty streak, although he still struggles at times in pass blocking as a guard. At left tackle, he’d likely be in real trouble.

Play No. Essex Good Play
1 Quick Pass Yes
2 Takes #91 Jones and knocks him over Yes
3 Good job of staying with his man Yes
4 Gets stood up, but eventually puts his man on his back Yes
5 Flows down line to pick up rusher Yes
6 Quick pass. Yes
7 Excellent work. Hooks and puts Witherspoon on ground. Yes
8 Destroys his man Yes
9 Bootleg. Solid work Yes
10 Good job finding and blocking LB Yes
11 Helps Adams Yes
12 Solid pass block Yes
13 Loses his man quickly who gets QB pressure No
14 Fumbled snap Yes
15 Whiffs on his man who gets pressure to flush Dixon No
16 GREAT. Blocks one guy, knocks him into another Yes
17 Fumbled snap Yes
18 Quick Pass Yes
19 Solid job against 4-man rush Yes
21 Pulls out on screen, misses his block No
22 Tries to cut LB, doesn’t work No
23 Cut block works better this time Yes
24 Drives his man back, good block Yes
25 Solid work Yes
27 Really holds, but gets away with it Yes
28 Good job on his man Yes
29 Good work Yes
30 Tries to block same LB as Scott Yes
31 No one to block Yes
32 Heads downfield to block Yes
33 Solid block Yes
35 Almost beaten but hangs on Yes
36 Pulls, but DT knocks him around No
37 Solid job Yes
39 Good job getting to second level and blocking LB Yes
40 Excellent block on DT Yes
41 Hardly does anything No
42 Tough block, but pulls it off Yes
43 Solid work Yes
45 Good job inside Yes
46 Very good drive block Yes
47 Driven back, but away from hole Yes
48 When Kemo throws Marks to the ground he takes out Essex’s leg No
49 Doesn’t do much No

Flozell Adams: Adams truly is a cagey vet. Even when he’s dominating his man, it looks like he’s barely doing anything. And if the run is the other way, he conserves his energy and reaches with his arms instead of doing much more to drive his man. It can get frustrating to watch, and Adams played less than half of the snaps in the second half on a hot, humid Sunday, but he generally was pretty effective. Maybe the Steelers need to plan on spelling Adams at times in every game.

Play No. Adams Good Play
1 Quick Pass Yes
2 Shoves DE outside Yes
3 Nothing to do because Miller handles DE Yes
4 Tosses DE outside Yes
5 DOMINATION. Does excellent job sealing his man from screen outside Yes
6 Quick pass. Yes
7 Drives his man inside Yes
8 Nice block on LB Yes
9 Bootleg. Solid work Yes
10 Excellent block to seal inside corner Yes
11 Takes DE’s helmet off Yes
12 Solid pass block Yes
13 So-so job on DE Yes
14 Fumbled snap Yes
15 Does fine job with Mendenhall chip until Dixon leaves pocket Yes
16 Backside so-so block Yes
17 Fumbled snap Yes
18 Quick Pass Yes
19 Solid job against 4-man rush Yes
20 Doesn’t do much Yes
21 Nice work Yes
22 Good work Yes
23 OK job outside Yes
24 Excellent job on DE Yes
25 Gives up on his block who makes tackle No
26 Hangs on, barely Yes
27 Slow off snap, decent block on S Yes
28 OK job outside Yes
29 Picks up LB Yes
30 Excellent block at POA Yes
31 Pushes man outside Yes
32 WOW. Throws man to ground Yes
33 Gives ground, but holds off man on backside Yes
34 Swallows up his man, takes him inside Yes
35 Gets driven into backfield, which screws up Kemo’s pull block No
36 Picks up LB Yes
37 Not much work. Traffic jams up No
38 Good push as run is his way Yes
39 Good job Yes

Tony Hills: Well, we got a chance to see what Hills could do in a real game. The results? Let’s hope that Max Starks is healthy soon. Hills didn’t really do anything well. He struggled in pass blocking and he couldn’t generally maintain his blocks in the run game. Actually the best thing he did was to play three solid plays at left guard late in the game. Considering that Hills is a left tackle through and through, it was nice to see him take one for the team by playing wherever he was needed.

Play No. Result Good Play?
1 Misses guy first time, but puts guy on ground at whistle Yes
2 Good block on DE Yes
3 Pulls ineffectively tries to cut LB No
4 Drives his man past hole Yes
5 Beaten by DE for pressure No
6 Beaten by Marks who makes tackle No
7 EXCELLENT. Picks up Witherspoon. Yes
8 Whiffs on block on Ford who makes tackle No
9 Arm over doesn’t work. His man makes tackle No
10 Beaten to outside No
11 Again beaten by Marks No
12 Driven into backfield, but it works Yes
13 GREAT. Blocks two men at same time Yes
14 Doesn’t get a good block on LB No
15 Kicks man outside Yes
16 Not much to do on backside No
17 Blocks down to pick up blitzer good awareness Yes
18 Very good drive block Yes
19 Doesn’t maintain block, man slides off to help on tackle No
20 Drives man outside, loses him and he makes sack No
21 Good job on LB Yes
22 Good job Yes
23 Decent pull block Yes
24 Picks up DB Yes
25 Decent job Yes

Doug Legursky: It’s hard to say that Legursky wouldn’t have gotten into the game even if Essex had stayed healthy — the need for relief from the heat forced Kemoeatu from the game even after Legursky moved to right guard. But he did get a chance to show what he could do. It was generally quite good. Legursky showed the ability to reach linebackers and seal them off, and he showed better strength than expected.

Play No. Result Good Play?
1 Rides his man outside Yes
2 Decent block on LB Yes
3 Solid Block Yes
4 Good job on DT Yes
5 Good block on LB Yes
6 Decent block Yes
7 Good block Yes
8 Loses is man as play gets stacked up No
9 Good job Yes
10 Good job on LB Yes
11 Good block on LB Yes
12 Decent job Yes
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  • ToddinSyracuse

    Not sure what to think about Hills. When his job was on the line in preseason, he performed well. With a roster spot “locked-up”, he seems to have regressed.

    Even with Max back, as Tomlin reported, Hills may still be active Sunday due to the heat. Here’s hoping that his poor performance provides a teaching moment, and he bounces back.

    • Bigswa

      – Keep it Simple Stupid and trust your eyes. Hills is a young player with potential. Simply put he can’t play. He has the physical tools to be a good tackle. He needs to play. If he starts, he is going to have issues, and they are going to have to protect him with the scheme.

  • Dr Obvious

    Do you think Essix is a long term answer? RG has been kind of a revolving door these last few years, both in terms of who’s playing and how they’ve been playing, so it’d be nice to see some constancy and quality play there.

    • Bigswa

      Essex is at best a backup. Imagine if you had a Pouncey like talent at RG. This line still needs a talent upgrade. I hope in the 2011 draft, if there is one (sarcastic laughter), they draft an interior lineman in the 1st two rounds.

    • JJ Cooper

      Just my opinion which doesn’t mean all that much, but I think he’s a nice stopgap until someone better is acquired. He’s a five-year veteran, so he’s pretty much at about the peak of his career talent-wise. It’s hard to believe he’ll develop into an above-average guard. That doesn’t mean the Steelers can’t win with Essex at guard for the next five years–they won a Super Bowl with Kendall Simmons playing guard and another with Darnell Stapleton. You don’t have to have Pro Bowl guards to win titles.

    • Philsteelman7

      I though that due to his height that Legursky was more a center but he showed real talent at Guard. I hope that he has a tremendous game an outright wins the starting job.

      As for play by Essex, when you don’t have a stiff next to you have more ability to work your assignment.

      Anyway I’m hoping Legursky is stellar on Sunday and wins the job hands down.

  • Cols714

    Why is it that we use the term “nasty streak” when talking about OL?

    Great analysis JJ. I like that Essex is looking pretty good.

    • Dr Obvious

      When I was an O lineman in HS, I was said to have a nasty streak. I didn’t, but it was said.

      O linemen don’t get points, percentages, highlights, or cheers. Our reward is that we get to line up again and again to hit someone as hard as we can. In polite society, they call those kind of people psychopaths. In football, it means the lineman comes self-motivated. Kemo’s a good example. You don’t have to tell him to level someone. That’s what he looks forward to, so you can assume he’s giving it all every snap.

  • cee_jay

    Great analysis. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I agree on your early point about the fourth quarter in this game being one of survival, but we are going to need more from our offense down the road. Hopefully, the line is up to it.

    Again, appreciate the time and effort.

  • Mikeyt531

    Great post and analysis, I love reading it. Tough to see who is the ineffective one on each play though. Would be nice to post who is on the line for each play and who made the mistake and who did what good. By the breakdown you would think we would have done much better on offense, unless some made a mistake on pretty much every play

  • Philsteelman7

    Wow great in depth analysis. We” get to see what Legursky really does today. This analysis sure beats the sandbox that I was following, full of bickering and name calling, once again great.

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