Retro O-Line Analysis: Is It Fair to Compare Pouncey to Dawson?

Maurkice Pouncey is getting a whole lot of praise. And when Steelers’ beat writers (and others) want to really complement him, they call Pouncey’s blocking Dermontti Dawson-esque.

But it’s easy to say that Pouncey is showing signs he can block like Dawson. It’s a whole lot tougher to really remember what Dawson’s blocking was like. So to refresh my memory, and give me a chance to better compare Pouncey to Dawson, I went back and charted one of Dawson’s games.

I wanted to get Dawson at his best, so I picked a game when he was at the peak of his powers–the 1994 Browns’ playoff game. The Steelers absolutely dominated the game, and as I found Dawson was also dominant.

By my count, Dawson made effective blocks on 66 of 69 plays (96 percent). But even that doesn’t fully explain how good his was. On most running plays, it was easy to read Dawson or his man’s jersey number from the sideline view–he turned his man play after play.

Dawson’s quickness was readily apparent as he was able to get proper positioning on his man consistently. He also had no problem pulling and he so dominated Pepper Johnson that you could at times forget that the Browns had a middle linebacker on the field. On one amazing play, Dawson manages to put a defensive tackle onto his knees (his block caused Bill Johnson’s knees to buckle), then slid off of that block to pick up the middle linebacker. It was one of those blocks you have to watch twice to believe.

In other words, as you would expect, he was just as good as you remember (or have heard if you’re too young to remember him). Pouncey may be good, but he’s a long ways from being this good. In fact, if he ends up half this good, I’ll be thrilled. It’s hard to really compare Pouncey now to Dawson at his peak, and I haven’t seen that same unreal level of quickness from Pouncey. But Pouncey does block to the whistle, shows good strength and has some mobility.

It is somewhat depressing to watch this game to be honest. The ’94 offensive line was able to seal the corner play after play, and with Dawson lined up at center, they could get yardage up the middle whenever they wanted it. There were a lot of plays where Barry Foster, Bam Morris or John L. Williams was five yards downfield before anyone touched them.

So if you’re interested, here’s the blow-by-blow of Dawson’s excellent game.

Play No. Result Good Play?
1 False Start, Illegal Snap No
2 Pulls, tries to peel back to block inside when Foster cuts inside Yes
3 Helps double DT on short pass Yes
4 Handles DT on pass Yes
5 Drives DT back on run up middle for 8 yards Yes
6 Good job on DT on run up middle Yes
7 Handles his man as O’Donnell is pressured by late CB blitz Yes
8 Fires out extremely quickly to block MLB with cut block. Duval Love blocks CB extremely well on pull Yes
9 Dawson gets caught leaning, DT Perry gets a step on him, but ball is out before O’Donnell can be pressured and Dawson recovers Yes
10 Blocks DT then slides out to block LB with his butt Yes
11 Drives back DT on run up middle Yes
12 Helps LG in pass protection Yes
13 Excellent job blocking Perry in pass protection Yes
14 Don’t know how he did it, but Perry slanted inside, Dawson yanks him to the ground (hold not called?) Yes
15 Turns DT’s hips parallel to sideline to create hole for run up middle Yes
16 Good protection on pass play Yes
17 Nice sustained block on DT on run left Yes
18 Destroys Pepper Johnson on run up middle. Forces S to make tackle Yes
19 Amazing block. Buckles Bill Johnson (puts him on his knees) then slides off to pick up MLB Pepper Johnson on run OT left Yes
20 With turn and shove throws his man to ground Yes
21 Good block on TD pass to Eric Green Yes
22 Again turns his man’s hips on running play Yes
23 His pop drives DT back Yes
24 Lets DT take step to slant right, then pivots to blow him out of play Yes
25 He just doesn’t lose his battle. So quick to get inside position to turn DT’s hips on run left Yes
26 Seems like it’s getting easier. Blows his man off ball Yes
27 Wow. Wow. Blocks DT, then gets free to pop Pepper Johnson, which allows John L. Williams to go 26 yards for TD on third and one. Yes
28 Worst block of half? Doesn’t get angle to turn his man as DT slants in direction of run No
29 Drives his man 3 yards back Yes
30 Creates massive hole with nice block on MLB on run up middle Yes
31 Good job occupying his man on run outside Yes
32 His knack is getting his man to go the wrong way, or the Browns’ play calling is awful Yes
33 Stuffs his man on long pass to Ernie Mills Yes
34 Not his best block.Ugly but effective on run outside Yes
35 Helps out in pass protection Yes
36 Not pretty but effective block on Thigpen TD pass Yes
37 As usual turns his man on running play Yes
38 Solid job in pass protection Yes
39 Turns his man as run gets nice yardage Yes
40 Absolutely blows his man off the line on run Yes
41 Good pass block Yes
42 Flies out to handle Pepper Johnson Yes
43 No one to block on pass Yes
44 Excellent pass block Yes
45 Good pass block Yes
46 Pulls to block Johnson Yes
47 Gets a No Mas from Bill Johnson Yes
48 Good pass protection Yes
49 Turns his man again Yes
50 Again, some voodoo. Manages to grab Perry’s foot to take him to ground Yes
51 Drives DT five-yards off line, then picks up LB Yes
52 Pulls to pick up LB getting Williams free on 17-yard run Yes
53 Fine block on pass Yes
54 Turns Perry again Yes
55 Good pass block Yes
56 Gets Perry to give up Yes
57 Decent but not great block on LB Yes
58 Good block left on run right Yes
59 Solid pass block Yes
60 Ties up DT for long time Yes
61 Erases Pepper Johnson from the play Yes
62 Solid pass block Yes
63 Dawson’s man makes tackle, but only after he’s driven back 8 yards Yes
64 Puts his man on ground Yes
65 Turns his man, throws him to ground Yes
66 Solid block Yes
67 Finds Pepper Johnson, takes him out of play Yes
68 Stays low, drives DT back and uses his butt to knock him down Yes
69 Falls down on block. Misses his man No
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  • steeler junky

    Being an older Steelers fan I remember those days, though dimly. I believe because of the new OL coach Kugler we will see better run blocking this season though not as good the OL from those years.
    The OL has been finesse blocking for the last 3 seasons and may occasionally lapse back into that from time to time. But I still look for them to be much improved.

  • drobviousso

    I think it’s fair to say that the play the same style (I wasn’t sophisticated enough as a fan to really understand what Dawson’s style was), without making a value judgement about Pouncey being as good as Dawson. I think this is a distinction that might be lost on a few writers, though, which is too bad.

    Also, don’t forget that Pouncey is young. Only 21 IIRC. Men just aren’t done growing at that age. It’s reasonable to expect his physical ability to improve more than average.

    • DC in ATL

      Good point on Pouncey’s age. I really liked the retro analysis (of one of my favorite games ever no less) but a truly fair comparison would be to see how Dawson was doing when he was 21.

      Since “Dirt” was still in college at that when he was 21 and Pouncey is already successfully taking on NFL players, suggests Pouncey may be ahead of where Dawson was at the same age.

      I’ll be happy though if Pouncey turns out to be 3/4 of the player that Dawson was…which would still mean an All Pro anchoring the center of our line for the next decade.

    • JJ Cooper

      Yeah. I’m not trying to really compare Pouncey to Dawson now. I just wanted to get a better reminder/understanding of how good Dawson is for when the inevitable comparisons crop up more and more.

  • ToddinSyracuse

    Beating Clev that third time was sweet. Too bad Vinnie is no longer around.

    Dirt may no longer be fit enough to play Center, but what about guard?

  • Mikej411

    where are you getting a full game tape of a game from 1994?

    • JJ Cooper

      I’ve been collecting Steelers games and taping them off the TV for 20+ years. At this point I have games from most every season since 1972…If you all find this interesting I may go back and relive/grade an old 70′s or 90s season during the offseason.

  • drinkingclub

    Dawson is one of my favorite Steelers. Great player.

  • drinkingclub

    Dawson is one of my favorite Steelers. Great player.