Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Dolphins, Week 7

Another week, another win. When the Steelers are 5-1, there’s no reason to complain. And when it comes to the offensive line, it’s hard to not be impressed with the Steelers’ depth this year — nine different offensive linemen have seen significant time.

Pittsburgh had to rely on that depth again Sunday. Flozell Adams went down, which forced the Steelers to turn to Jonathan Scott. And Ramon Foster split time with Doug Legursky at guard.

But with that caveat out of the way, this wasn’t a good Sunday for the offensive line. Pittsburgh struggled to generate holes for Rashard Mendenhall. And when it came to pass protection, Ben Roethlisberger got plenty of chances to prove he’ll stand in the pocket with a pass rusher ready to light him up.

Here’s the breakdown of the pass blocking.

Player Success Total PCT
Mendenhall 3 3 100.00%
Miller 7 7 100.00%
Redman 3 3 100.00%
Scott 15 17 88.24%
Foster 6 7 85.71%
Starks 27 32 84.38%
Pouncey 26 31 83.87%
Legursky 20 24 83.33%
Adams 11 14 78.57%
Kemoeatu 24 31 77.42%
Spaeth 0 1 0.00%

And here are the pressures and sacks allowed.

Player Pressures Sacks
Scott 3
Adams 3
Legursky 2
Starks 2 .5
Kemoeatu 1 1.5
Spaeth 1
Pouncey 0.5
Moore .5

The sack shared between Pouncey and Kemoeatu is hard to assess. Cameron Wake started on the outside, then looped inside. Chris Kemoeatu was occupied with one of the defensive linemen while Pouncey slid over to help out Doug Legursky. Now Kemoeatu could have handed his man off to Max Starks, or Pouncey could have stayed aware of a man looping inside, but it’s hard to say which of the two was responsible for picking up Wake.

On the second sack, Kemoeatu was driven into the backfield. On the third one, Mewelde Moore didn’t see a defensive back blitzing from the backside, while Max Starks stayed on his initial man instead of handing off. Again, on that one there is some question whether it was the play/line call or the player who was at fault — it’s hard to say without knowing what was called — so you could argue that play wasn’t the linemen/running back’s fault.

Kemoeatu 21 25 84.00%
Spaeth 10 12 83.33%
Adams 9 11 81.82%
Pouncey 20 25 80.00%
Starks 20 25 80.00%
Miller 19 24 79.17%
Foster 5 7 71.43%
Legursky 12 18 66.67%
Scott 9 14 64.29%
Johnson 2 6 33.33%
Redman 0 1 0.00%

We’ll dive into the problems with the running game, when we look player by player, but this sums up the Steelers problems. On first down, the Steelers ran the ball 11 times. They gained only 25 yards (2.28 ypc), with a long gain of six yards.

Mendenhall 3 3 100.00%
Miller 26 31 83.87%
Starks 47 57 82.46%
Pouncey 46 56 82.14%
Kemoeatu 45 56 80.36%
Adams 20 25 80.00%
Foster 11 14 78.57%
Scott 24 31 77.42%
Spaeth 10 13 76.92%
Legursky 32 42 76.19%
Redman 3 4 75.00%
Johnson 2 6 33.33%

And now on to the players.

Max Starks: I am starting to wonder if Starks is still recovering from the ankle injury he suffered in early September. He’s still strong with long arms, but he is having some problems with his lateral movement. But his biggest problem is maintaining his block. On four of the five blocks he blew in the running game, he found and put an initial punch on his man. But each time his man managed to shed his block to make a tackle.

In the passing game, Starks’ problems were all over the board. He was beaten to the outside once, to the inside once, and he was once driven back because he lost his leverage against a bull rush.

Doug Legursky: Legursky’s numbers look pretty bad this week, but some of it can be credited to the play of the Dolphins’ linebackers. On three of his six bad blocks in the running game, Legursky couldn’t get to a linebacker before he reacted and flowed to the hole. That’s a problem, but it’s not always the lineman’s problem. Sometimes your opponent makes a good play. He was also flagged for holding, which is a bigger problem.

In the passing game, the problems are much more worrying. Legursky found himself beaten off the snap on several plays, which forced him to hang on for another holding penalty.

Maurkice Pouncey: This wasn’t one of Pouncey’s best games, but once again he was one of the steadiest performers on the Steelers’ line. As I mentioned earlier, one of the dings on Pouncey for pass blocking could have possibly been someone else’s fault. In pass blocking he also was beaten off the snap once, was driven into the backfield once, made a good initial block but was shed too easily in another, and failed to pick up a looping defensive lineman on another play.

In run blocking, like Legursky, his biggest problem was the play of linebacker Karlos Dansby. Dansby shed his block to make a tackle once, was bowled over by Dansby on another play and failed to get to him quick enough to block him on a third play. He was also driven into the backfield on one play and was shed by the nose tackle on a fifth play.

Chris Kemoeatu: When Kemoeatu figured out who he was supposed to block, he was as good as usual. But he did have some serious problems in figuring out who to block.

On five plays, by my count, Kemoeatu either blocked no one or was late to make his decision on who to block which led to problems in blocking his man. One of those is questionable since the Wake sack is hard to determine, as was mentioned above.

Flozell Adams: Adams left the game relatively early after he suffered an ankle injury, but before that he was having one of his worst games of the year. In only 14 pass plays, Adams gave up three quarterback pressures (one of which he shared with Matt Spaeth).  In run blocking, Adams was beaten of the snap once and once just stood around and blocked no one.

Jonathan Scott: Scott played more than half of the game in relief of Adams. He’s proven to be a better pass blocker than I expected — he blew his blocks in pass blocking on two of his first four snaps, then shut down his man for most of the rest of the game. His one other pass-blocking miscue came when he was beaten for a quarterback pressure by a speed rush in the third quarter. Of his three pressures, one came because of assignment confusion, another came on a bull rush and the third came on a speed rush.

In the running game, Scott had bigger problems, but there was no consistent thread. He was beaten off the snap once, he was shed after making an initial block on another, he was driven into the backfield on a third play, and he couldn’t get to a linebacker on a fourth.

Ramon Foster: We’ve mentioned it before, but the Steelers’ biggest asset on the offensive line is its depth. It’s not that Trai Essex or Doug Legursky is a Pro Bowler, but the reality is that Pittsburgh could lose both of them and still be OK. I’m not convinced that Foster couldn’t play just as well as Legursky if he got the same amount of playing time.

Foster was inserted after Legursky’s worse series of the game, then he returned for spot duty later. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t any worse than Legursky either. He was beaten to the outside once in pass blocking, beaten to the inside once in run blocking and once he was driven backwards in run blocking.

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  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    I didn’t see Mwelde listed for run blocking. On Ben’s sneak, though, Mwelde looked a bit slow / weak. It looked like his initially only fair block forced Ben to take an extra side step, which made the difference between a fumble and a TD. What do you think?

    • JJ Cooper

      Oops. ELSM. I charted him on that play but failed to put it in the table when I worked him up. I gave him an OK block on the play. My note was “Does just enough on Crowder”. Crazy that I failed to include that 1-for-1 as initially it made me think I had screwed up — Mewelde blocking on a running play?– until I remembered it was on the sneak. (I had charted one night and worked up the tables the next morning).

  • steeler junky

    The OL is much improved this season thanks to Pouncey , Kugler and the competitive benefits of the rotations the Steelers are using.
    That said; They still have problems against the better front seven defenses in the league. I hope Essex comes back with a desire to reclaim the starting RG spot and shows improved play. I know it is still early in Leg’s career , so I hope he still has some upside to becoming better.
    Next draft I hope the Steelers find at least 2 OL men to raise the competition level for next years traing camp.
    A 1st or 2nd rounder along with Chris Scott and a good UFA would be nice.

  • Pierce

    I’m glad Kugler is open to in game substitutions unlike Z who started the atrocious Stapleton over Essex all year in ’08.

  • RoB D

    Somebody should give JJ a medal for this stuff. I print it out and watch the game again..A big tip of the hat for the guy who pays attention to what is happening in the trenches.

    We are probably one draft away from shoring up this line with actual Pouncey-like talent but in the meantime we seem to have an O-line by committee that is respectable. That was a very good defensive team we faced and they should get some credit for stopping some of what we can usually do. The great thing about Tomlin is he is adaptable. AS Pierce noted, we are far more likey to make key in game adjustments and that is a function of Mike hiring new guys like Kugler. What a difference he has made and I think we’ll be even happier by the end of next years draft.

  • countertorque

    JJ, What percentage of successful plays do you think qualifies as a “good” game? What is league average? What would count as pro bowl level play? I’m just curious. 77% sounds pretty bad. That means you’re letting someone in once nearly every set of downs.