Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Jets, Week 15

It may have been a loss, but last Sunday’s Jets game was this Steelers’ offensive line’s finest moment.

Playing against a legitimate defense, the Steelers tamed the Jets’ pass rush and opened gaping holes for Rashard Mendenhall. For weeks, if one Steelers’ offensive lineman graded out in the high 80s, it was cause for celebration. And if Ben Roethlisberger dropped back two or three plays in a row without being pressured, it was a reason to cheer.

But this week, the Steelers’ front five played at a whole new level. Against the Jets, not one Steelers’ offensive lineman graded out lower than 89 percent. Their work in the run game was especially notable: Mendenhall averaged over five yards a carry thanks to solid work from the 0-line, and if not for the need to play catch-up for most of the fourth quarter, Mendenhall may have gotten over 130 yards.

Before we go into detail, here’s a look at the numbers. And remember, all of this is done by watching and re-watching the game to focus on what each blocker did on each play. Since we do not know all of the play calls, it’s possible that there are some (hopefully slight errors), but I believe that the resulting grades are pretty accurate.

Player Good Plays Total Plays Pct.
Adams 63 70 90.0
Foster 64 69 92.8
Pouncey 65 69 94.2
Kemoeatu 65 69 94.2
Scott 51 57 89.5
Essex 14 14 100
Johnson 11 12 91.7
Spaeth 23 27 85.2
Redman 5 5 100
Moore 9 9 100
Mendenhall 1 1 100
Player Good Plays Total Plays Pct. Pressures Sacks
Adams 45 47 95.7 1 1
Foster 45 47 95.7 1
Pouncey 45 47 95.7 2
Kemoeatu 46 47 97.9 1
Scott 32 35 91.4 1 1
Essex 12 12 100
Johnson 3 3 100
Spaeth 6 7 85.7
Redman 5 5 100
Moore 9 9 100
Mendenhall 1 1 100
Adams 18 23 78.3
Foster 19 22 86.4
Pouncey 20 22 90.9
Kemoeatu 19 22 86.4
Scott 19 22 86.4
Essex 2 2 100
Johnson 8 9 88.9
Spaeth 17 20 85.0

With that out of that way, let’s get to this: Jonathan Scott is getting a bad rap.

The fill-in left tackle has had plenty of lowlights since replacing Max Starks, so when Trai Essex stepped in to replace the gimpy Scott late in Sunday’s loss to the Jets, many fans cheered.

The fact that Essex didn’t allow any pressures during the Steelers last-minute drive just added to the cries for Essex to replace Scott.

But here’s the thing, Scott actually played very well against the Jets — way better than anyone would have expected. And while Essex held his own as a fill-in, he didn’t have much of a test against a Jets’ defense focused on flooding the deep zones. On nine of the 12 pass plays after Essex replaced Scott, the Jets sent either three rushers (five plays) or four rushers (four plays), so Essex didn’t have to cope with nearly as much of the Jets’ all-angles pass rush as Scott faced.

On the 35 pass plays when Scott was in the game, the Steelers faced only seven three-man rushes and they faced 12 blitzes.

Scott generally has trouble with being driven into the backfield, but we didn’t see that this week. In pass protection, he had only three breakdowns — twice he struggled to handle the speed of a defensive back coming off of the edge. On one of those plays, Matt Spaeth picked the man up, so it wasn’t a serious problem. On the other, it turned into a sack. Scott also had a play where his man cut back inside to pressure Roethlisberger, but that pressure was caused as much by Chris Kemoeatu being beaten (and therefore taken out out position) which created a gap for Scott’s man to jump back inside.

But the reality is that most people won’t remember any of that about Scott’s game. He got beaten to the inside by Jason Taylor on the safety that really ruined the Steelers chances to win. That was one of the few run plays where Scott was beaten (and Maurkice Pouncey’s pinch from the inside of Taylor failed as well), but rightfully he’s taking blame for that blown assignment.

Otherwise, the line played exceptionally well. Flozell Adams run grade may look a little low, but most of his problems were the kind that don’t cause major problems: failing to block a linebacker downfield or letting his man go too quickly on the backside of a running play. And on several of Mendenhall’s best runs, Adams was key with his ability to cave in defensive ends. In pass blocking, Adams gave up a sack where he was beaten to the inside one time.

Chris Kemoeatu had one of his best games of the season pulling. I don’t know if New York is coached to take on pulling guards or what, but the Jets defenders proved agreeable targets for Kemoeatu’s 350-pounds of moving mass. As we’ve mentioned before, if Kemoeatu can gets his hands on his target when pulling, usually that guy is going to be erased from the play.

Ramon Foster’s play keeps getting better. He shows solid strength, a little bit of agility, and developing ability as a pass blocker.

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    It does make sense that while we get the same 5 guys more reps together they should begin to turn into a real unit, not a great one, but a serviceable one…and quite frankly, thats all that we need coming the playofs…yeah…I am feeling it now…this could be a good playoff run…

  • RoB D

    It could be a case of a little bit of continuity kicking in and the amount of press scrutiny about their failings that has them kicking it up a notch..or in this case…3 notches.

    Can they sustain it? It’s key to our fortunes this year

  • ToddinSyracuse

    Havent posted in a while JJ, but just stopped in to say another tremendous job.