Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Bills, Week 12

Mike Tomlin has said many times that he’s not looking for style points. In the NFL, wins and losses matter, how you get there is much less important.

If that’s the case, then Sunday’s win over the Bills has to count as a success. It was ugly at times — especially as yellow flags kept flying like confetti at a ticker-tape parade. But this was truly a case of taking good news with the bad.

There was plenty of bad news – Chris Kemoeatu had one of the worst games a Steelers’ offensive linemen has had in quite a while. Maurkice Pouncey was better, but he struggled as well — he’s very good for a rookie, but if you listen to the TV announcers, you may believe he’s Pro Bowl caliber. He’s not yet that good.

At the same time, there are several things to be excited about. The Steelers ran the ball extremely well including one stretch where they ran the ball on eight consecutive plays. If it hadn’t been for the penalties, this would have actually been a pretty good performance by the standard of expectations of the Steelers banged-up offensive line. The Steelers held the ball for a massive amount of time — they ran 90 offensive plays, which is 20-30 more than a normal game.

Here’s a look at how the linemen looked, as graded by watching each player on each play. Each player is judged on whether they contributed to a play’s success or were a reason the play could fail.

Player Good Plays Total Plays Pct. Pressures Sacks
Miller Pass 4 5 80.0%
Foster Pass 37 44 84.1% 2 1
Pouncey Pass 37 44 84.1% 3 0.5
Kemoeatu Pass 37 44 84.1% 3 0.5
Flozell Pass 38 44 86.4% 2 1
Scott Pass 38 44 86.4% 3
Johnson Pass 2 2 100%
Moore Pass 4 4 100%
Mendenhall Pass 4 4 100%
Kemoeatu Run 29 46 63.0%
Johnson Run 24 34 70.6%
Essex Run 7 9 77.8%
Pouncey Run 37 46 80.4%
Scott Run 39 48 81.3%
Foster Run 38 46 82.6%
Miller Run 37 43 86.1%
Flozell Run 42 46 91.3%
Redman Run 2 2 100%
Moore Total 4 4 100%
Mendenhall Total 4 4 100%
Redman Total 2 2 100%
Adams Total 80 90 88.9%
Miller Total 41 48 85.4%
Scott Total 77 92 83.7%
Foster Total 75 90 83.3%
Pouncey Total 74 90 82.2%
Essex Total 7 9 77.8%
Kemoeatu Total 66 90 73.3%
Johnson Total 26 36 72.2%

There’s little to say positive about Chris Kemoeatu’s day. Kyle Williams was simply better than him, and very quickly Kemoeatu learned that there wasn’t much he could do to stop Williams. There were the holding calls (4), multiple plays where Williams drove Kemoeatu into the backfield (7), struggles to get to the second level to block linebackers (3), missed blocks at the line (5), difficulties executing blocks when he was pulling (2) as well as confusion (1), difficulty sticking his block (1) and a failed cut block (1).

When Trai Essex played this poorly, the Steelers benched him and replaced him with Ramon Foster. It seems highly unlikely that the same thing will happen with Kemoeatu. For one thing, the Steelers just don’t have many more options — if Kemoeatu wasn’t strong enough to handle Williams, Williams would have squashed Doug Legursky around like he was an annoying gnat. And for another, unlike Essex, Kemoeatu has a relatively lengthy history of adequate, if unspectacular play which works in his favor.

As mentioned above, Pouncey was not a whole lot better. In Pouncey’s case, the big problem was that Williams was too strong for him. He proved very difficult to move, and there were several plays where Williams drove Pouncey back into Roethlisberger.

When you compare Ramon Foster to his fellow interior lineman, he comes out looking OK, even though he was beaten for a sack. Foster wasn’t great, but he’s done enough in the past two weeks to expect to see him starting the rest of the year. It’s hard to say he’s any stronger than Essex, but he is more consistent than the man he replaced.

On the outside, Jonathan Scott was adequate enough. Ben Roethlisberger will have to be ready to scramble at a moments notice as long as Scott is his left tackle, but performances like Sunday (three pressures) are good enough for a backup left tackle filling in.

And at this point, Flozell Adams is a rock of stability. He was beaten for a sack and he still doesn’t exactly block to the whistle, but Adams’ strength lets him get away with a lot of things. If you want to see what I’m talking about when mentioning Adams’ amazing strength, check out what he did to a safety on this play — he’s the right tackle so you have to watch the backside of this run. But Adams looks like what a big kid picking on the shrimp at recess here — it’s bad if he’s in first grade, it’s great when he’s an NFL offensive lineman.

David Johnson’s numbers this week don’t look all that good, but he did show some impressive blocks filling in for Matt Spaeth. Trai Essex’s entry into the game as a tight end meant the Steelers were running — he wasn’t on the field for a pass play — but at the same time, he did a good job blowing defensive ends off the ball. Putting a 320+ pounder at tight end  causes plenty of problems for a defense.

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  • Jason

    PG’s Gerry Dulac had an interesting comment about Kemoeatu in a chat yesterday. Responding to a question about the holding calls, Dulac said:

    “[Kemoeatu] thought some were iffy, too, especially the one that wiped out Mendenhall’s 42-yard run, but to his credit, he didn’t blame the officials. Instead, he said he needs to have better technique. What he didn’t say — and I’ll say it for him — is that Kemo is playing with a bad knee and a high ankle sprain and the only reason he is playing because there are so many other injuries on the offensive line. It’s very similar to last year when he tried playing with a bad knee and a broken wrist and effectively was playing with one arm. I’m not making excuses for him, but it’s one of the reasons Tomlin didn’t yank him — because he knows Kemo is trying to help the team by playing when he probably shouldn’t.”

  • ryan


    Good point. I actually wondered the same thing about Kemo’s health during the Steelers-Bills recap podcast.

  • RoB D

    I thought everyone realized that Kemo is/was playing hurt. It’s no excuse (you suit up , you take responsibility for doing the job) but its a mitigating factor. He got owned though. Badly. But I still have trememdous respect for him trying to do his job.