Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Bengals, Week 14

If you watch the Steelers on a regular basis (and hey, if you’re checking out the Steelers Lounge, I’m guessing you do), you probably have noticed that even the play-by-play and color analysts that broadcast the games are well aware of the Steelers’ biggest problem. At this point, you see multiple plays where a Steelers’ offensive linemen is hanging his head, or, more usually, kicking the dirt after a missed block.

In fact, I’m convinced that the penguins in Antarctica are aware that the Steelers’ offensive line is the team’s biggest weakness. But in watching Ben Roethlisberger, it’s amazing how he can repeatedly turn disaster into success.

In the first half against the Bengals, Roethlisberger was dodging pass rushers almost every time he dropped back. Of his first 25 passes, Roethlisberger either was sacked or pressured on 15 of them. Despite the pressure, he managed to go 14-for-22 for 171 yards while being sacked three times. In the second half, Pittsburgh started holding more (and doing more three-step drops), which led to less pressure (although there were still two sacks).

Here’s how the numbers look:

Player Good Play Total Plays Pct Pressures Sacks
Johnson 3 3 100%
Spaeth 10 10 100%
Moore 7 7 100%
Pouncey 35 38 92.1%
Kemoeatu 35 38 92.1% 3
Adams 34 38 89.5% 3
Foster 34 38 89.5% 1 1
Scott 30 38 78.9% 6 1
Player Good Play Total Plays Pct
Pouncey 25 29 86.2%
Spaeth 23 27 85.2%
Foster 23 29 79.3%
Kemoeatu 23 29 79.3%
Essex 3 4 75.0%
Scott 21 29 72.4%
Adams 20 29 68.9%
Johnson 15 22 68.2%
Redman 2 3 66.7%
Player Good Play Total Plays Pct
Moore 7 7 100%
Pouncey 60 67 89.6%
Spaeth 33 37 89.2%
Kemoeatu 58 67 86.6%
Foster 57 67 85.1%
Adams 54 67 80.6%
Scott 51 67 76.1%
Essex 3 4 75.0%
Johnson 18 25 72.0%
Redman 2 3 66.7%

As far as the individual contributions, Maurkice Pouncey stood out again as the team’s best lineman. Pouncey isn’t yet a dominating pass blocker, but when it comes to the run game, he is pretty darn close already. He is equally comfortable digging out defensive tackles (unless they are named Haloti Ngata)  and locking up linebackers. Domata Petko and Pat Sims didn’t prove nearly as troublesome. Petko and Sims only beat Pouncey clearly twice in the running game. Pouncey’s also was caught up once in traffic and failed to get to a linebacker and there was another play where the linebacker’s quick assessment of the play left Pouncey no time to get to him.

Pouncey may be the team’s best offensive lineman, but it’s hard to say at this point that Flozell Adams isn’t the team’s most important. If Pouncey went down, Doug Legursky could provide mediocre play at center. It wouldn’t be as good as Pouncey’s performance, but it probably wouldn’t be a whole lot different than Justin Hartwig’s play last year. But if Adams was injured again, there is no sure Plan B. Trai Essex would step in, but the drop-off from Adams to Essex would be much larger than that of Pouncey to Legursky

Speaking of Essex, I’ve seen a lot of speculation that it’s time to try out Essex at left tackle in place of Jonathan Scott. Personally, I don’t see that as a likely upgrade. There is no doubt that Scott is one of the worst left tackles in the league right now; he’s a backup over his head as a starter. But there has been no indication that Essex would be any better. Playing the significantly easier position of right guard, Essex lost his job because of ineffectiveness. If Essex was dominating at guard, it would be a viable option to move him out to left tackle, but failed guards don’t slide out to tackle. Failed tackles (like Essex) slide inside to guard. Going from right guard (where you often get help from the center) to left tackle is like jumping from driving your Hyundai to work to hopping into the Daytona 500.

And it’s worth remembering that Essex’s previous stints at left tackle (against the Colts in 2005 and the Jaguars playoff game in 2007) have not gone well. There’s a chance that Essex could be as good as Scott, but that seems to be about the upside. So why would you shake up the line to hope to get an equivalent performance? And if Essex had to step in and replace Flozell Adams, you likely would get a Jonathan Scott-type performance from both left and right tackle.

That’s not to say that watching Scott play isn’t a stomach-churning experience. Once again on Sunday he was overmatched, and this was against a poor pass-rushing team. There’s no real theme to Scott’s problems on Sunday: he was bull-rushed back into Roethlisberger, he was beaten to the inside, he was beaten to the outside, he failed to pick up a looping pass rusher and he was flagged for holding. He was beaten about every way that is possible.

Flozell Adams looked a little less mobile than normal after returning from his sprained ankle, but considering he had a high-ankle sprain the week before, it’s hard to be too upset. Adams biggest problem was getting to the second level to block, or maintain blocks, on linebackers. But that’s not a whole lot different than a normal week for Adams.

Ramon Foster isn’t great, but he has been an improvement on Essex’s play. Foster’s big problem occurs at the snap. He doesn’t have a quick first step, so a defensive tackle can sometimes shoot the gap on him off the snap. Something that happened several times on Sunday. But if he gets his hands on his assignment, Foster has the strength to get some movement and push in the running game. Foster wasn’t that bad in the passing game on Sunday either, but there was no in between when he struggled; when he was bad he was awful.

Chris Kemoeatu has put the nightmare of the Bills’ game behind him, as he’s apparently feeling healthier now. Kemoeatu even blew up a couple of Bengals on pull blocks. As mentioned before, Kemoeatu doesn’t have much ability to redirect his momentum when pulling, but if you try to take him on, he will destroy you. The Bengals tried to take him on … with poor results.

This entry was posted in 2010 steelers, O-Line Analysis, Offensive Line and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Anonymous

    Nice work, as always.

    • DC in ATL

      Agree and I look forward to this every week. This is a great feature of this site and really enhances understanding of offensive line play. Really appreciate JJ’s efforts on this.

      Not that I’m suggesting you do this, because I’m sure this is a lot of work, but it would be interesting to compare and contrast the Steelers OL to an identical analysis of a team with good line play.

  • StillerFan

    The best thing about Foster is he is an undrafted 24 year old. If he is just okay by now, that is all right by me. Will he ever turn into an above average guard? Maybe not, but at least there is hope. He is still very raw, very young, and has an enormous frame.

    We already know what we have in Trai Essex, and he isn’t going to get any better.

  • Randy Steele

    Thank you again for the analysis, JJ. Yes, except for Pouncey, none of these guys are really worth a poop-on-a-stick. It’s amazing that the Steelers are 10-3, and that they get as much offense as they do.

  • Randy Steele

    Thank you again for the analysis, JJ. Yes, except for Pouncey, none of these guys are really worth a poop-on-a-stick. It’s amazing that the Steelers are 10-3, and that they get as much offense as they do.

  • Craig

    At the beginning of the 4th quarter Ben was sacked on consecutive plays, the second one by Dhani Jones to knock them out of field goal. Jones shot the gap between Pouncey and Kemo right at the snap and Ben had no chance. It seemed obvious to me that Pouncey should have blocked him. Was that the play that you were describing by writing, ‘the linebacker’s quick assessment of the play left Pouncey no time to get to him?’ Or is this a play that you can’t know for sure who’s responsibility Jones was? It seemed obvious to me because Kemo blocked someone else 1-on-1, and Pouncey and Foster double teamed someone.

    • ryan


      That play sticks out in my mind, too. At first glance, it seemed like a communication issue and that perhaps Pouncey had blown an assignment.

      • Randy Steele

        The only way Pouncey is not culpable for that boner of a play is if it were Memo’s assignment to pick up an A-gap blitz. Even then…

    • JJ Cooper

      I had to assess that as a play call sack because I simply have no way of accurately knowing who was supposed to get him. I believed it was probably Pouncey, but without knowing the line call I left it as a play call sack. My bet is it was Pouncey’s problem, but I wasn’t sure enough to assess it as Pouncey’s fault.

      • Craig

        Thanks for the reply. I have no problem with your decision. I just wanted to confirm that you didn’t miss it.

  • Bigswa

    Excellent Hyundai Analogy- BTW I just bought a Hyundai Santa Fe and We love it – LOL

  • Frank in Ohio

    I can say enough obout your OL analysis. My opinion I see Ramone improving, Flozell holding his own, and Chris K cutting down on those mental mistakes. I am deeply concerned about Johnathan Scott, and it would refreshing to see a Heath Miller/David Johnson chipping the Left DE to assist Johnathan. That would open up screen passess for both Heath and David Johnson. Matt Spaeth is a liability blocking. Frank In Ohio