Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Ravens, Week 13

Winning makes everything better. Which is good, because if the Steelers had lost Sunday’s game against the Ravens, there would be a lot of talk about the failings of the offensive line.

At this point, the Steelers’ offensive line is what it is. It’s a banged-up group that is just trying to survive. That’s been enough most weeks, and realistically, it’s hard to expect much more — by the end of the game, the Steelers were playing their Nos. 4 and 5 tackles.

But if you’re looking for analysis of what went well and what went wrong against the Ravens, it can be summed up very simply: wherever Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata were lined up, the offensive lineman facing them was in plenty of trouble.

Suggs generally lined up against left tackle Jonathan Scott, although he did move around enough to cause problems for Flozell Adams, David Johnson, Heath Miller  and even Maurkice Pouncey. Ngata also moved around a lot. He generally just abused Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu (none of them could effectively block him), but he also moved out to defensive end to provide matchup nightmares for Johnson and Miller at times.

The other big problem in the running game was the Ravens’ linebackers. As you probably know, Ray Lewis is pretty good. He’s more blockable now than he was years ago, but he’s still a moving target who knows all the tricks and techniques to avoid being wiped out of a play. And as the Steelers found on Sunday night, blocking him is always a tough assignment.

Before going into the individual breakdowns, here’s a look at the grades for this week. As always, here’s a reminder that this is done as best can be determined. We don’t know all of the play calls, but the grades are done on the basis of success: if a player blocks his man well, it’s a good play, but if his man makes the tackle, that’s going to be a bad play.

Player Good Plays Total Plays Pct Pressures Sacks
Johnson Pass 3 3 100.0%
Redman Pass 4 4 100.0%
Medenhall Pass 2 2 100.0%
Pouncey Pass 39 42 92.7% 2 1
Essex Pass 11 12 91.7%
Adams Pass 26 30 86.7% 3
Foster Pass 36 42 85.7% 3 1
Kemoeatu Pass 35 42 83.3% 3
Scott Pass 34 42 81.0% 6
Miller Pass 4 6 66.7%
Miller Run 14 16 87.5%
Essex Run 4 5 80.0%
Adams Run 13 19 68.4%
Johnson Run 9 14 64.3%
Kemoeatu Run 14 23 60.9%
Scott Run 14 23 60.9%
Pouncey Run 13 23 56.5%
Foster Run 13 24 54.2%
Mendenhall Run 0 1 0.0%
Essex Total 15 17 88.2%
Miller Total 18 22 81.8%
Pouncey Total 52 65 80.0%
Adams Total 39 49 79.6%
Kemoeatu Total 49 65 75.4%
Foster Total 49 66 74.2%
Scott Total 48 65 73.9%
Johnson Total 12 17 70.6%
Mendenhall Total 2 3 66.7%

During the game I tweeted that I thought Jonathan Scott would put up the worst grade since I started doing the new format. I was wrong. His grade of 73.9% isn’t pretty, but it actually was a little better than I expected. Scott simply couldn’t block Suggs. It didn’t matter if it was a running play or a pass play, Suggs’ strength and quickness were simply too much for the fill-in left tackle. It wasn’t just in the passing game, either; Suggs also caused problems in the running game showing the ability to flow down the line to block running lanes.

Before he left with an ankle injury, Flozell Adams had fewer problems than Scott, but in his case he got to block Jarrett Johnson most of the day, which was an easier assignment than Suggs. Three of his four bad plays in pass protection came when Suggs slid over to his side. In the running game, Adams’ problems came when he was asked to block linebackers. Four of his six poor plays came when he was asked to handle linebackers. Three of those plays came where he got his hands on the linebacker, but then failed to lock him up. Technically you could charge Adams with half a sack in this game — Suggs recorded half a sack while lined up against him, but I credited the whole sack to Ramon Foster because it was Ngata’s charge up the middle that wrapped up Roethlisberger, Suggs then followed up to finish him off.

Ramon Foster’s grade wasn’t much better than Scott’s. It wasn’t all because of Ngata, but he played a big part in it. Kelly Gregg also gave Foster some problems, and the quality of the Ravens’ linebackers also led to some poor plays. Foster had trouble getting free from the line to go block them, and even when he did, he found them to be difficult to block.

If Maurkice Pouncey hadn’t had to block Ngata, he would have had a nice night. But he was asked to block the Ravens’ two tons of fun on a regular basis. The rookie is having a nice season, but Ngata was simply too much to handle. Pouncey’s sack came when Suggs looped inside and managed to knock Pouncey backwards on his way to the quarterback. Pouncey’s quarterback pressures all came when Ngata simply drove him into the backfield. Ngata was Pouncey’s biggest problem in the running game as well: five of Pouncey’s poor run plays came against Ngata. The massive defensive tackle showed an ability to get his hands on Pouncey before Pouncey could lock him up, which meant he could work a stalemate then shed Pouncey to try to stuff the run. On other plays he just fired out and drove Pouncey into the backfield.

It wasn’t a great week for Chris Kemoeatu, but he had to be happy to no longer have Kyle Williams beating on him. Kemoeatu had the same kind of problems in pass protection that everyone else had: the Steelers just weren’t winning the battle in the trenches. But in the running game, one of his big problems was when he is asked to pull. The Steelers seem to think that Kemoeatu is a good pulling guard, but I don’t see it. Kemoeatu isn’t particularly nimble on his feet, and he doesn’t redirect well. He does get up a good head of steam, but if his target slides from one side or another, he struggles to still get a crushing blow. Two of his poor run blocks came when he was asked to pull.

Trai Essex’s numbers look quite good in his limited time, and he should be commended for playing well as a fill-in right tackle. At the same time, as mentioned with Adams, he got to block Jarrett Johnson instead of Terrell Suggs, so his job was easier than Scott’s.

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  • Mjlivingood70

    How long does it take an OL to reach his full potential? I know this answer can vary from player to player but roughly after how long do you say this is the best we are going to get from this guy?

    • JJ Cooper

      I think the only two players on this line who have any projection left to them are Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster. Everyone else is as good as they get.

      • RoB D

        And if that isn’t a note worthy of being hand delivered to the Steelers’ draft trust,,I don’t know what is.

  • Bigswa

    Great Quote JJ

    wherever Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata were lined up, the offensive lineman facing them was in plenty of trouble.

  • RoB D

    another stellar analysis, JJ. I really liked it when you noted that you didn’t think Kemo was a good pulling guard. I agree. He isn’t under control most times and he misses a lot of blocks or just gets a little of his man.

    We need to shoot Ngata with a traquilizer dart before these games. He’s the best player on the Ravens D..and it ain’t close.

  • Randy Steele

    A completely random thought, but I think the Steelers might have made a mistake when they exposed Thaddeus Gibson and kept Tony Hills as a consequence of the Aaron Smith injury.

    I say that knowing full well that Gibson couldn’t beat Stevenson Sylvester for a hat. That said, Gibson still may have more upside as an NFL player than Hills.

    Given the carnage on the o-line this year, the fact that Hills has rarely, barely seen the line of scrimmage during a game is damning. Sorry, but from what we’ve seen of him so far, he’s a waste of a roster spot and a rare example of poor judgment by the Steelers’ staff and front office.

    • RoB D

      Couldn’t agree more. Hills not playing when Starks went down…and according to most reports, he wasn’t even considered!..makes you wonder what they were thinking in the preseason. Although I have to confess that I don’t really mourn the loss of Gibson too much. I’m very happy with the LBers from this draft..Sylvester, Worilds in particular. We shall see if Gibson turns out to be a good player we let go but..that’s the NFL sometimes.

      There’s got to be someone on the STeelers who looks at the huge difference Pouncey has made on the line and come to the conclusion that it may be time to jump into FA for a guard or tackle or both. Adams was a huge signing and he has saved our bacon after the loss of Colon. Imagine if we hadn’t picked him up?

      I remember Duvall Love, Wayne Gandy, Wil Wolford and more recently Jeff Hartings as key FA signings. Those kind of guys can really solidify a line that needs it but maybe finding quality like that is just luck and timing. We arent’ going to get a shot very often at an elite level tackle since we are still a very good team and the luck of the offensive line gods doesnt’ seem to be with us in the Tomlin era. Nothing wroing with reaching out and paying a little more than you want to get a quality guard to protect the franchise. Old ground, I know..but darn needs to be said. I have zero confidence that Kemo or Foster to get much better.

    • David

      Agreed. At the time, I was for cutting ARE and keeping Gibson.

  • drinkingclub

    How long can the Steelers go without doing much about the o-line?

    • David

      Exactly. This is what worries the crap out of me when we play CIN, NYJ, CLE.