Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Ravens, Week 19

The Steelers’ win over the Ravens was a mixed bag of offensive line play. That was to be expected considering the injuries and illnesses that once again required the team to play all seven active offensive lineman.

When the Steelers were rolling and Bruce Arians was calling plenty of quick passes, there were few problems. But in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh generally lost the battle of the line of scrimmage and managed to win anyway. The analysis is going to be a little brief on the front end today, but here are the numbers and then I’ll post some thoughts on the game.


Total Good Play Total Plays Percentage
Heath Miller 29 32 90.6%
Doug Legursky 8 9 88.9%
Chris Kemoeatu 61 69 88.4%
Maurkice Pouncey 57 69 82.6%
Jonathan Scott 52 64 81.3%
Ramon Foster 55 69 79.7%
Trai Essex 31 39 79.5%
Flozell Adams 23 31 74.2%
Matt Spaeth 10 14 71.4%
David Johnson 6 10 60.0%
Run Good Play Total Plays Percentage
Heath Miller 22 24 91.7%
Chris Kemoeatu 24 27 88.9%
Doug Legursky 5 6 83.3%
Jonathan Scott 19 25 76.0%
Matt Spaeth 10 14 71.4%
Ramon Foster 19 27 70.4%
Maurkice Pouncey 19 27 70.4%
Flozell Adams 8 13 61.5%
Trai Essex 9 15 60.0%
David Johnson 6 10 60.0%
Pass Good Play Total Plays Percentage Pressures Sacks
Doug Legursky 3 3 100%
Trai Essex 22 24 91.7% 1 1
Maurkice Pouncey 38 42 90.5% 1
Chris Kemoeatu 37 42 88.1% 3 0.5
Heath Miller 7 8 87.5% 2
Ramon Foster 36 42 85.7% 3 1
Jonathan Scott 33 39 84.6% 4 0.5
Flozell Adams 15 18 83.3% 2
Matt Spaeth 0 0 0.0%
David Johnson 0 0 0.0%
Rashard Mendenhall 1 2 50.0% 1
Isaac Redman 1 1 100%
Mewelde Moore 5 5 100%

And now here are some quick thoughts:

• Ben Roethlisberger did hold the ball too long on the Suggs’ sack/fumble that led to Baltimore’s second touchdown, but it’s not as egregious as you may believe. Roethlisberger had the ball for 3.4 seconds and against a four-man rush (with no one in his line of sight getting any penetration). He needs to get rid of the ball, but 3.4 seconds is not the same as holding onto the ball for four seconds or more. It was just a great play by Suggs, one of many for him in this game.

• The Steelers threw in some new wrinkles on Saturday. When Pittsburgh found itself deep in its own end early in the second quarter, the Steelers rolled out an unbalanced line with Jonathan Scott flipped over to Flozell Adams’ outside shoulder. The play only gained a piddling one yard, but it was a nice idea.

• The Steelers’ running backs made some nice saves in pass protection. One example that stood out: With Ben Roethlisberger standing in the end zone for his dropback on third and seven, Terrell Suggs beat Ramon Foster to the inside. It was a rush right up the middle, which is tough for even Ben Roethlisberger to shake off, but just before he got to Roethlisberger, Isaac Redman shoved Suggs outside, giving Big Ben a chance to step into his throw.

• Pittsburgh wanted to make sure that Roethlisberger had time to throw. So Heath Miller spent much of the night serving as a blocking back in pass situations, and the Steelers even had a rollout where Hines Ward was asked to make a key pass block on the edge.

• Credit to Pro Football Talk for noticing this first, but Maurkice Pouncey earned the Steelers a key first down with a little subterfuge. Early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers got to the 14 on third and 11 when they needed to get to the 13. Pittsburgh then rushed to the line to try to sneak for the first down before the Ravens were ready. Ravens coach John Harbaugh pulled a fast one of his own by a bogus challenge (which was waived when he “learned” that it wasn’t a first down). That gave Baltimore a chance to get set.

However, the ball had originally been spotted just on the far side of the 14-yard line hash mark (closer to the 15). When Pouncey initially ran up to snap the ball, he slid the ball forward about a foot to the other side of the 14-yard line. The referees didn’t notice it during Harbaugh’s challenge discussion, so when the two teams lined up again, the ball was now on the other side of the hash mark, closer to the 13. The Steelers again tried to rush the snap, and Pouncey again slid the ball forward a foot, but the officials stepped in to cover up the ball to give the Ravens more time to prepare. By now, the ball is roughly at the 13 1/2 yard line, a full two to two and a half feet further than it initially was spotted. When Pouncey lined up to snap again, he moved the ball up a further foot, putting the ball just inches from the 13-yard line. When Roethlisberger sneaked, he only needed about three inches to get the first down instead of a full yard.

• It’s hard to call it a miracle, but Rashard Mendenhall’s game-winning touchdown was both a thing of beauty and an indescribable screw-up. On that play, it’s hard to find one lineman who made an effective block. Jonathan Scott didn’t really block anyone. Chris Kemoeatu was driven into the backfield when trying to pull, then flagged for unnecessary roughness. Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster both attempted ineffective cut blocks that left their men standing unblocked at the line of scrimmage. Trai Essex didn’t really block anyone either. But David Johnson got just enough of Jarret Johnson and Mendenhall executed a nice cutback that left two unblocked defensive lineman flat-footed.

Overall, Flozell Adams struggles can be explained away — he was barely able to stand because of the flu. Pouncey was dominant when he was asked to block Ray Lewis. He had much more trouble in goal line situations blocking 350-pound defensive tackles. Ramon Foster gets a medal for sliding out to tackle, but his overall play was the same so-so blocking you would expect. Chris Kemoeatu made some dumb post-play blocks that he needs to eliminate. Jonathan Scott had a better game against Suggs this week — most of Suggs damage came against other linemen — but he still gives up four or five pressures and a sack a game. I’d be surprised to learn anything else from Scott’s stats this Sunday against the Jets.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

    RE: Pouncey moving the ball

    In the video Pouncey is clearly moving the ball forward. What he, or any other lineman, doesn’t do is move forward in their stance. So it’s not clear to me what advantage it really is to move the ball forward. In the end, Pouncey still has to move the ball backwards and have it end up between his legs. So if the ball ends up in the same position, what difference does it make where the ball started?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

      Also, does anyone know a trick to make disqus scroll down in the window so that I can actually read the bottom of my post? It randomly refuses to scroll down…

      • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

        Bob,

        Disqus is notoriously squirrelly, which is a longer way of saying “no, I don’t know.” I’m just happy the comments load half the time. That’s what I’ve been reduced to.

    • GlennW

      That’s a good point, but if through these multiple pushes Pouncey really did advance the ball nearly a full yard as alleged, I find it impossible that he didn’t move his own stance up by at least a half-yard. That’s a nice advantage, especially on a QB sneak.

    • JJ Cooper

      The advantage occurs because the Steelers set up over the ball, got ready to snap, then backed away on two different occasions. Each time the referees made them reset, Pouncey would leave the ball where he had moved it. Here’s the video to explain it better: http://gamerewind.nfl.com/nflgr/game?id=55156&play=2952&icampaign=GR_Free_Clip_nfl

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

        Yes, you are right that in a scenario where the ball is moved and then the line subsequently resets it can have an impact. Do you think it makes a different if the line doesn’t reset?

        • Anonymous

          Well, it increases travel time to the QB, but I think every center just puts it on the ground as best suits his size and body mechanics.

      • Craig

        It’s impossible to see exactly what happens when the camera isn’t on the ball, but it doesn’t look like this was intentional. Pouncey definitely moves the ball forward while getting ready to snap it, but when he gets up the first time, he moves the ball back a bit, too. Then the camera goes to Harbaugh, and we can’t see what happens. When the camera goes back to the ball, the ball is moved up from where it was, but it is also reset from where Pouncey left it. I can’t tell if the rest of the lineman move up the second time, but the right tackle never gets out of his stance so he didn’t move up. It would be funny if Pouncey did it on purpose, but it doesn’t look like he did.

        • Anonymous

          Pouncey moves the ball forward every time he picks it up on the ground. Other centers do it too, but I notice it more from Pouncey. Generally nobody cares because as you point out with the line already set there is no advantage, and because it’s pretty much impossible not to move it at all.

    • jdog

      Either way, he moved the ball close to a tard and thats what he made it by. Thats cheating. Refs were pathetic at best the entire game with several phantom calls.Defensive holding on a running play on the goal line with under 2 min left are bush league calls by over-officiating old men while Jarrett Jackson got held , better yet tackled in few view of the zebras. Holding on punt return ? Laughable !! What seasoned referee makes such a moranic call with the game on the line ? Headbutts in plain view of refs view but no call. Climbing on Heaps back at beginning of game but a pass interference on a play when THE rAVENS DBACK WAS TACKLED ON THE PLAY OR ATLEAST PULLED DOWN.Still , as bad as they played they still should have had a 4 point lead with 4 some minutes to go which changes whole mindset of Pitts final drive. Like Shannon Sharp said after the game on NFL on CBS, It was worst one of the worst officiated game he had ever seen.A bunch of old , out of shape , attention wanting zebras who has left a bitter taste in most all true loving FB fans. It was truely appalling and I am a Redskin fan. We hate Balto to but they were robbed in most calls of that game.

    • jdog

      Either way, he moved the ball close to a tard and thats what he made it by. Thats cheating. Refs were pathetic at best the entire game with several phantom calls.Defensive holding on a running play on the goal line with under 2 min left are bush league calls by over-officiating old men while Jarrett Jackson got held , better yet tackled in few view of the zebras. Holding on punt return ? Laughable !! What seasoned referee makes such a moranic call with the game on the line ? Headbutts in plain view of refs view but no call. Climbing on Heaps back at beginning of game but a pass interference on a play when THE rAVENS DBACK WAS TACKLED ON THE PLAY OR ATLEAST PULLED DOWN.Still , as bad as they played they still should have had a 4 point lead with 4 some minutes to go which changes whole mindset of Pitts final drive. Like Shannon Sharp said after the game on NFL on CBS, It was worst one of the worst officiated game he had ever seen.A bunch of old , out of shape , attention wanting zebras who has left a bitter taste in most all true loving FB fans. It was truely appalling and I am a Redskin fan. We hate Balto to but they were robbed in most calls of that game.

  • DC in ATL

    Appreciate and look forward to the OL analysis every week JJ.

    On Pouncey moving the ball…doesn’t every center do something like that every game at some point? It’s the referee’s responsibility to spot the ball correctly, but shoudn’t someone on the Ravens defense take responsibility for not pointing this out to the referees? Like a seasoned veteran LB named Lewis maybe? Shame on us, but shame on them even more.

    Between your excellent work here and Ben Muth’s columns on Football Outsiders I think I’ve learned more about OL play this season than in the almost (gulp) 40 previous years I’ve followed the Steelers. Thanks.

  • David

    Nice post JJ. And I agree, Mendy’s TD was a miracle. In his lane, he had 4-5 Raisins waiting to pounce on him. He then moved to his right and scored. So in this case, his “dancing” led to a score.

  • David

    BTW, my take on the 4th down play is Harbaugh using the red flag as a means to delay the snap. Very ingenious, and legal, by him, although I still think he’s a poon.

    Maybe there’s a YouTube video of him windmilling and cussing up a storm trying to call a TO. Pretty funny.

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    Yeah, but Peter King just doesn’t think that Mendenhall is a big-game back. Because, really, he would know.

    • GlennW

      I caught that too. No explanation whatsoever, but two separate digs at Mendenhall (even though he was up against a very good run defense). Didn’t know what to make of it, but then I remembered that this is Peter King and he’ll probably express the exact opposite opinion next week without remembering what he wrote the week before.