Analyzing the Steelers O-Line: Jets, Week 20 — A Bravura Performance for the Tackles

The Jets have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but there is something about Gang Green that seems to bring out the best in the Steelers offensive line.

The regular season game was probably the line’s best performance of the season. When it came to pass protection, the AFC Championship game was equally impressive. Rex Ryan’s defense really didn’t try to blitz much — the Jets rushed three players once and four defenders 17 times in 27 Steelers pass plays — and Pittsburgh’s tackles, backs and tight ends generally did a good job of figuring out where the disguised pressure was coming from.

By my count, the Jets only pressured Roethlisberger on eight of the 27 plays. And only one of those pressures came when New York sent five or more rushers. Even when Roethlisberger took off and ran for first downs, it was more because of the opportunity than being flushed from the pocket.

In the running game, the story wasn’t as simple as you may expect. Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 121 yards and the Steelers rushed for 166 as a team, but there still were plenty of problems in run blocking.

A lot of that can be blamed on predictability — in the second half Pittsburgh ran on 12 of 15 first and second-down plays (not counting the two botched snaps). New York knew the Steelers were trying to bleed the clock and brought everyone up to the line. As a result, Pittsburgh rushed for 23 yards on 11 designed running plays in the second half. A lot of the poor run blocking grades you see below came from that.

But even in the first half, Pittsburgh’s line was dominating as much as you may think. The tackles did an excellent job in the first half, especially Flozell Adams. Adams consistently sealed the inside edge or otherwise erased his man. Over on the other side, Jonathan Scott was as close to flawless as I’ve ever seen him. Scott gave up a sack, just like usual, but I had him blocking successfully on 34 of the first 35 plays. Most of Scott’s run blocks were on the backside as the Steelers ran predominantly to the right, but that’s a block that Scott has had plenty of trouble with in the past (remember the safety in the first Jets game).

The guards, Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu, were hot and cold. They got some key blocks in the first half, but both struggled against defenses geared to stop the run in the second half.

If Maurkice Pouncey can’t go on Super Bowl Sunday, we got a sneak peek at the Doug Legursky experience. And to be frank, it wasn’t a pretty picture. Legursky shows good agility and he seems to have a very good knowledge of who he’s supposed to block. But he’s a poor matchup against a 3-4 defense as he seems to lack the functional strength to handle a strong nose tackle.

The best way to describe what happened to Legursky is he was “Mahan’d.” Maybe it wasn’t that bad, as I still wake up with nightmares of what Dewayne Robertson did to then-Steelers center Sean Mahan in the 2006 Steelers’ loss. But it sure wasn’t pretty.

Jets nose tackles generally either drove Legursky back a step or two (or more) or stalemated him in the hole. They then either flowed down the line toward the ball carrier (with Legursky still locked up but powerless to stop them) or they tossed him aside to either make the tackle or clog a hole. The Jets nose tackles always seemed to win the battle of hand position — they used their longer arms to grab Legursky before he could grab them.

Legursky seems to be a much better player when he plays in space; he has the quickness to get to the second level to block linebackers. Unfortunately for the Steelers, that won’t help him next week, as the Packers are a 3-4 team. If Pouncey can’t play, B.J. Raji would appear to be Legursky’s worst nightmare.

Enough talk, here’s a look at the numbers. I’ll go more in depth into the Super Bowl next week here and over at FanHouse.

Run Good Play Total Play PCT
Pouncey 7 7 100%
Miller 7 7 100%
Spaeth 2 2 100%
Mendenhall 1 1 100%
Moore 1 1 100%
Redman 3 3 100%
Adams 25 27 92.6%
Foster 25 27 92.6%
Scott 24 27 88.9%
Kemoeatu 23 27 85.2%
Legursky 14 19 73.7%
Johnson 0 0 0.0%
Essex 0 0 0.0%
Pass Good Play Total Play PCT
Scott 30 33 90.9%
Pouncey 7 8 87.5%
Miller 23 30 76.7%
Johnson 12 16 75.0%
Adams 23 33 69.7%
Spaeth 11 16 68.8%
Foster 22 33 66.7%
Kemoeatu 22 33 66.7%
Legursky 13 28 46.4%
Essex 0 1 0.0%
Mendenhall 0 0 0.0%
Moore 0 0 0.0%
Redman 0 0 0.0%
Total Good Play Total Play PCT Pressure Sacks
Mendenhall 1 1 100%
Moore 1 1 100%
Redman 3 3 100%
Pouncey 14 15 93.3%
Scott 54 60 90.0% 1
Miller 30 37 81.1%
Adams 48 60 80.0% 2
Foster 47 60 78.3% 1
Kemoeatu 45 60 75.0% 2 0.5
Johnson 12 16 75.0%
Spaeth 13 18 72.2%
Legursky 27 47 57.5% 1 0.5
Essex 0 1 0.0%
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  • Jason F

    If Pouncey can’t go, that makes Flozell the only lineman to start every game this season. WOW. I know that he had to leave some games, but he was healthy enough to start them all. If we win the SB, they should let Kugler put it on his mantle for a month.

  • Stillerfan

    I have a question. Most astute steelers fans have seen a resurgence of blocking from #83 and #89 seems to be not being out-leveraged on every play like he has in years past. Who coaches these guys, is there a special tight ends coach? I have to assume there is…or is Kugler helping them? I have to think Kugler is aiding them or their position coach in some way, because they have developed a lot this year in blocking, and that’s an unsung win for the steelers this year.

  • Steeler Stan

    Is Justin Hardwick in shape? I honestly think he’d be better than Legursky right now.

    • Lbb555

      Hey mouthbreather, it’s Hartwig. Your a big fan aren’t you. Ha

  • Anonymous

    Given the relative weakness of GB at OLB, this could be a point of strength for the Steelers’ running game. Heath, Spaeth, and the Hotel bludgeoning away at the ROLB to draw Woodson up and away from our vertical game? Sounds like a plan …

  • Lbb555

    I read this every week, and the trend is that you continually exaggerate Legurskys “bad” play. If a person only read this blog they would have a very poor perspective of how the game actually played out. Is he an every down starter, not really, but to say he was below 50% is just ignorance. Maybe you have a personal issue with him, maybe you have no real clue of how to grade linemen(most likely), or maybe your Pounceys dad. Whatever it is, this blog loses more credibility every week.

    • ToddinSyracuse

      “this blog loses more credibility every week.”

      Let me be the first to say we’ll miss you when you are gone…