The offensive line breakdown of the Steelers win this past Sunday against the Tennessee Titans is finished and it was a joy breaking this game down. It was pretty evident the line benefited from the quick passing game and limited success that the running game provided. Outside of a few nice openings, there were not huge creases for Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to run through consistently. The yardage gained was on hard earned runs, but effective enough to make play action a threat.
It should be noted that the Steelers had 15 of what you would call successful running plays. This means that a ball carrier gains 40% of the needed yards on first down, 60% on second down, or 100% yards needed on third or fourth down. On the flip side there were 7 running plays that resulted in zero or negative yards. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but much better than it has been. All it takes is one bad effort by a lineman on a running play for it not to be effective and the Steelers line is far from stringing together perfectly blocked running plays on a consistent basis.
One last note, the Steelers were finally able to run left much better this week.
Max Starks - Starks looked great and I mean not only great in his play on the field, but his physical look. He moved well and looked strong. The plan was evidently rotate him in and out of the game to help him from a conditioning standpoint but once Marcus Gilbert went down with the shoulder injury, Starks had to stick it out. Boy did he ever. He was near perfect in pass protection as well as his run blocking. He even was used out in space a few times on the left side and moved well. You would never have known he had not taken a game snap in 11 months. He could have gotten an arm out on blitzer once and finished a block or two better, but it my eyes this was a near perfect game. He received very little help on his side and worked very well with Doug Legursky next to him. He was aided by the quick passing game, but that was not his fault. He used his hands very well and quickly squared up in pass protection without dropping deep. Welcome back, Max.
Maurkice Pouncey - Pouncey looked great as well outside of just a few losses at the point of attack and failure to get out front on a screen play. He missed 6 plays due to the knee injury but got himself back in the game to finish it. There is little doubt he is the leader of the offensive line and it shows. He never gave up on a block and loves to finish. Only a few times was he not able to move his man out of the hole by turning him. No stupid penalties this week as well.
Ramon Foster - Foster really seemed to be more powerful on Sunday and used his legs well to drive his man back. He also finished and stayed on blocks extremely well. He did give up the lone sack, but outside of that he was pretty flawless in pass protection. He was a key player on the long run by Dwyer as he drove his man inside initially. He really got off the ball well on Sunday and did fairly well in space when asked to do so. One of his better games and he certainly benefited from the quick passing game. We even saw Foster pull to the left once effectively.
Doug Legursky - The short area quickness that Legursky provides combined with his low center of gravity makes him naturally a better left guard than a right guard as it takes advantage of his pulling ability on the counter plays. This was evident twice were he really buried the linebacker after pulling. His block was responsible was the most important in freeing Dwyer for his run or else Dwyer never makes up past the line of scrimmage. Just 2 minor pass protection problems and I likely knit picked those too much. It was a great all-around game for him. He was pretty flawless at center when Pouncey had to leave for a few plays in addition.
Jonathan Scott - It must have felt like Scott had the day off on the right side as opposed to playing on the left and he looked very comfortable and deliberate when he replaced Gilbert at right tackle. Pass blocking was spot on and only a few times did he miss in the running game and twice I believe it was out in space. Not a specialty of his. He benefited from some running back help a few times in pass protection, but was pretty sound off of the bench. He may be forced to start at right tackle this week against the Jaguars and we will hold our breath if that happens and pray for the best.
Marcus Gilbert - Gilbert was just getting into the groove when his shoulder was re-injured. In pass protection I have him allowing a pressure and a quarterback hit and only a few minor errors in the running game. He too had a solid block down inside on the long Dwyer run and worked well pushing inside. Very short day for him due to injury.
Trai Essex - Essex only saw 7 snaps and one of those he was a fullback on the David Johnson touchdown. He sold it well as he went out in a short slant pattern and actually drew the defender with him. As far as his left guard work when Legursky switched to center, I only saw one run play demerit when he pulled right and did not finish his block and keep his man out of the play.
Skill Positions - For the most part all of the skill positions blocked very well. Johnson can really make some crunching blocks as a fullback and I only really saw him miss assignment once from that role. Both he and Heath Miller had big parts in the Dwyer run additionally. Redman was good in pass protection and Dwyer was spot on in his few recognitions and had a very nice blitz pickup late in the game.