The offensive line breakdown from the week 8 game against the New England Patriots is now complete and what a great performance it was overall by the unit. This was the first time this year that the Steelers started the same group from a the previous week as they had been forced to start a different combination every week for the first 7 games of the season due to injuries.
Overall, the Steelers had all 5 starting linemen in the 80% or higher range this week and 3 of the 5 starters over 88%. That is always a good sign. They were certainly helped in pass protection by the huge amount of short passes and quick releases by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
While not overly dominate against the Patriots big defensive front in the running game, it was certainly good enough for them to rush for 98 yards on the day and a 4.3 yards per carry average that included 2 long runs of 18 and 16 yards.
As I always, I like to disclaimer these breakdowns and grading. Each player is graded as a pass or fail on each play. There is also quite a bit of assuming that goes on as far as the job each player has on each and every play. Here we go with the week 8 offensive line grading and breakdown scores against the Patriots.
Maurkice Pouncey – Pouncey showed why he was a first round pick on Sunday in all phases of his game. He had very few problems in the run game and was able to move the big body Patriots defensive tackles for the most part. With the Patriots mostly attacking the A-gaps, Pouncey was able to get off of his first block with ease and get to the second level when called for. Out in space he was also solid and had a key push on a block on an early run by Rashard Mendenhall. In pass protection he really showed his awareness of which way to help when not directly rushed at and I only have him as allowing 2 pressures on the day. Really a solid game.
Marcus Gilbert – Gilbert showed no ill-effects of the shoulder that has bothered him this year, but he did leave for a few plays after hurting his ankle on the interception. Upon his return he still looked dominant. As I have mentioned previously, he works real well with Ramon Foster, especially in double-team run blocks. He had 2 very nice pancakes that I spotted in this game. He plays through the whistle and seems very assignment smart right now. In pass protection he did allow a few deep penetrations, but nothing I would really count as a pressure. He is very strong in his technique, footwork and using his hands. He keeps good posture when sliding and dropping and always seems to have good leverage. You really couldn\’t ask for a better game.
Ramon Foster – Foster had another great showing at right guard and this matched his effort on the right side against the Titans a few weeks ago. Pass protection was nearly flawless and hew moved much better out in the second level in both the running game and the screens when it called for it. I did not have him down for allowing any pressures in the game and he used his arms really well in not allowing hands up in his mid-section. He also protected the A-gap much better this game, one of his weaknesses in the past. It was a really great all-around performance.
Max Starks – Despite allowing a sack and 3 pressures, Starks had his second best game since returning to the Steelers. He was able to battle Andre Carter and Mark Anderson pretty well despite being beat a few times, mostly on the edge. Although he allowed a strip sack, he was there to jump on the loose ball and prevent the turnover. Roethlisberger is also not afraid to step into the protection on his side even when Starks allowed it to be deep a few times. You can see the level of trust Roethlisberger has in him. Starks had a few tough times getting his man out of the quick passing lanes, but I never saw it result in anything negative. The only draw back is the way he moves in space, but that is not often called for and not suprising for a man of his size. He does however look to be in fantastic football shape now and can still get to the edge in pass protection without dropping to deep when he gets off the ball fast. Really a nice game by him overall.
Chris Kemoeatu – It really is feast or famine with Kemoeatu in both the running and passing game. His strongest suit remains when he pulls right on the counter plays and I must say that his troublesome knee looks better than it has all season. In pass protection he still loses the leverage battle quite a bit and allowed the Patriots pass rushers to get underneath his pads and push him back into the pocket. He allowed 6 pressures on the day by my count. He also was flagged for another hands to the face and this happens when he loses the leverage battle.
Jonathan Scott – Scott only saw 4 snaps at right tackle in place of Gilbert and 3 of the 4 plays were passes. He failed to get Carter on a fake stunt through the B-gap on a quick pass to Isaac Redman. That was his only demerit.
Skill Positions – Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown really carried the blocking torch for Hines Ward in this game and Sanders had a fantastic block out on the edge flipping a Patriots defender on the play. Brown also had one key down-field block in addition. Blitz pick-up by the running backs and tight ends was 50/50 as combined they allowed a few pressures and a sack. David Johnson did not have his best game run blocking. Isaac Redman did have a nice block out on the edge on a bubble screen.