A More Positive Take On Marcus Gilbert Against The Redskins

By Matthew Marczi

It is probably safe to presume that nobody came away impressed by the starting offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers following their performance against the Washington Redskins in the second preseason game. From the easy swim move used to beat center Maurkice Pouncey for a sack to the multiple penalties negating third down conversions, there were not a lot of positives to take away from the unit’s performance as a whole.

I tend to be an optimistic person in general, though, and although still not encouraging, I do feel a bit better about the offensive line’s performance after being able to re-watch the game. I see no reason that they will not be able to rebound and perform well tonight.

In the meantime, however, I would like to take a look specifically at right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who has been under fire over the past season plus, whether it was falling on players or not playing with passion, whatever the slight of the day might be.

Like the rest of the line, Gilbert had his down moments throughout the game. He was not aggressive in chopping down linebacker Ryan Kerrigan on the pick six when he knew, presumably, that a quick pass was called, allowing Kerrigan to elevate and make an excellent play in snagging the ball and returning it for a touchdown.

Realistically, however, there were three elements of that play, and Gilbert was the least significant, as he neither threw nor caught the pass. Additionally, he was later beaten to the edge by Kerrigan, who was quick enough to penetrate the pocket and bat the ball out of Bruce Gradkowski’s hand. But more on that later.

The starting offensive line played throughout the first half. They did not get off to much of a great start on Le’Veon Bell’s single drive, though reviewing the tape, it is clear that Gilbert had little to do with Bell rushing for just nine yards on four carries. On the third snap, for example, which went for no gain, he had defensive end Kedric Golston under full control and showed a willingness to play through the whistle that many have suggested that he lacks.

On the first play of the second drive, he helped David Paulson and Jerricho Cotchery collapse the left side of the defense, leaving Jonathan Dwyer with an easy path to a double-digit gain. Unfortunately, on the next play, he collided with an unawares Dwyer, who seemed unsure of whether or not he was in pass protection or was a release valve. On the play, Pouncey was beaten for a sack right up the middle by nose tackle Barry Cofield, but given his eyes and his position on the field, Dwyer likely would have been in no position to pick him up anyway. The next play was the pick-six.

Gilbert got right back after it on the next play, however. On first down, he started on a double-team block with David DeCastro on Cofield and then peeled off to wall off linebacker London Fletcher at the second level. Unfortunately, DeCastro was unable to sustain his block on the nose tackle, who easily made the tackle on Dwyer after a three-yard gain.

Steelers Redskins Marcus Gilbert animated gif

Two plays later, he was rushed by linebacker Brandon Jenkins, who initially had the leverage. However, he soon firmed up and anchored himself, firmly holding off the linebacker as Ben Roethlisberger delivered the first down pass to Emmanuel Sanders. The only problem is that the pass was negated by an illegal formation penalty on Mike Adams over at left tackle. Adams was tossed aside on the next play by Daryl Tapp for a four-yard loss to force a punt.

Late in the first quarter, Gilbert showed good pass protection against Kerrigan, giving Roethlisberger enough time to hit Antonio Brown for a 20-yard pass. On the next play, though, he was beaten by Golston, who fought with Gilbert down the line to the left, ultimately making the primary tackle on the ball carrier. Although Dwyer still netted five yards on the first-down run, this type of play is one area that could use improvement from Gilbert in the run game, which occurred multiple times during this game alone, that could help turn those five-yard gains into 25-yard gains.

Steelers Redskins Marcus Gilbert animated gif

On the very next play, however, he helped make the big gainer to Paulson possible by quickly picking up the blitzing linebacker after the defensive line shifted to the offensive left side, leaving Gilbert looking for somebody to block as fullback Will Johnson picked up a rushing Ryan Kerrigan. Gilbert was initially heading to his left to assist DeCastro before picking up Fletcher coming in on the blitz.

Fletcher won the first round with the element of surprise, pushing Gilbert back a few yards. However, Gilbert quickly anchored down and completely immobilized the veteran inside linebacker, leaving him ineffectually flailing in the air. Credit, of course, also goes to Johnson, who stuck with a tough block on Kerrigan and eventually brought him to the ground.

Steelers Redskins Marcus Gilbert animated gif

Later on the drive, Gilbert continued to put in solid work against Kerrigan while Adams struggled with Tapp on the opposite end, when two penalties conspired to keep the Steelers out of the end zone. When it was finally third and 18, Gilbert worked well with Pouncey to double-team defensive end Stephen Bowen before peeling off the block to seal off Jenkins, opening a big running lane for Dwyer, who had a chance of converting had Sanders done a better job of impeding cornerback DeAngelo Hall down the field.

The first series with Gradkowski—which lasted all but two plays—was not a pretty one for Gilbert, on the other hand. On first down, he failed to get the angle on Golston, who proceeded to make the tackle after a one-yard gain. On second down, he was beaten for the strip sack by Kerrigan.

Pre-snap, Kerrigan slid over from head-on with the tight end to on the outside shoulder, which could have played a role in altering Gilbert’s angle of attack. Still, he seemed to be in fair position to at least push Kerrigan around the skirt of the pocket, but Kerrigan was able to shed Gilbert’s hand block with an uppercut move.

Steelers Redskins Marcus Gilbert animated gif

Fortunately, he was afforded the opportunity to stay in the game rather than on such a low note that significantly put a damper on his overall performance with the aforementioned strip sack. At this point, it is also worth acknowledging that Ryan Kerrigan is a very good player with a very strong and quick first step off the line of scrimmage, and is better than most of the pass rushers that he will see on the offensive right side.

Gilbert started off by helping afford Gradkowski the opportunity to take off running after Paulson slipped off his block and allowed pressure on the quarterback. On the next play, he stepped up to the second level and completely rode London Fletcher out of the play, all the while running down the field and maintaining his block, en route to a 23-yard run by Dwyer.

Steelers Redskins Marcus Gilbert animated gif

Unfortunately for Dwyer, he fumbled on the next play.

There is not much else worth highlighting, either positively or negatively, from Gilbert, who left with the rest of the starters at the end of the first half. He had another second-level block on a running play that went nowhere, and he also did a nice job to recover after being beaten on a rush, somehow blocking the guy to the ground without holding despite behing practically behind him. By no means was this a great performance from Gilbert. However, it was also far from the disaster that some have suggested, and it is certainly no fuel for the “bench Gilbert for Kelvin Beachum” fire.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • cencalsteeler

    My favorite play of that night. Will Johnson staying with his block on Kerrigan.
    Hopefully, that beat down the O-line took will put it into perspective that they still have room to get better and make the adjustments needed be a good line. In hindsight, sometimes a butt whuppin is a good thing. Smell the salt boys, it’s time to wake up!


    Potentially Gilbert has it, he shows some good stuff here, he just needs to sharpen up he seems to play a little soft at times, i’m hoping he can turn the corner and put in a solid display tonight

  • Brendon Glad

    O.K. I like that you are showing the positives and the negatives in both Beachum and Gilbert in your selection of GFs.
    However, you are using a game where one guy played LT and the other played RT. In general, to most everyone in the football world, those are two very different positions. I think most people, who have caught their brief glimpses of Beachum, would say: if Beachum can play four OL positions in the NFL, that his weakest one probably will be LT.
    On your side however, is the fact that Gilbert was forced to go against Ryan Kerrigan. Who is a beast. So that is definitely noteworthy…it may even be a trump card. Yet still, 2 different positions make for a difficult discussion on who is the better RT.
    It also appears to me you are slanting the analysis to favor Gilbert’s side in the matter. I have no idea why, unless you are fighting to be correct…

    But on the play where Jenkins beats Beachum to the edge and forces Jones to step-up, you said “Beachum got away with a hold.” One arm pushing/clutching at a defender on the edge is not holding unless he changes the defender’s body path movement. That did not happen.
    Then on the running play in this article, where you compliment Gilbert for executing a nice fold-block (finishing on London Fletcher), he totally grabbed outside of the interior pads and turned Fletcher’s body sideways with his grab. The VERY definition of holding on a running play. He probably was only spared the call because Dwyer was being tackled as it happened. I guarantee you that would have been called holding if Dwyer would have broken free. It was a classic holding call.
    Just be fair, man! I agree with tons of stuff you write on here. But to me, YOU want Gilbert to be a good player more than he does himself. And I think once it’s all sliced-up, that fact alone is likely the core of why it’s probably not going to happen.

  • dgh57

    Loved that play and block by W. Johnson also but did you see that DE at the top of the screen fake out both Adams & Foster for a QB pressure? They both seemed to of given up on the play(er) to soon! We don’t need that!

  • PA2AK

    Was a solid break down. Love looking at tape of the OL.

    If you look at some of the positive plays the line in general is doing a great job picking up the assignment with the right footwork/technique and winning athletically/physically. When you take a look at the negatives… Seems to me they are assignment errors. And most errors were followed up with a nice play -that is a good sign. With this zone block scheme…it’s just a different philosophy. Getting the ‘feel’ for it takes a bit, but it fits these guys well. Look for them to keep getting better and better with it. We have a lot of talent there. Guards are a really bright spot to me. It may even take a couple of games, but I think by week 4 we will be seeing some nice things out of that OL.

    Lets just hope they have done their conditioning and get a little luck to stay healthy most of the year.

  • PA2AK

    Seemed like a win for the OL outside of the Kerrigan pressure that was handled. Was actually a pocket.

  • PA2AK

    Looked at it again…see what you mean,but that’s what you get with Ben…most OL don’t have to block half as long…give them some credit haha

  • Matthew Marczi

    Brendon…I don’t expect you to take this at face value, but my writing is agenda-free. In my breakdowns, all I want to do is give an accurate representation of a players performance and highlight significant plays that illustrate key moments. I know that I wrote articles on both Gilbert and Beachum, but they were not intended to be counterparts to compare and contrast. They just happened to be the two performances that I was most interested in taking a look at after I re-watched the game. Other than John Malecki and Brian Arnfelt, who I’ve already written breakdowns for.

    I don’t ‘want’ Gilbert to start. I think he is the best option to start at right tackle. And I think that Beachum’s talent level is that of a backup. I just worry about the next-man-up mentality that arises within a fanbase when they’re not content with how a starter is looking, which all of a sudden makes the backup look better than he really is.

    It may be difficult to see in the gif, the Beachum hold that you reference, but it is extremely blatant on tape. Maybe that’s why you perceive what I’ve written as biased. I wrote that he “kind of looked like a child being dragged along while holding onto his mother’s dress”, and to be quite honest, he does, although now that I watch it again, maybe a more apt description is a little boy walking a really big dog who sees a cat. Beachum has a death grip on Jenkins’ jersey and is being pulled along. I mean…I’m not making that up. In all honesty, Beachum got away with several pretty clear holds, ones that Adams was getting flagged for.

    On Gilbert’s block, if that gets called as a hold, then every play will end in a penalty. Alex Kozora corroborates my observation, as he highlighted the same play:

    “Double-team Cofield and then Gilbert works to the second level and sticks to London Fletcher really well. Good job of getting his legs back underneath him when the ILB tries to shed. Makes sure he doesn’t end up holding him.”

    You are free to perceive things as you wish, but I assure you that I approach everything I write objectively and am nothing but fair. If I don’t genuinely believe something, then I don’t write it, and I don’t make up things that aren’t there to support my argument. You may want to read Mr. Kozora’s analysis of Gilbert’s day; I believe it’s an even more positive take than mine, and he highlights many of the same plays. He even gives him a pass on the reach blocks in the running game that I criticized him for.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Agreed, and cleaning up the penalties will go a long way to even more success, I think. Those penalties negated two third down conversions and pushed them out of the red zone. Maybe I’m just being overly optimistic but I have to think they are capable of playing a cleaner game. A lot of people look at the Redskins game and see sloppiness and miscues, but I look at it and see a line with a lot of potential that is working through bumps and bruises. It’s a process that will carry into the regular season, but I think they’ll continually get better and be more consistent, as long as they stay healthy.

  • PA2AK

    Yup…drinking the zone-cool-aide too. I’ve been through that same blocking scheme change (on the much less talented level of course) but the same thing seemed to happen with us. Once it clicked though…progress was consistent, quick, and quite evident with winning a PA state championship that year. I think the biggest ? Is whether Haley will go back to his old ways of maximizing the best talents on the team as he did with Arizonas pass game and KC’s run game. Hopefully Art II cuts his meddling garbage and let’s the guys he hired do what they were hired for.

  • dgh57

    I always give credit when it’s due, in this case Johnson & Gilbert. My point is don’t give up on the guy you’re blocking until the whistle is blown!!

  • cencalsteeler

    Hey there Matt. On all running plays gifs, notice how Dwyer stayed inside the numbers and didn’t bounce out? All of the gifs you posted show positive yards and nice runs from him. I think this is something we both agree on. His success depends on him staying inside, unless he’s more than ten yards down the field. He needs to leave the bouncing outside to Bell, LSH and Jones. Just my two cents worth and sorry it was off topic.

  • cencalsteeler

    Look at what might have happened if Antonio Brown and I’ll even include Sanders if they stayed on they’re blocks in the last gif.

  • dgh57

    Yes, that could’ve been a huge gain if Brown & even Sanders had stayed with their guys! Brown needs to work on his blocking.

  • Matthew Marczi

    You know, it’s kind of funny that you mention that, because I have actually been tossing around the idea of putting together an article on Dwyer’s struggles to the outside when he’s forced to read his blocks and make a decision. He had some trouble with this in the past as well, but it seems like maybe the zone plays are challenging for him to adjust to. While I don’t think he will ever have elite vision and be an excellent decision-maker, however, I do think he will improve in this area. I mean, if it’s something I’m seeing on tape (runs where he easily should have gotten more yards if he made a different/quicker read), then it’s obviously something the coaches are seeing too. Definitely correctable, and I still have confidence that the Steelers can win with Dwyer (or Redman, or Bell) as the back carrying the load. Last offseason, all the beat writers were raving about Redman and Dwyer and how they didn’t need to find an expensive replacement for Mendenhall because they could carry the load. Now all of a sudden they struggle through an injury-riddled season and they’re just a bunch of nothings who need to be replaced. Not that they don’t have their warts, but come on, have some discernment.

  • Brendon Glad

    Ok. I appreciate your professional response to my criticism. And you have 3 thumbs-up and I have 2 thumbs-down. So that shouldn’t go unmentioned. Maybe I’m wrong. I have been before, for sure. And I re-iterate I HOPE I’m wrong on Gilbert.

    My stance is this: 1)I don’t like Gilbert as a starting Steelers OL.
    2) I do not know whether Beachum is a better alternative…but I’d certainly like to see his comparison at RT broken down when he’s at RIGHT TACKLE instead of LT during this set of 2013 PS games before I say that he’s a lesser RT than Gilbert.
    3) On the Gilbert play we are discussing, in particular, Gilbert’s body is on Fletcher’s left body. Gilbert’s right hand goes into Fletcher’s Left Armpit, Gilbert’s Left Hand goes to the back edge of Fletcher’s Right-shoulder pad. Then with a quick-jerk, Gilbert suddenly turns Fletcher completely around, and both end up on the other side of where they began 1 second before. The very definition of “holding”.
    It should also be noted that Fletcher likely analyzed it the same way I did, as he delivers a straight-hand to Gilbert’s face-mask after the play (by my eyes it was done in anger at the “holding”)
    4) On the Beachum play we are discussing, maybe I have been “jaded”…because if that is holding, then James Harrison got held every time he made the edge. We can quibble about that fact all we want, but in general, my #3 is called holding more often than this #4. I’m fairly certain on that.
    But once again, I’ll reiterate. I love your writing and analysis. I appreciate your writing, and only am disagreeing with you because I believe I am correct. While hoping that you are, in fact, correct. Keep writing Matthew. You are very good.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Good point that’s an easy TD for Dwyer if they stay on those blocks.

  • Brendon Glad

    Cleaning up penalties is easier said than done. These penalties usually involve players getting “beaten” by their men, and having to resort to illegal tactics to re-gain leverage in the plays.
    It’s of note that usually the positions on the team where the Steelers are weakest, are usually the places where most of the penalties occur.
    I find it to be no coincidence that OL and Special-teams claim a dis-proportionate amount of Steelers penalties.
    Whether it’s coaching, or the players themselves…well THAT one I’m still trying to garner a conclusion on. Because they’ve made MANY moves in all departments, both players and coaches…but the results stay the same. The person who “finds the solution” to either of those 2 Steelers’ weaknesses, stands to make a lot of $

  • Brendon Glad

    Dwyer reminds me of a “poor-man’s Barry Foster”. Yep, the guy who rushed for 1,700 yards…yep, the guy who didn’t want to be a great RB bad enough until it was too late.
    But to your point Matthew…the reason why I said “poor-man’s” is because I’ve yet to see Dwyer make that “explosive-decisive-violent” BURST through the crack like Barry did during those parts of 2 seasons of his best running.
    I’d like to see that. I think he can. I hope he wants to.

  • dgh57

    Yes a TD, if we were talking about RB Chris Johnson of the Titans and his speed!