By Matthew Marczi
Perhaps nobody on the Steelers has benefited more from the newly-administered quick passing game that has dominated the past two games than center Fernando Velasco.
While he was a good pick-up during the season as a plug-and-play center, the reality is that he has not been anything more than competent for the vast majority of the season, and that was interspersed with some rather poor play, which reached its zenith with the Buffalo Bills.
Since then though, he has turned in two of his best games of the year over the last two weeks, and against a couple of tough fronts.
I have watched Velasco continually get beaten on a rip and go by defensive tackles throughout the season, so I have to admit that his recovery on this play from nose tackle Phil Taylor somewhat surprised me. Normally this move would result in at least a pressure allowed when pulled on Velasco, but not this time. He was quick to recover and got his arms back in Taylor’s chest before Ramon Foster chipped in to help.
As the season has progressed, the chemistry between Velasco and Foster has started to blossom, and this play is a good example of that. Velasco quickly realized that the left defensive tackle was going to stunt to the right, so as soon as he saw that he turned to the other defensive tackle as the two crossed each other. Velasco picked up his assignment with ease despite the aggressive rush and Foster caught his man. It resulted in a clean pocket for a first-down pass to Antonio Brown on third down back up in their own end zone.
Later in the drive, he showed his ability to withstand and recover from a bull rush. While he lost the initial leverage battle and got driven back a few yards, he held up and regained his footing. Once the tackle went up a bit to try to interfere with the passing lane, Velasco had him beat for good. Another first down to Brown was the result.
While run blocking has not been his strong suit, he and David DeCastro both had a good game in this regard. In the fourth quarter, as the Steelers were looking to drain the clock, he helped them eat off some time with his blocking on the ground.
On this play, he pulled out to pick up safety T.J. Ward, who had been a nuisance against the run all day, which opened the lane for Le’Veon Bell. Perhaps if Emmanuel Sanders could have gotten his block down, it would have gone for a bigger gain, but he didn’t turn around in time.