By Matthew Marczi
Because of his unheralded entrance into the team and his lack of pedigree, left guard Ramon Foster has by and large gone unnoticed amidst the attention and scrutiny paid the other linemen, whether it is due to their draft positions and expectations or the fact that they are expected to step in to replace somebody else.
No, Foster has always simply been the steady, dependable rock, never missing a game and always ready to fill in for an injured starter. It really is a wonder how many games he started before this season considering 2013 is the first year in which he was looked at as the starter.
While never a Pro Bowler, Foster has generally been a reliable and consistent performer along the offensive line, and has only gotten better over the years. Indeed, as a pass protector, he has really grown to be an asset.
In 271 snaps of pass protection, Foster has given up two sacks, one hit, and five hurries in half a season. In Pro Football Focus’ data, that is good for sixth in the league in terms of Pass Blocking Efficiency among guards, trailing only the likes of Louis Vasquez, Josh Sitton, and Larry Warford.
Though his slightly negative run-blocking grade drags him down a bit, the site grades Foster’s pass protection out at 5.8, which is tied for the seventh-highest in the league. Still, thanks in part to his clean play, even his overall grade places him 12th among guards. Coming off a one-hurry game against the Patriots, Foster has really blossomed into a leader for the linemen both off and on the field.
Foster spent a good portion of the afternoon lined up over defensive tackle Chris Jones, who graded out the worst of either team as a pass rusher. When he gets handled like this in isolation by Foster, it is hard to earn your keep against the pass.
All the while, Foster was charged with watching Ben Roethlisberger to signal to center Fernando Velasco when to snap the ball in an effort to combat the crowd noise. And it would only be a couple minutes later that this quality one-on-one protection would help lead to Roethlisberger’s 200th career touchdown pass.
The 201st was a bit more adventurous, however.
Off the snap, Foster was charged with watching the linebacker to assure that he dropped into coverage rather than rushed, which left Velasco on Jones. After the linebacker dropped, Foster was able to throw a chip Velasco’s way before peeling off to help Kelvin Beachum knock Andre Carter past Roethlisberger.
The last touchdown unfolded in similar fashion, with Foster chipping on the defensive tackle until he was confident Velasco had control, only to peel off and work the defensive end. Once again, Jerricho Cotchery was on the business end of the pass behind the strong pass protection.
With Foster and David DeCastro, the Steelers have two of the better guards in the league, and it is the strength of their offensive line. While DeCastro leans somewhat more to run blocking, Foster has carved a niche for himself as a pass protector more befitting of Alan Faneca’s spot at left guard than Chris Kemoeatu ever was. If only he could pull like Faneca as well.