By Matthew Marczi
Although it ultimately sputtered out thanks to a missed field goal courtesy of Shaun Suisham and his former holder, Zoltan Mesko, the final drive of the first half was a productive one for the Pittsburgh Steelers in one respect: it provided a microscopic look into the macroscopic growth that guard David DeCastro has made in pass protection in his second season.
The first three plays of the drive, specifically, highlight the variety of tools he possesses that lends itself to the prediction that he is still on the rise with respect to being a strong pass protector to complement his quality run-blocking.
The drive began with a fine 21-yard completion by Antonio Brown to help get the chains moving. Although the ball was out relatively quickly by Ben Roethlisberger’s standards, the Oakland Raiders here ran a tackle-end stunt that has seriously been problematic for the offensive line this season.
To DeCastro’s credit—and Marcus Gilbert’s—the line picked up the stunt without a hitch and helped get the play off smoothly. Perhaps some credit is due to offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr., who has helped turn around the line’s mental miscues from earlier in the year, particularly on the tackle-end stunt. DeCastro also did a fine job of handling the stunt on the fourth play of the drive.
Here on the second play of the drive, however, DeCastro is faced with the much simpler, yet no less difficult task, of base-blocking a defensive tackle in isolation. Although the play ends in a throwaway, the strength and command that DeCastro showed in handling the block here is a testament to how much he has grown from the beginning of the year.
I believe the most visible difference in his play from the beginning of the year to now is the physicality with which he plays, and this is surely in no small part due to him playing with greater assurance of the offense and confidence in his abilities.
After the play, the man he was blocking, Daniel Muir, took liberties with his quarterback by pulling him down despite the ball being well out of his hands, and DeCastro joined in with his fellow linemen in protecting Roethlisberger.
Finally, one play later, DeCastro got a chance to display his skills on the move on a screen pass to Felix Jones. My personal favorite part of this play is that DeCastro ripped Muir to the ground without holding before leaking out to get in front of a linebacker. DeCastro’s second-level block here gave Jones the space necessary to get the first down.
In short, in the span of just three plays, we see DeCastro displaying the intelligence and awareness to pick up stunts, the strength and stamina to stalemate a defensive tackle on his own in pass protection, and then the athleticism and vision to get out in front of a screen to block downfield. While most of DeCastro’ praise early on has been for his run-blocking—which is admittedly more noticeable when successful—if he continues to string together series such as this one, he should be equally known for his skills in the passing game as well.