Fernando Velasco’s Rough Send-Off Due To More Than Injury

By Matthew Marczi

There’s no doubt that the Steelers owe a great deal of thanks to Fernando Velasco and the job that he was able to do coming in cold and starting in Week Two, providing stability to a key unit that was threatening to unravel after just eight snaps.

That said, I have been consistent in acknowledging that much of his play this season has been graded on a curve—and rightly so—based on the circumstances of his arrival in addition to the pedigree of player he was being asked to step in for.

He has had his share of ups and downs throughout this season. Lately, there was more of the former than the latter. In his unfortunate season finale thanks to a ruptured Achilles, however, Velasco certainly looked like the street free agent that he was, particularly when it came to run blocking.

It started on the first play of the game.

Haloti Ngata single-handedly blew up the play by making the interior of the Steelers’ offensive line look like amateurs. He took on the double team of Velasco and David DeCastro by nearly clunking their heads together like the Stooges. He batted them both aside with ease off the snap, swam past them, and pursued and tackled Le’Veon Bell for no gain, setting a worrying tone for the day.

Velasco did allow some pressure on the passing game as well, and the first came toward the end of the first quarter. The Ravens ran a fairly straightforward rush on this play with Daryl Smith, who simply beat Velasco to the inside for really no good reason. It forced a rushed pass that fell short on third down, resulting in a punt.

He was beat on yet another blitz up the middle, as the Ravens essentially picked him with two players, leaving him blocking neither. In fact, the one doing the picking is the one that pressured the quarterback, while the other was picked up by Bell. Fortunately, the pass was still completed for a first down despite the pressure.

Velasco was also the main culprit in allowing penetration on Bell’s non-touchdown that forced him to bounce the run to the outside in the first place. He was too slow off the snap to pick up Smith, who placed himself to the A Gap on his left shoulder. Smith had an easy path to the backfield and chased Bell to the edge and to the collision that everybody has been talking about since. Velasco was injured on the next play, a play one could argue shouldn’t have been run.

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

    I know im biased when it comes to Velasco.. Marczi pointed that out to me weeks ago haha.. but I cant help but like Velasco for what he did this season. I certainly hope he gets back to 100% by next preseason and is under contract (vet minimum) to backup Pouncey in 2014

  • Lamarr56

    Velasco being injured is good for Pittsburgh in a sick way. Even though he is out for the year, he will probably not get much of a look in the free agent market, so we might beable to sign him back for cheap. Not how he would have liked it to work out, but it may go down like that

  • JAMESH

    This thought just occurred to me. Are the OLine injuries happening more at Heinz than on the road? Any correlation?

  • Virdin Barzey

    You get little complaint out of me when it comes to Velasco. He wasn’t perfect but giving the grave situation were were in once Pouncey went down, this dude get nothing but accolades from this Steeler.

  • cencalsteeler

    Sorry Matt, but I have to agree. A nice send off story would have been better than kicking a dog while he’s down. Get well Fernando. I hope to see you in the black and gold next year. Your contributions to the team were very welcomed.

  • 20Stoney

    You just have to shake your head at that first play by Ngata. That dude is a freak.

  • gevins

    I guess i am confused. On the third clip he sticks with his guy even though he gets blasted from the side. The guy he originally blocks stays blocked. I would put that on Decastro.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    I think you’re review of those plays is horrible.

    Play #1 Velasco is in position for the double team and Decastro knocks him away.

    Play #2 Decastro is helping out Gilbert but gives way too much ground, not many centers are going to be able to stop an ilb on a role right, Decastro should have been in that hole.

    Play #3 is a designed roll out, DeCastro vacates his spot to help contain the edge and Velasco and RB are never, ever, going to block to LB in that space. They slowed them enough for Ben to escape pocket to complete the play. Could have been better but I see more design flaw than anything else.

    Play #4 Foster jumps out to seal off his man, Velasco again has a long way to go to get to the block. You need to play to your player’s strengths…This is Velasco, not Pouncey, he cannot move that far to block a fast ILB, even though he has been asked to do that too often in these clips.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I only write about what I see on the tape. It would be disingenuous of me to force a narrative that isn’t there for me. I’ve never written anything that is personal against a player; my only interest is evaluating their play on the field. And isn’t that what you want from me, honest evaluations of individual play? I never like writing about negative play, but I take it as an obligation to tell the full story.

  • Matthew Marczi

    He let a guy run right into him and then right past him to pressure the quarterback.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think you’re looking for plausible deniability.

  • gevins

    It look like to me he was blocking the other guy and then got run into and that guy then pressured the QB. Just answer this who did Decastro and Foster block? Do you not shift your blocking? Velasco sticks with the guy he is initially blocking. Is he supposed to block both guys while Decastro and Foster do nothing. I still do not think it was Velasco’s fault. Being a football coach I would be upset with Decastro.

  • Don

    Reading someone else’s comment about Heinz Field and injury reminded me of a question..It has been my contention that the only explanation for the rash of injuries to the Oline for the last couple years is due to being overmatched, being out of position, and mental mistakes..once the cycle started it just got worse…more new guys, new positions, new uncertainty of assignment..equals injury..Is that a viable reason? Otherwise its just bad luck..

  • cencalsteeler

    True, but I think your timing of the article is off. The guy just went through season ending surgery on Saturday. Not trying to bust your balls, but, just thought the timing was bad.

  • AndyR34

    Matt – while I don’t always agree with you, I mostly agree with you. Anyone that thinks that you aren’t trying to be fair and unbiased is just a tool. I wouldn’t even grace their comments with rebuttals. You don’t really need to defend your work! :)

  • Matthew Marczi

    Well, of course the timing makes it look worse. Truthfully, he probably had his two best games prior to this one, and I was hoping to see better when reviewing the tape than I did.

    For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus rated him far better than DeCastro, and better than I did. I will say that he did a good job on screens in this game, surprisingly enough (and that was a big part of his positive grade). They were a bit more generous on him in pass protection than I was, but we both agreed that his run blocking was lacking (as it had been most of the year).

    I definitely have nothing against the guy (I have no reason to be, frankly). I’m sure you’ve noticed that I always tend to defend the scapegoats (back when Worilds and Gay were scapegoats…they’re now two of the best players on defense. Hell I defended Lewis 2 years ago before he broke out). The only times I write negatively about players are when something sticks out to me, and unfortunately this time it jumped out at me from the first snap. I guess I could have waited a few more days to publish this one, but I honestly don’t know if it would have made it any better.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Thank you, Andy, I appreciate that. I certainly don’t expect anybody to share my views on every single thing I write, but I hope at least that regular readers can see that those views are honest and not meant to promote a personal agenda.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Well, here’s how I see it. First, I have no issue with DeCastro on this play, because as I said before, he and Gilbert needed to be wary of Elvis Dumervil lurking on the far side of the formation. He looked like he was going to rush pre-snap but didn’t, so that left two guys on one rusher.

    My problem with Velasco on this play is that he doesn’t pick up the stunt. Bynes and Smith are supposed to cross each other, but because Velasco just lets Bynes go, they don’t even have to cross. The way I see that it should have been blocked is that once Velasco realized the stunt, he should have blocked Bynes (the one who got the pressure) and trusted Bell to pick up Daryl Smith (the one he was initially engaged with).

    It’s a difficult play, but the center above all needs to be on the stunts, and he’s done better than this earlier in the season with them. You can’t see it in the gif, but they did shift the blocking prior to the play, and in my opinion they had the right fit here. If Velasco would have just stuck to Bynes and let Bell pick up Smith, they would have been fine and Roethlisberger might not have had to roll out.

  • Curtis

    Put what you want Ben wasn’t on the ground or sacked or turned the ball over. To me that’s all that matters.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    I like your stuff…also have no feelings for Velasco one way or the other. All I have is the four plays shown and I disagree that Velasco was bad. Probably shouldn’t have said horrible, sorry, and never meant to imply ‘hack work’. Keep the articles coming, thanks.

  • Scott Miller

    How about recognizing decastro blew up the play. Funny thing is overall there was not much of a drop off at all from pouncey. Look back at pouncey’s wonderful preseason he was having