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.