By Matthew Marczi
While Marcus Gilbert has made it through a season without missing a game for the first time in his three-year career, he certainly did not exit the season unscathed—nor has any of the offensive line.
His performance has fluctuated from game to game. More so than the rest of the line, Gilbert is liable to have either a very good or poor game—particularly in pass protection—on any given day. There are games in which he didn’t relinquish a single pressure, but he’s also capable of giving up a half-dozen at the drop of a hat.
The season finale for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Cleveland Browns ended up somewhere in between the latter and the former, though Ben Roethlisberger was often able to neutralize the poor protection to at least make an effort at a play, if not actually succeeding in connecting with a receiver.
Gilbert spent much of the game going up against Paul Kruger. Such was the case on this early first quarter play. It may be difficult to make out, but in this instance, Gilbert’s hesitant, delayed punch allowed Kruger to get his inside arm around Gilbert’s outside shoulder, which allowed the pass rusher the leverage to get around the edge. Though Roethlisberger was able to escape and find Antonio Brown for a big play, it certainly wasn’t because of the efforts of Gilbert.
Gilbert finished off the quarter surrendering a sack to defensive end Billy Winn, though the story isn’t quite that simple. While he allow Winn to get to his inside, it certainly appears that Gilbert was anticipating inside help, probably from David DeCastro, as Gilbert was most preoccupied with protecting the outside edge.
As hinted at above, of course, not all pressures are created equal, and this late first half play is another example of that. Kruger was able to walk Gilbert back in the pocket some on a straightforward bull rush, but it was Roethlisberger fleeing the pocket that allowed Kruger to release and chase. Gilbert’s back is obviously turned to the quarterback, so it’s nearly impossible to anticipate and adjust in time in such situations.
The third quarter presented another play in which Roethlisberger nearly turned a disaster into a big play, as pretty much only DeCastro was able to hold his block on a four-man rush. Both tackles allowed the rushers to walk up the arc, forcing Roethlisberger to step up in the pocket, though he nearly hit Jerricho Cotchery for a touchdown pass.