2017 South Side Questions: Is Villanueva’s Early Performance Cause For Concern?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Are you concerned with the way that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has performed so far this year?

By the time the Steelers finished up the regular season, and pushed into the playoffs, I think that many would agree that Alejandro Villanueva was performing at a high level, perhaps among the best at his position at that time.

That is not how the season started off for him. In fact, he had a rough first couple of games and struggled through the first month and a half or so before really starting to settle down on the opposite side of the bye week.

If you go back even to the preseason, I think it would be fair to say that Villanueva has not picked up where he left off at the end of last year. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he has played poorly—there are others whose opinions I respect who would, mind you—it is clear that he is not playing his best right now.

According to Pro Football Focus, Marcus Gilbert is one of only three tackles so far who have not given up a single pressure through two games. Meanwhile, Villanueva ranks 46th in pass blocking efficiency, credited by them with giving up two sacks, one hit, and four additional hurries. Six of his total pressures allowed were credited to Sunday’s game. Reportedly, he had been sick during the week.

Even if we do declare that he has been struggling, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is cause for concern. We saw just last season how he was able to improve throughout the season and play at a very high level.

His play right now is not preventing them from winning, and we have seen him play better than he currently is. But I don’t think there is really much of a debate around the fact that he needs to start doing a better job, and soon.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Paddy

    He has been bad, but the line has been just OK so far!

  • pittsburghjoe

    I think this will get fixed. Just peaks and valleys right now.

  • CP72

    Did you watch E(w)reck Flowers last night? The Giants would give their right arm for Villy.

    BTW….Everson Griffen might be the best pass rusher in the league that no one talks about.

  • steelburg

    He definitely needs to be better, but since starting he has been a slow starter. He started the season slow last year and when he took over for Beachum although he was a lot more inexperience then. But he will get it going at least by the 4th game IMO.

  • LgFriess

    I’ve heard over and over that O-Line play and offense in general takes some time to come together at the beginning of the season due to the lack of practice/training camp time since the CBA. This is emphasized yearly by the radio and TV “experts” and seems pretty accurate. I can’t imagine he suddenly forgot how to play. Just has to get in the groove again.

  • dany

    If he’s like this by midseason sure, but I highly doubt that will be the case

  • Steve

    Villy went out with Heat related problems in this past Sundays game. Seems last year he started slow also and as the season wore on he got better, and I expect the same.

  • falconsaftey43

    certainly something that needs to change, but I believe it will. He’s looked better in the past, and I expect he’ll get back to that level.

  • Rocksolid20

    Why does production always go down
    after a new contract ?

  • Lambert58

    I think that nasty spin move is probably Villy’s achilles heal. It’s probably just a matter of being hot, i.e. Timmons pukefest

  • RickM

    Your last line sums it up. While he gets a free pass last Sunday with the illness, there’s no excuse for a slow start as a 3rd-year LT. He needs to start playing better to prove that the team was right to give him a new deal two years early. With Baltimore in two weeks, it’s imperative.

  • Brian Miller

    Yep, one of the best d-lines in football…

  • Douglas Andrews

    How about the Giants O Coordinator not giving Flowers help when it was obvious dude was struggling.

  • John

    It is a reason for concern but he should work out of it. BTW expect the Steelers to underperform against the Bears this week. The Bears were embarrassed last week and will play as hard as possible. The Steelers will give us another of those road performances that is underwhelming. Let’s hope we at least win the game. Remember last year in Philly?

  • Zarbor

    Not worried about him as of yet. He was ill the last game and pushed thru to play. Plus he was going against one of the better pass rushers in this league. I’ll save my concern for when he is 100% and we are playing against Baltimore. The whole o-line still hasn’t gotten back to form so I can’t put it just on one guy. Make no mistake, he needs to play better and I think Munch will get them all to play better.

  • jtr

    I wouldn’t read too much into the sack he gave up this past Sunday. Bell chipped the pass rusher on his way out of the backfield, but unfortunately he did it right as the end was trying a spin move to the inside. So instead of helping Villanueva keep the rusher from getting the edge, he ended up pushing the pass rusher further inside right when the end could use a boost in that direction. There’s probably not too many tackles in the league who can maintain a block against a top pass rusher who gets a lucky break like that.

  • JimK-51

    Yea, it’s funny how that work’s!!!

  • Mark

    Why can’t Foster or LeVeon provide some help. I understand it’s his job but let’s give the man some help, especially when they are only rushing 3 DL.

  • popsiclesticks

    Hasn’t for AB. Or Heyward. Or Gilbert. Or Pouncey. Or DeCastro or Foster or a lot of other players.

  • popsiclesticks

    Sometimes players struggle. All throughout the NFL it happens. If he’s still struggling in October I’ll be concerned but for now it’s just that.

  • NinjaMountie

    DD struggled mightily the year he signed his contract. I’m surprised you don’t remember all the talk surrounding it.

  • popsiclesticks

    He did for like a month but then regained his elite form, which suggests that he didn’t just mail it in because he got an extension.

  • NinjaMountie

    I remember it being for half the season. I agree with your above comment though. Players have highs and lows and there is no need to get worked up yet.

  • Matthew Marczi

    That was more with penalties than anything else. He still made All-Pro.