The Pittsburgh Steelers may not have managed to work out a new long-term contract with every one of their pending free agent targets—Le’Veon Bell would be the omission, though they reportedly were also interested in signing up Chris Boswell—they did manage to ink Antonio Brown, Stephon Tuitt, and Alejandro Villanueva to new extensions. Those were pretty big deals, literally.
I think Brown showed on Sunday why his was the highest priority, but Villanueva’s key left tackle position also finds him in the spotlight, so I wanted to take a look at his first snaps as an undisputed full-time starter against the Browns.
One play to note is the first of their second drive. Here Villanueva was slow to his kick slide as defensive end Carl Nassib dashed up the arc. With Ben Roethlisberger’s five-step drop, the rusher came quite close to putting pressure on the quarterback here. It still resulted in an incompletion.
He did a much better job of stoning newly-re-signed second-year end Tyrone Holmes early in the second quarter, using his sheer size to keep him at a distance. But this is a player who is only on the roster because of the injury to Myles Garrett.
So here’s another look at him versus Nassib, late in the first half. On second and eight, from their own 11-yard line, the third-year tackle was not able to use his reach to his advantage, but his pure power stifled the rusher and made easy work of him on what ended up going down as a 50-yard gain.
The drive ended fittingly with a touchdown, and Villanueva was again well-positioned to match Nassib. Knowing that he had inside help from Ramon Foster, he focused his attention on a possible dip outside, which proved unnecessary.
But he did give up the Steelers’ lone sack of the game, and it was Nassib who got it. On the second play of the third quarter, the second-year lineman used a rip move to get up the arc, putting Villanueva off-balance. That enabled him to about-turn upfield as Roethlisberger moved to his left.
The two players had a number of good battles over the day, summed up well by another skirmish midway through the quarter. The two both worked a one-arm rush-and-shiver against one another. As Nassib slowly started to win, Villanueva regathered and punched with his free hand to re-establish leverage as Roethlisberger flushed to his right to complete the pass for 10 yards.
While I would not say that he has picked up right where he left off last season, I think Villanueva handled himself well against Nassib, but he will have to be in mid-season form by the time that Garrett returns.