I’m not sure what it is exactly, but Alejandro Villanueva does not seem to get off on the right foot when the season starts. He did that last year, and again this year. But in both years, he has improved and tightened up as midseason approaches.
He put together a strong game last week against the Chiefs, and he was solid once again against the Bengals, though he allowed the only hit on Ben Roethlisberger on the day.
On the first play of the game, the end-around, he started out selling a right shift before working to the second level. He just engulfed linebacker Nick Vigil at the second level and then used nimble footing to turn and seal him out of the play.
Later on the same drive, he went at it with Michael Johnson, the two countering one-arm stabs to a stalemate, but Villanueva had already turned him out of the hole. Once he sensed Le’Veon Bell at his back, the tackle began to drive a bit, and the play went for eight.
It was at the end of the Steelers’ second drive that Bengals rookie Carl Lawson—and the guy I had mocked to Pittsburgh in the second round—got a hit on Roethlisberger. He really hit that one-arm stab and sent Villanueva stumbling up the field, drilling the quarterback on consequently off-target throw. Eli Rogers had room to run if this connected.
Early in the second, however, he did get to Cincinnati’s other rookie, Jordan Willis, hitting him with the chop that he has used effectively since pretty much his first game, knocking him off-balance and stumbling up the arc. This ended up providing protection for a 28-yard pass.
His showing on this particular play didn’t really have much to do with the result. I just wanted to point out that he kind of choked Lawson here. He tried to rip underneath Villanueva, but the Army Ranger wasn’t having it.
One big play late in the game was a key third-and-one stop. On the play, Villanueva did not adjust his wide set when Johnson shifted between tackle and guard, and the end blew the gap, as well as the play, for a four-yard loss.
Aside from David DeCastro because of the amount of movement that he’s involved in, I think Villanueva is the most fun lineman on the Steelers to watch. He still makes mistakes, but when he has everything working in unison—size, strength, athleticism, vision, film study, repertoire—he is as good as anybody in the game.