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Can Steelers Win in the Playoffs?

NFL Week 10 – The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions played an NFL game last Sunday. It ended in a tie. It wasn’t a very well-played game and the overtime period in particular would make most football fans question how we spend our time on Sundays. If this is coming off dry and a bit dull, well, just be glad you didn’t have to rewatch the game too.

As far as the Steelers offensive line goes, it was actually pretty good. They didn’t blow me away, but they consistently held up in pass protection and created some lanes in the running game. These are crude stats not befitting a place like Football Outsiders, but any time you have more 100-yard rushers than sacks allowed, your offensive line probably played alright.

Lets focus on the run game first. I don’t have a lot of clips of Pittsburgh just shoving guys around the field, but as a unit they did a nice job of getting a hat on a hat and staying engaged.

The Steelers are running outside zone to the weak side here and make a nice gain. I really like the combination between the center Kendrick Green (53) and left guard Kevin Dotson (69). Dotson in particular reaching the nose tackle is really impressive. Obviously the nose is slanting towards him, which makes it easier, but getting across the nose’s face and getting him on the ground is a good block. Green isn’t as good, he doesn’t completely cover the linebacker up, but he does lock onto him and stay engaged until Najee Harris is by them.

Trai Turner at right guard (51) does a good job on the defensive end too. He doesn’t really move the end anywhere but unlike Green on the linebacker, Turner does completely cover his man up. All the defensive end can do is wave an arm at the back as he runs by. This is the type of block I was talking about that may not look dominating, but if you get enough of them on a single play, it’s tough for the defense to bring the back down. It’s hard tackling someone when a 320-pound man is pushing on you.

Here’s outside zone the other way and to the strong side. This play is helped by the Lions seemingly blowing their run fits, I’m not sure who has either A-gap for Detroit, but the Steelers do some good things on their own here as well. Green stays on his path and finds a nickel player (AJ Parker, 41) that dropped into the box as an linebacker late. Great pre-snap awareness and post-snap track to pick up his man. Turner at right guard handles his man (Nick Williams, 97) as well.

Once again, though, the guy I really like is the left guard. This time, though, it’s J.C. Hassenauer who replaced an injured Kevin Dotson during the game. He has a good feel to slow down and turn back from his path to pick up the middle linebacker (Alex Anzalone, 34) who tries to track backside across his face. He ends up blocking, or at least getting in the way of, two linebackers (Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, 44). His block, along with the tight end coming across the formation to help seal off the defensive tackle (Levi Onwuzurike, 75), is what makes this play.

The Steelers were also pretty good in pass protection for the most part. It wasn’t perfect, but they usually gave Mason Rudolph plenty of time.

The Lions didn’t blitz a ton against Pittsburgh, but when they did, the Steelers handled it well. Dan Brown Jr. (65) at left tackle (who along with Green probably struggled the most) might have gotten away with a hold, but everyone else on this play is rock-solid. Pittsburgh has six blockers and they pick up all six rushers. That hasn’t always been the case this year, but this is a unit that has really improved as the season has gone along.

On top of the Steelers offensive line improving, I do want to point out that Harris has consistently gotten better in pass-protection as well. Earlier in the season there were some real rough spots, but he looks so much more confident now. Between that and his receiving skills, he’s turning into a complete back in just one year.

I was surprised how much three-man rush Detroit showed against Pittsburgh. For a team that was struggling to pressure the quarterback, they seemed very content to drop eight and play coverage. It did work on this interception, and they did hold Pittsburgh to 16 points, but the pass rush certainly didn’t play much of a part in keeping Pittsburgh’s points down.

Before we go, I did want to point out the snapping situation from Green was awful. Green had multiple shotgun snaps in regulation that Rudolph had to really reach for to catch. Then in overtime, disaster finally struck when he airmailed one over the quarterback’s head. Harris was able to recover, but it resulted in a 19-yard loss and killed a drive. Green is a rookie, but this wasn’t a couple of off-target snaps, it was closer to five, and one of them was a drive-killer. Pittsburgh isn’t going to continue to play a center that can’t consistently make shotgun snaps.

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