The games between the Bengals and the Steelers are usually decided by which offensive line can control the game the most. Of course, this is true for basically any contest between two football teams, but you know the narratives: AFC North, Bengals, Steelers, Lewis, Tomlin, hard-nosed, toughness-
That’s enough small talk, let’s dive into another week of lineman play:
Uzomah and Kroft display physicality
I’m well aware the series is called The Weekly Lineman, but blocking and the components of what lineman do transcend more than just those who have the title of a lineman.
So many times, pass protection and run blocking breakdown because the tight ends lose their one-on-one assignment, or they get lost in the second level. The Bengals pass protection and run blocking is far from perfect right now, but it has little to do with how C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft are playing.
This play is a terrific example of how a bad result can skew an opinion of the blocking, Focusing on Uzomah (#87 in white), this is textbook:
The controlled power Uzomah generates from his lower half is an impressive testament of his technique, but the important aspect is that he almost always finishes, taking his man out of the play for good.
Kroft got much more playing time as he continues to come back from his preseason knee injury, and his blocking looks on par from what it was last season. Here he is motioning into the screen to the right (#81 in white):
Due to the play action, the Steelers front started flowing to their left with the way the Bengals line started, this sets up the first half of the throwing lane for Andy Dalton. Kroft meets linebacker James Harrison on the play side, and manages to stay strong after the point of attack and establish the second half of the now wide open throwing lane for Dalton, leading to the completion.
Kroft also does a great job of finishing his blocks as seen here (far right):
Hopefully we’ll see these two again in this piece later this season. As Tyler Eifert’s return may reduce their time on the field, they’ve shown they can stay on it when it comes to blocking. Now they just have to remember to wear gloves in the rain.
Pressure is Production
If you read last week, you may remember this phrase. Pressure is absolutely production, and there were a few instances this past week where we saw quality pressure from the Bengals defensive line, where the lineman did more than just run at the quarterback unblocked.
Coming in for Geno Atkins at defensive tackle, Pat Sims (#92 in white) does a fantastic job of setting up right guard David DeCastro for failure:
It’s difficult to see from the endzone angle, but Sims at initial contact leads with his outside hand, his left in this case, and DeCastro responds by readying himself to counter with his inside hand to force Sims further to his right, and is faced far too outside in the process. Sims provides his own counter and swipes DeCastro’s punch and uses his positioning against him, and runs right to Ben Roethlisberger, whose throw is altered by the pressure.
Later in the game, defensive end Carlos Dunlap (#96 in white) was showcasing play recognition that led to another Steelers incompletion. The Steelers pull the left guard Ramon Foster across the line and fake their variation of a trap run with play action.
Dunlap’s responsibility goes from contain to rusher, and as he realizes Foster isn’t going downhill; he utilizes good hip flexion and corners around Foster at the top of the edge. The result is him getting to Roethlisberger with ease, causing the throw to go high:
Now, incomplete passes for the defense is production, but better production is obviously sacking the quarterback. And the guy who winds up with the sack, isn’t always the only one who beats his man.
On Will Clarke’s first sack of the year and first sack since Week 2 of last year, he transitions from a bull rush and rips his inside arm under left tackle Alejandro Villanueva’s and bends around to find Roethlisberger.
This is encouraging work by Clarke, but look at the other side of the line. We’ve all seen Atkins bench his assignment backward before like he does here, but watch Margus Hunt turn speed into power. He still has trouble disengaging, but he and Atkins diminish the pocket to where Roethlisberger has nowhere to climb and escape from the incoming Clarke.
The holds that weren’t holds
Oh boy there were a lot, A LOT, of uncalled holding penalties on the Steelers. And all of them were egregious. Just observe:
Johnson (#90) can’t break free of a hug:
Clarke has his collar grabbed: (left side of screen)
Dunlap gets formed tackled: (right side of screen this time)
Johnson gets choked part 1 (featuring a Foster hold next to him on the left):
Johnson gets choked part 2 (left side of the screen again):
And finally, my favorite, Johnson gets bear-hugged to the ground (left side of the screen yet again):
The fact that NONE of these were called is just absurd, especially when almost all of them were from one guy: Villanueva. Yes, offensive holding is by far the most frequent infraction that takes place regardless of if it’s called or not, but the fact that this performance by the Steelers offense went completely unpenalized for the entirety of the game is just bonkers.
But, this is not an article to bash the refs, so I will not directly go there. Instead, this is to show people how to play offensive line. If you want to show them how to get away with murder, maybe we can continue down the uncalled penalty trajector.
That’s all I have for this week. I know for a fact that I left some uncalled holds out, but there were so many that I couldn’t get to them all. I’ll see y’all next week to breakdown the lines’ performances against the Denver Broncos.