Coming into Sunday’s game, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line were set to a face a Cleveland Browns defense that was vastly different from what they had seen before. Having signed one of the premier defensive coordinators in the NFL, Gregg Williams, the Steelers’ offensive line was bound to see a more aggressive defense with an assortment of different fronts and blitzes that is a trademark of his 4-3 defensive schemes. Although Sunday’s performance was collectively not one of their best, the Steelers’ offensive line acquitted themselves well by surrendering just one sack and multiple pressures. Considering the different 4-3 and 3-4 hybrid fronts Williams defense presented, the Steelers’ offensive line did more than enough to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as clean in the pocket as a quarterback can be.
David DeCastro displays why he is an All-Pro lineman
In this sequence, the Browns’ defense is showing a 3-4 under front alignment. The Browns nose tackle is in heads alignment with the center (0 tech), while both defensive ends are in shaded alignment (5 tech). Note in this play, the strong side linebacker is lined up in 7 tech and has contain; the weak side linebacker is aligned in the B gap with the inside linebacker lined up behind him.
When the ball is snapped, the strong side linebacker rushes the C gap, but he is picked up by tackle Marcus Gilbert. On that side, both the Browns defensive end and weak side linebacker overload the B gap, but both are picked by All-Pro guard David Decastro; thus giving Roethliberger enough time complete his pass to receiver Antonio Brown. From reviewing this play, one can speculate that the weak side linebacker mistakenly rushed the B gap, instead of the A gap which would have likely resulted in a sack. Nonetheless, it was an impressive showing by DeCastro in picking up both Browns defenders in the same sequence.
Picking up the stunt
One of the staples of a Gregg Williams defense is the stunt. In a stunt play, the defensive linemen are generally seen in a shaded alignment. When the ball is snapped, the linemen will cross and rush in different gaps. The objective with this type of stunt is to ensure that gaps inside are covered.
In this particular sequence, the Browns are showing a 4-3 over front, with each defensive linemen in a shaded alignment. When the ball is snapped, the left defensive lineman starts then tries to stunt into the A-gap. Notice how the offensive line is quick to pick up the stunt and congest, forcing the defensive lineman to find a gap on the other side. Meanwhile, the inside linebacker coming into the B-gap on the right side, is picked up by Steelers’ All-Pro running back Le’veon Bell. Once again, Roethlisberger is given more than enough time to complete the pass to receiver Martavis Bryant.
Steelers offensive line at its finest
In what was unquestionably the biggest play of the game, the Steelers’ offensive line gave Roethlisberger the protection needed to make the throw.
The Browns in this sequence is showing a variation of 3-4 Okie front; the strong side linebacker is shaded inside, and the weak side linebacker is in cover #2. When the ball is snapped, the left defensive appears to stunt into the C-gap, where his picked up by Gilbert. Notice the clean pocket in which Roethlisberger is given ample time to extend the play, and throw it deep downfield where Brown is able to make the incredible catch over three Browns defenders. What makes this play even more incredible, Roethlisberger was untouched for over 6 seconds due to the blocking efforts by the Steelers’ offensive line.
Behind every great offense is an offensive line that has to be great at all times. In this particular game the Steelers’ offensive line was not great on every play, but when it counted they rose to the occasion and gave Big Ben the protection he needed to help them win the game.