View Full Version : Steelers Finally Help the Line With Maurkice Pouncey

04-23-2010, 01:16 AM
Steelers Finally Help the Line With Maurkice Pouncey

4/22/2010 9:29 PM ET By JJ Cooper

Maurkice PounceyPittsburgh doesn't usually pick offensive lineman in the first round. But after watching Ben Roethlisberger run for his life in recent years and the running game struggle to convert third and ones, the Steelers decide it was time to give the offensive line some help by picking Florida center/guard Maurkice Pouncey with their first-round pick.

Pouncey is the only first-round offensive lineman on the current Steelers roster. Kendall Simmons, a five-year starter but somewhat disappointing guard, was the Steelers' last first-round offensive lineman back in 2003. Alan Faneca, a perennial Pro Bowl guard, was the Steelers' first-round pick in 1998.

The consensus among experts was that Pouncey is one of the safest picks in this year's draft, someone that almost everyone likes. While players like Mike Iupati may have better upside than Pouncey, there are few players more NFL ready than Pouncey. Pouncey started for three years at Florida--one season at guard and two at center. Because of the Gators' use of the spread formation, Pouncey will have to learn how to snap to a quarterback lined up under center, but it's likely that he'll either start at guard (for Trai Essex) or center (for Justin Hartwig) as a rookie.

Because of a quirk of a good crop of SEC defensive tackles he's gotten a chance to play a lot of college's best big men. He's faced Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams (a likely first-round pick), Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody (a likely second-round pick) and Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens (a likely third-round pick) over the past several years. That doesn't guarantee that Pouncey will immediately feel at home blocking Haloti Ngata, Shaun Rogers and Antwan Odum, but it's a good start.

If you're looking for a comparison, Max Unger and Eric Wood, the top two center/guard prospects in last year's draft, each allowed four sacks as rookies, although it's worth noting that both played guard and Wood was lost for the season with a leg injury in Week 11.

The first question will be where he will play. The conventional wisdom is that he will replace Essex, but if the Steelers want to help their pass protection he may be better off playing at center in 2010. Where did the Steelers pass protection problems come from? Look to the interior of the line.

Let me preface this by saying that assigning blame on sacks is never perfect. I say that in part because Steelers center Justin Hartwig has pointed that out rather strongly during an NFL.com feature that us armchair experts sometimes get it wrong, which is assuredly right. We don't know what the line calls are and sometimes what may appear to be a blown assignment by one lineman is actually him trying to cover for someone else's mistake. But most sacks are relatively clear cases of someone being physically beaten. If there is a sack where it's not possible to reasonably determine who gave up the sack, I just assign that to confusion/play call without assigning blame to any one player.

I prefaced this paragraph with that because Hartwig seemed by my analysis to be the biggest culprit for Pittsburgh's sack problems. Many centers go through the season allowing one or two sacks. Jets' center Nick Mangold allowed two sacks last year, one of which could be blamed on Mark Sanchez holding the ball for 3.8 seconds. Panthers' center Ryan Kalil allowed 1.5 sacks last year, none of which could really be blamed on him (two of the half-sacks came on plays where the quarterback held the ball for 3.7 seconds or more, while the other one came on a play where he was asked to block two men because of a clever Eagles' blitz scheme). Titans center Kevin Mawae gave up half a sack all season. Ravens' center Matt Birk gave up 1.5. You get the idea--the best NFL centers are very rarely having to apologize to the quarterback for getting beaten by pass rushers.

That's not true with the Steelers. Hartwig allowed seven sacks, worst in the NFL for a center. None of those sacks came when Roethlisberger held the ball for longer than 3.3 seconds and only six of them came when Roethlisberger was hit in three seconds or less, so unlike most Steelers' linemen, Hartwig can't blame it on Roethlisberger's love of dodging pass rushers. Hartwig was only physically blown off the ball on one of those sacks (Trevor Pryce destroyed him for a Week 16 sack), twice his man flushed Roethlisberger before someone else picked up the sack and several other times he was not quick enough to keep his man from getting a step on him to shoot the gap.

Where else could Pouncey start? Guard Chris Kemoeatu allowed 5.5 sacks, two of which could be blamed on the slow clock in Roethlisberger's head, but it's very unlikely that Pittsburgh would give up Kemoeatu's run blocking skill to improve it's pass protection at that spot. Essex is more likely to lose his job, but Essex allowed only three sacks last year, only one of which came in less than three seconds, so it's not like benching him is going to improve the Steelers' sack numbers.

Maybe Pouncey will be playing guard this year while he learns the center-quarterback exchange, but before long ideally he'll be filling Hartwig's shoes.

04-23-2010, 02:41 AM
That's not true with the Steelers. Hartwig allowed seven sacks, worst in the NFL for a center. None of those sacks came when Roethlisberger held the ball for longer than 3.3 seconds and only six of them came when Roethlisberger was hit in three seconds or less,

According to his previous paragraph, these are all places where Hartwig simply physically got beat. Not places where it could have been an assignment issue or confusion.

Physically got BEAT.

Yeah, I would say that is a very good first round pick. 7 sacks is quite a bit.

04-23-2010, 09:18 AM
I am very happy with getting Pouncey in the first round. Also, this kid is only going to be 21 years old heading into the 2010 season. Now let's work on getting a DB, Safety, DL, LB, WR and RB with our last 9 picks.

Men of Steel
04-23-2010, 10:31 AM
FINALLY, an OL for a 1st rnd pick.

im exited,,,, reminds me of the fine years when our solid Oline was COMPOSED of 1st rounders, and that was Smashmouth football.

its definetly and upgrade... cant wait for this year.!!!!