View Full Version : Analyzing the Offensive Line: Trai Essex, You Are the Weakest Link

11-18-2010, 06:39 PM
Analyzing the Offensive Line: Trai Essex, You Are the Weakest Link
Posted on November 18, 2010 by JJ

The Steelers lost by 13 points Sunday, and they abandoned the running game midway through the second quarter. So you can probably expect that this week’s o-line report isn’t going to be a very happy report.

When it comes to pass blocking, the Steelers offensive line struggled to handle a blitz-happy Patriots defense. That could have been expected — a backup left tackle and left guard ensured Pittsburgh was going to get tested and tested often.

But when it came to the running game, well, that’s where the disaster happened. A week before, Cleveland had run all over the Patriots with Peyton Hillis grinding out first down after first down. Against the Steelers, all of a sudden the same linebackers who struggled looked like Pro Bowlers.

Pittsburgh’s offensive line had a lot to do with that. It wasn’t entirely their fault, as there were several running plays where a missed block by a tight end or wide receiver caused problems. But there were very few running plays where you could say that everyone did their job as designed. In fact, I only counted five of 18 running plays where the five Steelers’ linemen all did their jobs (as best I could determine them).

If you’re looking for the biggest explanation of why the Steelers couldn’t run the ball, point a finger at No. 79 Trai Essex. On 50 percent of the Steelers’ running plays, Essex failed to do his job (standard caveat: this is all as best I could determine). Considering that the Steelers were extremely run-right oriented Sunday night — they ran to the left only one of 18 rushing plays — having your right guard struggling to block his man causes some serious problems.

Essex’s troubles in the running game were all over the board. On two of the plays, Vince Wilfork stood him up at the line and then slid off his block to make the tackle. On two other plays, he was driven into the backfield by Mike Wright. On one other play he made a poor cut block.

But his biggest issue was his inability to get to the second level to block linebackers. On four different plays Essex failed to block the inside linebacker he was assigned to block. He only successfully blocked inside linebackers on two running plays.

It wasn’t all Essex, there were plenty of other problems. Before we get into that, here’s a look at the grades.
Player Run/Pass Good Plays Total Plays Percentage Pressures Sacks
Adams Pass 38 46 82.6% 7
Essex Pass 54 58 93.1% 4
Pouncey Pass 55 58 94.8% 3
Foster Pass 56 58 96.6% 1 1
Scott Pass 44 58 75.9% 8 1
Miller Pass 5 5 100%
Spaeth Pass 2 3 66.7% 1
Johnson Pass 0 1 0% 1
Hills Pass 12 12 100%
Moore Pass 11 11 100%
Mendenhall Pass 1 2 50% 1
Redman Pass 4 4 100%

Flozell Run 14 17 82.4%
Essex Run 9 18 50%
Pouncey Run 14 18 77.8%
Foster Run 17 18 94.4%
Scott Run 14 18 77.8%
Miller Run 10 16 62.5%
Spaeth Run 8 10 80%
Johnson Run 2 3 66.7%
Hills Run 1 1 100%

Adams Total 52 63 82.5%
Essex Total 63 76 82.9%
Pouncey Total 69 76 90.9%
Foster Total 73 76 96.1%
Scott Total 58 76 76.3%
Miller Total 15 21 71.4%
Spaeth Total 10 13 76.9%
Johnson Total 2 4 50%
Hills Total 13 13 100%
Moore Total 11 11 100%
Mendenhall Total 1 2 50%
Redman Total 4 4 100%

You probably noticed the grades for the Steelers starting tackles were pretty ugly. Jonathan Scott and Flozell Adams struggled all night with setting the edges of the pocket. In Adams’ case, his biggest problem was his lack of speed. Four of his eight poor pass blocks came when he was beaten to the outside with speed rushes. Two poor plays came when he was beaten to the inside (which he was vulnerable to because of his fears of getting beaten to the outside) and two came when he failed to pick up a stunting rusher. To Adams’ credit he was one of the Steelers’ best run blockers.

Scott’s problems were more frightening. On 13 different pass plays by my count Scott failed to block effectively. He had all kind of problems — he was beaten by speed rushes on five plays. He was beaten inside twice, and he struggled with who to block once.

But the most disconcerting problem Scott had was the one he appeared to be over. When watching Scott’s disastrous 2009 season, the issue that kept popping up was his inability to sink his butt and stop bull rushes. At his worst, defensive ends and linebackers could put Scott on roller skates — they’d simply drive him back into the quarterback.

It wasn’t that bad against New England — usually a rusher would get leverage and drive Scott back, but he did manage to reset and anchor just in time to at least give Roethlisberger a chance to dodge and move. But that happened on five different plays by my count.

On run plays, Scott’s blocking was better, but he really wasn’t a factor. Whether it was because the Steelers didn’t trust him and Ramon Foster or some other reason, the Steelers only ran his way once. His problems in run blocking were a penalty for illegal formation, two plays where he blocked no one, a poor cut block and a play where he was beaten to the outside.

Maurkice Pouncey was typically solid, but not as spectacular as you would think if you listen to the commentators. Pouncey shows great mobility — he’s great at reaching and blocking linebackers. But against guys like Vince Wilfork, Pouncey isn’t always able to root him out and drive him out of the hole. To his credit, there were several plays where Wilfork seemed to get the upper hand on Pouncey, but Pouncey then would managed to make his block because of his tenacity.

Wright beat Pouncey twice for pressure and Gerard Warren split him and Essex for a pressure as well. But he was pretty solid in the running game.

Ramon Foster’s grades look very good. But there is one caveat. As I mentioned with Scott, the Steelers were generally running the other way. But you still have to credit him with a very solid game. In pass protection, Foster was very solid, even when he was asked to make a couple of very difficult blocks where he was asked to pull outside to pick up blitzers. In the run game, Foster was nearly flawless — he had a bad cut block, but otherwise there wasn’t much to complain about.

11-19-2010, 01:17 AM
Great analysis. I think everyone watching the game knew that Essex was having an appalling shocker.

Bring back the big Legursky! At least he only gives up 20 yards in holding per game.

11-19-2010, 04:00 AM
i said before the season that Essix was our weakest link and should never be anything more then a 2nd or 3rd stringer

11-19-2010, 12:02 PM
Ben must feel really good knowing on every single pass play, at least one lineman is likely to completely whiff on a block and leave him exposed. i'd be sailing passes high too if i were him.