The Pittsburgh Steelers had to make a change at the left tackle position. Mike Adams was not living up to the standard after moving to the blind side in his second year, and his struggles were actively hindering the Steelers offense. Adams' replacement was Kelvin Beachum - taken 192 picks after Adams in the 2012 draft. Beachum wasn't expected to play like an All-Pro in his first start at left tackle, but he was expected - like every other player on the offense - to do his job.
It was a rocky first quarter for Kelvin Beachum. He wasn't settled in to the game and having to go against Jets defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson at times was not an easy task. In just the second series of the game, Beachum was overpowered and beat to the inside by Wilkerson for what would've been a safety if Ben Roethlisberger wasn't Ben Roethlisberger. That was the first and last time Beachum allowed Roethlisberger to be hit.
In the first half, Pittsburgh ran the ball 10 times for only 15 yards. In the second half, the offensive line started to settle in and improved on that mark, running the ball 16 times for 61 yards (3.8 yards per carry still is not stellar, but was more than double the average before halftime). As the running game started to improve (against a top-5 rushing defense), the play-action pass became a viable option. Play-action passes usually take some time to develop, and here Beachum proved to be more up to the task than his predecessor.
In this play, the Steelers are utilizing two TEs and Will Johnson is also lined up on the end of the line - a formation that is telling the defense to expect a run.
Pittsburgh goes play-action though, and Beachum starts by kicking out wide. He immediately looks at the Jets OLB and sets his feet to engage the bull rush. Beachum does allow the defender to get into his body and drive him back, but he gathers himself and is able to push the linebacker wide. Roethlisberger gets to the bottom of his drop and no player is open when he sets his back foot. Although Beachum lost the initial battle, his ability to regather and push the defender wide allowed Roethlisberger to step up and buy a little more time. Sanders came open across the middle, however a defensive linemen jumped into the throwing window, forcing Roethlisberger to just throw it away.
This wasn't an amazing play, but it does display why Beachum is now starting at LT and should continue to start over Adams. Beachum recognized what the defender was trying to do and set up to prevent it. He used his arms to slow the pass rusher and even once he was initially beat, he didn't quit and did enough to buy his QB more time. Beachum doesn't have the physical size, arm-length, or power to be a dominant LT in both phases of the game, but he is smart enough to be an effective pass blocker.
Beachum did have three penalties - two holding calls and one false start. Penalties aren't necessarily a bad thing, as Roethlisberger said in late September that he wanted his O-linemen to play nasty even if that meant getting an occasional flag. When Beachum got his second holding penalty during the fourth quarter, he was playing nasty. He was pass blocking and during the course of the play threw his defender to the ground, drawing a flag for holding that was questionable when looking at the replay. Even with the penalty, it sent a message to a physical defense and was exactly what Ben was describing back in September.
That wasn't the only message the offense tried to send against the Jets physical defense. In the fourth quarter, up by 13 with three minutes left in the game and the ball in hand, Pittsburgh had a chance to run out the clock and win - and try to revive a Steelers tradition that's been lost of late.
On first down, Pittsburgh lined up in a Pro-I Right Wing right formation, then motioned Will Johnson to the right making an Offset-I formation. The play was 34 Lead Dive with Le'Veon Bell. Bell ran for two yards and the Jets used their second timeout of the half.
It was the next two plays where the Steelers offense really made their statement.
Here the Steelers start out in a Pro-I Left Wing formation and then motion the FB to the left. They run 33 Lead Dive with Bell - the exact same play from first down, but to the left instead of the right. When Bell gets the ball, every linemen has their hat on their man but there is no visible hole. Bell pushes to the left and cuts back to the right. Velasco has done a good job getting to the linebackers, while DeCastro has sealed Sheldon Richardson to the right and driven him up field. There is a small gap that Bell hits hard. The play goes for six yards and it is now 3rd-and-2. The Jets use their third and final timeout.
The Steelers again line up in the Pro-I Left Wing Left formation. They motion Johnson to the left again and run the very same play - 33 Lead Dive. Dwyer is in the backfield. Foster's man shoots inside and Foster keeps driving him to the right and out of the play. Beachum puts a hat on the Mack LB, Velasco gets to the Buck LB, and Dwyer has a big initial hole to run through. Beachum is stood up, but maintains his block and does help while Dwyer keeps his legs churning for a hard run of six yards - despite the Jets putting nine men in the box to stop the run on 3rd-and-2.
This was the offense's statement that the O-line and the running game were going to get the chance to seal the win. On this drive Pittsburgh chose again to run the ball three more times - all three of which were also 33 Lead Dive. Though they couldn't get another first down, the offense did run off most of the time left, forced the Jets to use all of their timeouts, and gave the ball back with just 30 seconds left in a two-score game.
The run game in the second half wasn't dominant, but was effective enough to set up play-action. In the fourth quarter the offense wanted to run the ball and get back to "Steelers football" to close out the game against a very physical defense. There is still room for improvement, but the young offensive line took a step in the right direction and helping close out the game in this fashion was a great segue to the physicality and mindset required for Ravens week.
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- Ravens vs. Steelers: Great Expectations Week
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