Since one of the most pressing issues facing the Steelers this offseason is how to handle the contracts of a number of players with large salary cap hits, we’re going to take this opportunity to break down the player statistics, salary cap implications, and play on the field to help determine what would be in the Steelers’ best interest. This will be the focus on our Steelers Vertex series over the next several weeks.
Starting off with the obvious choice of Ben Roethlisberger followed by Maurkice Pouncey and Joe Haden, we left it up to YOU, the readers, to determine which player we will look at next. Next up is David DeCastro as the top choice in the voter poll. For now, the choices will be players under contract for the 2021 season but the Steelers will need to consider if they are going to retain, extend, or release.
Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.
Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.
Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.
As stated above, the topic at hand this week is looking at David DeCastro and making a case for what the Steelers should do in regards to his contract in 2021. Should they have him play out the rest of his contract, work a contract extension, or release him?
Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.
The Stats Line:
Much like I said when it came to Maurkice Pouncey, when it comes to offensive linemen stats are not easy to come by. Various honors such a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections are one measuring stick, but sometimes these awards are more about name recognition than play on the field. When it comes to David DeCastro, he is a six time Pro Bowler and two time first team All-Pro selection. DeCastro has made the Pro Bowl each of the last six seasons and was selected first team All-Pro in 2015 and 2017.
When it comes to DeCastro’s contract, he is entering the last year of his deal and is set to have the biggest salary cap hit of his career. With $5,547,500 in dead money this year, DeCastro’s salary for the season is $8.75 million. At 31 years of age, it’s tough to judge if DeCastro is worth an extension.
When it comes to truly evaluating DeCastro’s worth to the Steelers, the film should tell an interesting story.
The Film Line:
Like Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro has won awards and been one of the top players at his position for years. Also like Maurkice Pouncey, he isn’t young anymore. DeCastro has always been a fantastic pass blocker, and he continued that in 2020, when he gave up zero sacks and was called for one holding penalty in 555 pass blocking snaps.
DeCastro has great movement, a very solid anchor and he reads the defense and communicates well with his team mates.
Week 3, 1st quarter, 4:37. David DeCastro (66) is the right guard, just to the left of the center on screen.
Here he is in help mode. You can see him reading the linebacker (#41) for a late rush, and once he sees that the linebacker commit to covering James Conner, he provides help to Chukwuma Okorafor who is blocking J.J. Watt. It’s hard to see here, but Watt does not get a hand on Roethlisberger until he falls on the pile. Roethlisberger is sacked here because of the other side of the offensive line. The Texans run a tackle-end stunt with an outside linebacker driving Feiler back and the tackle going outside the end. Matt Feiler stays on the end, is driven back and the tackle is free to get to Ben Roethlisberger. Meanwhile the outside linebacker for Houston (#59) is able to beat Alejandro Villanueva around the arc, partly because of the deep set Roethlisberger takes, and his inability to step up because of the tackle and end both getting into the pocket.
Compare that play to later in the game when they ran that stunt to the other side.
Week 3, 2nd quarter, 11:32. David DeCastro (#66) is lined up to the right of the center.
When they attack long time teammates Pouncey and DeCastro, you can see how quickly and fluidly they adjust to the stunt and shut it down. DeCastro steers him into a waiting Pouncey and has the stunting tackle lined up when the ball is thrown. Matt Feiler doesn’t do as well as a free blocker either, even as the end cuts inside on Villanueva.
I’m not trying to bash on Feiler here, he’s not bad, Steelers’ fans are just used to seeing an incredibly high level of execution from their own line, and other lines give up sacks to our pass rush. Few guard/center combos work together as well as DeCastro and Pouncey do, sadly the day is approaching when we won’t have that anymore.
David DeCastro is still an elite pass blocker, his pass blocking was really good throughout 2020, you need to know that, because his run blocking wasn’t.
Week 5, 1st quarter, 6:10. David DeCastro is the right guard
David DeCastro has great lateral movement, and in run blocking is often much better at controlling his man’s lateral movement rather than just driving him backwards. You can see on this play the defensive tackle starts heading inside but DeCastro cancels his movement inside, and when the tackle tries to get leverage to his outside, just moves him that way, creating a lovely hole for James Conner. I really don’t set out to bash Matt Feiler, but this play is yet another example of Feiler not being a good fit at guard, as these interior reach blocks are not something he can reliably pull off.
Week 3, 3rd quarter, 12:26. Watch the defensive tackle, second from the top of the screen.
Did you see that push? The defensive tackle is driven back behind the orange first down line and the Steelers converted on 4th and 1. I wanted to show that push, here’s the angle where you can see DeCastro at work.
David DeCastro is to the left of the center on screen.
It’s a double team block from DeCastro and Okorafor, but you can see DeCastro make the hit that drives the tackle backwards, clearing the way for the running back to convert. It may be hard to remember, but the Steelers were converting a lot of short yardage plays early in the season.
Through 5 games the Steelers faced 16 third or fourth down plays needing a yard for the first down. The Steelers kicked one field goal, punted once and tried for a first down 14 times, converting 11 of those attempts, the three they didn’t convert include a run for a 1 yard loss from James Conner, an incomplete pass and Anthony McFarland getting stuffed for no gain. The incomplete pass and Anthony McFarland run for no gain led directly to a run on 4th down that was converted, and the James Conner loss of a yard led to a FG on 4th and 2 that isn’t included in this list.
In the first 5 games, the Steelers got to third and one nine times, they kicked one field goals, and got a new first down 8 times. They reached 5 additional 4th and 1 downs, kicking one field goal, punting once and converting three times. Through this time the Steelers started David DeCastro twice and Kevin Dotson twice and Stefan Wisniewski once.
In Week 7, the 6th game of the season, David DeCastro returned from an abdominal injury he suffered in week 5, and it was easy to see that he was not the same player.
Week 7, 3rd quarter, 13:06. David DeCastro is to the left of the center.
That’s about as bad as it gets. #90 for Tennessee is DaQuan Jones, a rotational defensive lineman for a team that struggled to stop the run. He destroys DeCastro.
Week 7, 3rd quarter, 9:30. David DeCastro is to the left of the center.
Here Jeffrey Simmons drives DeCastro backwards and off-balance with a one-handed push. DeCastro had no power in his upper body when he returned. He was still a better pass blocker than the rookie Kevin Dotson, but not by much, and he was a liability in the run game.
From Week 8 on, the offensive scheme would betray the run game, but with DeCastro hobbled and yet playing, it was a nightmare.
DeCastro gradually recovered and by the end of the season he was back to playing like himself.
Week 16, 3rd quarter, 8:53. David DeCastro is to the left of the center.
In Week 16, DeCastro was playing much better and Kevin Dotson was back from injury. J.C. Hassenhauer was back on the bench, and while opposing defenses still didn’t respect the Steelers passing game, the offensive line was back. It took until halftime for Ben Roethlisberger to get comfortable and trust his line to not get him killed, and once he did, it turned the game around.
As for the actual play? That’s David DeCastro losing first contact to Deforest Buckner and still keeping the run lane open, something he couldn’t do no matter who the DT was in Week 7.
Week 16, 4th quarter, 2:41. David DeCastro is the right guard.
And here he is winning first contact against Deforest Buckner, and taking him entirely out of the play. Buckner won NFL defensive player of the month in December, but the Steelers shut him down and ran at him.
When David DeCastro is healthy, he’s one of the best guards in the National Football League. When he wasn’t? He still kept Ben Roethlisberger upright.
As you can see, David DeCastro is a great pass blocker, and is also a quality run-blocking guard when healthy. The biggest issue for DeCastro when it comes to the 2021 season is making sure he gets back to 100% in the health department. If so, DeCastro should have several more quality years left in the NFL. The Steelers choosing to retain or extend DeCastro to help with his salary situation for 2021 would be a good move. Simply releasing DeCastro as a cap casualty? Not so much.
There are some rumors floating around that the Steelers have been shopping DeCastro for a possible trade this offseason. If the Steelers have made the decision to move on at the right guard position, it would be wise to get something in return, although it is tough to gauge what DeCastro would bring. Should the Steelers decide to roll with DeCatro and Dotson as their guards for the next season or two, there would be nothing wrong with it as long as they can stay healthy and DeCastro does not have a large fall off in his fully-healthy production.
Which player would you like to see broken down for next weeks Steelers Vertex? Make sure you vote in the poll below.
Which player under contract for the 2021 season would you like to see broken down for next weeks Steelers Vertex?
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Past Vertex breakdowns: