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Steelers Vertex: Loss vs. gain at offensive guard

In year two, Kevin Dotson is set to bring back the nasty to the Steelers offensive line.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With changes in the Steelers roster from 2020 to 2021, we’re going to highlight players lost at a position and the production of the assumed replacement. This week we looking at the loss of Matt Feiler and the retention of the player expected to start in Kevin Dotson.

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.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

As I’ve said many times before, the statistics for offensive linemen are basically nonexistent. When it comes to comparing Matt Feiler and Kevin Dotson, I can tell you both players appeared in 13 regular-season games in 2020. While Feiler started all 13 games in which he appeared, Dotson had four starts on the season filling in at both guard positions. Feiler played 850 offensive snaps during the regular season while Dotson played 360.

Other metrics attributed to offensive linemen are penalties and sacks allowed. Kevin Dotson was credited with three penalties against him on the season while Matt Feiler’s total is up for debate. According to Pro Football Focus, Feiler had two penalties called against him while Pro Football Reference has him credited for four. As for sacks allowed, Dodson did not give up any on the season where Feiler was credited with two sacks surrendered.

If caring at all about PFF scores from 2020, Dotson came in slightly higher with an overall score of 66.2. His pass blocking score of 87.2 placed him as the highest guard in the NFL. It was Dotson’s run blocking, which he was known for coming out of college, which brought down his overall score as it was merely 55.1 on the season. As for Matt Feiler, his overall PFF grade was 65.0 with a 69.6 pass blocking score and a 59.6 run blocking score.

One last number I like to look at with players comes down to their salary cap amount. Being on his rookie contract, Kevin Dotson only counts $944,703 towards the Steelers salary cap in 2021. Matt Feiler signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason for $21 million. Even with the first year cap hit being lower, Feiler’s $5 million is more than five times that of Dotson, so the financial benefit is obvious.

Now that we know Kevin Dotson is a much better financial deal for the Steelers, the next question is if he’s a better product on the field. You know what’s coming. Geoffrey, you’re up.

The Film Line:

Matt Feiler is a good offensive lineman. He was a good right tackle in 2019, and he was a good left guard in 2020. Feiler brought good mobility and great strength to the position. That was on frequent display in 2020.

Week 8, second quarter, 6:36. Matt Feiler (#71) is fourth from the right side of the screen

This is when Feiler is at his best, getting upfield, finding the middle linebacker, and driving them out of the play.

Feiler’s weaknesses aren’t in his physical ability, but in his inconsistent technique.

Week 9, first quarter, 11:26. Matt Feiler is the second lineman from the right side of the screen.

Feiler gets off the ball and into the defensive lineman, but despite the run going inside of him, he doesn’t secure the defenders inside arm, and that is enough for his block to be shed.

Notice Maurkice Pouncey (one spot left of Feiler) taking on two defenders and bringing the nastiness the Steelers are looking for in 2021. That choke-block is just Pouncey doing whatever it takes to secure a block. It stands out in contrast with Matt Feiler, who in spite of his physical ability, too often gets caught playing with the opposition instead of looking to finish them.

Week 13, first quarter, 15:00. Matt Feilier (#71) is the left guard.

Like this play. Matt Feiler is hand fighting the defensive lineman and lets him get through to hit Ben Roethlisberger. He swings at the defender and even tries to get a leg in his path, but he fails to get a lock on his man. Compare Feiler to David DeCastro (#66, right guard) on this play and you can see the difference. DeCastro gets his hand on the outside of his defender’s arm and while he gives ground, he keeps control of the block. Feiler is playing guard, but his blocking technique is better suited to tackle, where hand fighting is a bigger deal. Which is why I think he’s a much better right tackle than left guard, and it frustrated me a lot in 2020 that they didn’t move Kevin Dotson to left guard and Matt Feiler to right tackle, or even let him backup everyone.

From that last sentence you should expect I’m going to argue that Kevin Dotson is a better guard than Matt Feiler. Matt Feiler ended up missing three games in 2020, the Week 15 nightmare in Cincinnati when J.C. Hassenauer was forced to start at left guard, and the last two games of the regular season.

With Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Kevin Dotson all starting, the Steelers had their best interior three together, even if David DeCastro wasn’t his usual self at that point.

Week 16, third quarter, 8:53. Kevin Dotson (#69) is the second lineman from the right.

First off, Kevin Dotson is pulling. The Steelers pull their left guard a lot, and while Kevin Dotson isn’t as athletic as Matt Feiler, he’s still really effective on pulls.

Week 16, fourth quarter, 9:45. Kevin Dotson (#69) is the left guard.

Kevin Dotson is at his best inside, clearing lanes and moving defenders. On this play Dotson gets a hold of his defensive tackle, driving him completely out of the play and into the other tackle.

On both of the last two plays you can see David DeCastro having some difficulty with his man. 2020 wasn’t DeCastro’s best year, and for the end of the season, Kevin Dotson was the Steelers most effective interior lineman, especially in the run game. I honestly don’t know how PFF graded him that low in run blocking. It makes as much sense as the Steelers putting Kevin Dotson on the bench in the playoffs.

But that’s run blocking, how about pass protection?

Week 17, first quarter, Kevin Dotson (#69) is the left guard.

I love this block. Kevin Dotson transitions from the linebacker threatening a blitz to the defensive tackle in his wide alignment. His step outside gives the tackle an angle to attack, but it doesn’t matter. Dotson anchors and gets control of the rush, cancelling the inside rush and throwing the defensive lineman outside to add a little insult to the end of his domination of that snap. #94’s body language says it all at the end. He had an angle and a head of steam and got whooped. Dotson jogging upfield like it was nothing is just fantastic.

That personality is exactly what the Steelers need on their offensive line, Kevin Dotson isn’t trying to win, he’s putting in work to dominate his opponent and make them feel bad about their career choice.

Week 17, first quarter, 0:49. Kevin Dotson (#69) is the left guard.

In the previous snap the Browns show blitz and drop, this time they bring the blitz, and if you count out the defender who makes Chukwuma Okorafor (#76, left tackle) stay out to account for him, the Browns have 5 rushers on 4 blockers. #33 comes free, but Mason Rudolph has room and time to get a clean throw off to Chase Claypool for the first down.

Look at David DeCastro and Kevin Dotson on this play, and how they collapse the rush into the middle, and in doing so actually take the rusher that J.C. Hassenauer is responsible for out of the play. Hassenauer helps, but the guards do the work. Dotson taking his friend from earlier (#94) and driving him into his linebacker is a great sight.

Week 16 involved a great second half performance from Ben Roethlisberger to comeback and beat the Colts. On film the biggest difference is Roethlisberger realized he didn’t have to get rid of the ball so fast, held on a bit longer and found receivers downfield. In Week 17 Mason Rudolph looked like a competent NFL quarterback, and plays like that 9 yard pass to Chase Claypool on 3rd and 8 against a blitz were a big part of it. The biggest part of that play’s success was the offensive line stopping the blitz and giving their quarterback a clean throw.

David DeCastro wasn’t playing well at the end of the season, but even then he and Kevin Dotson were able to give their quarterback time to make good throws and open holes in the run game. They also showed that they could cover for a young center who was struggling. There is a good amount of optimism for the Steelers offensive line in 2021, and there should be, based on what Kevin Dotson was able to bring to the offense in 2020.

The Point:

Offensive guard is one of the positions on the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers where a good argument could be made they have improved from the previous year. Kevin Dotson appears to be a younger, cheaper, and better version of what the Steelers lost at the position. What would be interesting is if the Steelers had chosen to re-sign Matt Feiler if he made the position switch yet again and moved back to tackle.

Kevin Dodson is the answer at guard for the Steelers for 2021 and beyond. The bigger question mark for this upcoming season at the position comes with David DeCastro and if he can return to his previous form or not. But the choice to move on from Matt Feiler, especially for $21 million over the next three seasons, was a no-brainer with Dotson waiting in the wings.