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Steelers Vertex: Loss vs. gain at offensive guard, Part 2

In one day in late June, everything changed for the Steelers at right guard.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

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. Even though we had already looked at the guard position previously, this week we are looking at the recent loss of David DeCastro and gain of Trai Turner.

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 numerous times now, statistics for offensive lineman are difficult to come by. When looking at these positions for things such as the Hall of Fame, the most common statistics are Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections. David DeCastro had stacked up quite the honors before his release and possible retirement this offseason. Jumping onto the scene in 2015 when he was selected to both of the Pro Bowl and as a first team All-Pro, DeCastro has been a Pro Bowl guard ever since. With six-straight selections, he also added another All-Pro appearance in 2017.

As for Trai Turner, he took less time in his career to get to a Pro Bowl level. While DeCastro did not reach his first Pro Bowl until his fourth season in the league, Turner was selected in his second season in 2015. Earning Pro Bowl selections five-straight seasons with the Carolina Panthers, 2020 ended the streak when Turner was traded to the Chargers and only appeared in nine games.

In order to give more data, rankings by Pro Football Focus at least give some numbers based on their scoring system. Although he took a step back to a 66.2 overall score which had him tied for 28th overall at the guard position with Kevin Dotson, David DeCastro was the top ranked guard in 2017 with a score of 89.0. Since that time, DeCastro saw a steady decline in his scores.

As for Turner, his top year came in 2015 with a score of 80.4 and was the eighth best guard in the NFL. Unfortunately, Turner’s performance fell off a cliff in 2020 with a 34.8 score putting him 79th out of 80 qualifying guards in the NFL. The ultimate downfall came in the run blocking department were Turner had a league-worst 29.8 score in 2020. But keep in mind, Turner was injured for the majority of the season as he only played one game prior to Week 10.

Two last numbers which should be noted is, although Turner will be called on to replace the great David DeCastro, he is being tasked to do it at a portion of the price. DeCastro was set to earn $8.75 million in salary in 2021 where Turner will only cost $3 million this season. Additionally, Turner just turned 28 in June while DeCastro was going into 2021 at the age of 31.

All this sounds great, but we all know what we’re here for. Let’s get to the film…

The Film Line:

David DeCastro has been a fantastic guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers for almost a decade since he was drafted in 2012. In 2020 he missed the first two games, then returned and, while he wasn’t 100%, was still David DeCastro.

Week 3, first quarter, 13:18. David DeCastro is the guard to screen left of the Center

This is good execution of Shaun Sarrett’s positional blocking by DeCastro. With a chip from Chukwuma Okorafor, DeCastro reaches the tackle and keeps him pinned inside while Conner runs past him. We won’t discuss Sarrett’s coaching, just know DeCastro was a positive on the line for Week 3 and early in Week 5 before he left injured.

When he returned in Week 7 he was not the same player, and while he would put good snaps on film a good amount, he wasn’t an anchor on the line and was frequently a problem.

Week 13, first quarter, 11:51. David DeCastro is the right guard, just below the center.

DeCastro gives a chip to help J.C. Hassenauer, but when he peels off to block the linebacker he gets stood up and stuffed into the run lane. That’s David DeCastro losing to a 231 lb. journeyman linebacker. Notice how he loses his power when he gets knocked high in his stance, that was a common theme in 2020, if DeCastro got high (in his stance) he lost power and couldn’t recover.

Wild Card Game, first quarter, 14:04. David DeCastro is the right guard, just below the center.

This is two plays after the awful snap that started the game. Myles Garrett rushes inside at DeCastro, drives him back and at the end of the play, throws David DeCastro into Ben Roethlisberger’s legs. I’ve never played offensive line, but I assume getting thrown into your quarterback is not an approved result.

A few plays later, the Browns would run the same rush, and as Garrett drove DeCastro back, Roethlisberger ran to his right and threw an interception.

David DeCastro went from a Hall of Fame caliber guard to a liability with his injuries. It is not surprising to me that the Steelers released him when they found out he was still hurt.

To replace him the Steelers quickly signed Trai Turner. Turner has a similar level of acclaim as DeCastro had for his time in the league. He’s also joins Ben Roethlisberger as the only projected starters to also have started in a Super Bowl, Roethlisberger, of course, in 2004, 2008 and 2010, and Turner was there in 2015, when he did this.

Super Bowl 50, Trai Turner is the guard to screen left of the center, he’s motioning at the start of the clip.

It makes sense the Steelers would be attracted to Trai Turner in a season where they are trying to inject more nastiness and power into their blocking. He brings power and nastiness in spades, or at least he did back then.

2020 Week 2, Trai Turner is the guard to screen left of the center.

Now that’s ugly. His head is down, he gives up vision of his target and misses the block. It’s worse considering this was the healthiest Trai Turner was in 2020. But it’s also his worst play of that game.

2020 week 2, Trai Turner is the guard to screen left of the center.

In pass blocking Turner has a good anchor, and does a solid, but not great job. That’s consistent across his career. The real question is what the Steelers are going to get in the run game from Trai Turner because in the past he has been dominant, one of the top run blocking guards in the league. But last season he was one of the worst, showing bad form, and looking like he didn’t care.

Trai Turner has stated he’s 100% healthy now, and K.T. Smith argued that Turner has spent the last few years in schemes that didn’t fit his talent. We have to hope that getting healthy and a change in coaching and scheme can help Trai Turner get back closer to the blocker he used to be.

The Point:

The Steelers are looking to rejuvenate their run game that struggled under a finesse scheme and a lot of injuries. Trai Turner is looking to rejuvenate his career that has been dragged down by finesse schemes and injuries. It seems like a good match. Hopefully Adrian Klemm is the right coach and Matt Canada’s schemes fit Turner’s strengths. Because, like the rest of the offense, there is great potential here, but also a lot of questions.

Additionally, losing a two-time All-Pro guard is a tough pill to swallow. It’s not very easy to make a move June in order replace a player like David DeCastro. It was wise for the Steelers to take a shot and hope that Turner returns to the form he was before he was traded. Much like they would have been looking for in DeCastro in 2021, Trai Turner is hoping to get healthy and get back to producing on the field much like he did when he made five straight Pro Bowls.