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Steelers Vertex: Eric Ebron’s improved run blocking in the 2021 preseason

If Steelers fans are going forward with the idea that Ebron is a terrible blocker, they probably haven’t been paying attention during the preseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have completed their 2021 preseason and are ready to get the regular season under way. While there were a few different things that stood out in the four games the Steelers have already played, there are some things that may have slid under the radar which some may not have noticed. One of those things some may have missed is the improved run blocking of tight end Eric Ebron, so let’s take at look at it in both stats and film.

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:

When it comes to blocking, there basically no statistics to compile. I can give some numbers of snap counts and everything, but the only other significant numbers that can even be used are the grades given by Pro Football Focus. As I always say about these grades, they are questioned by many and it is completely up to you as to how much stock you take in them. But in order to report some numbers, they will be used here.

Eric Ebron played in three preseason games in 2021 as he was not on the field in the Hall of Fame Game. In all, he only played 48 offensive snaps with 21 of them being considered a play where he was blocking. In the first week of the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles, Ebron scored a 74.4 run blocking grade on 6 run blocking snaps. Ebron improved slightly in Week 2 of the preseason where his run blocking score was a 74.8 on nine snaps.

After the first two weeks of the 2021 NFL preseason, Eric Ebron was the fifth ranked run blocking tight end with a score of 79.9 according to PFF. In the final preseason game, Ebron only had three run blocking snaps but only scored a 57.9 run blocking score. In all, this left Ebron with a 77.4 run blocking score for the 2021 preseason which ranked him 12th among all tight ends in the NFL and the top on the Steelers by a wide margin over Zach Gentry (68.8) and Pat Freiermuth (55.7).

Just to share the data, Ebron had a terrible pass blocking score of 26.6 but it was only on three snaps as pass blocking is not something he is asked to do often.

All these numbers mean a little bit, checking out the film and seeing Ebron get involved in blocking in the run game is much more beneficial.

The Film Line:

It was reported that Eric Ebron worked out with Mercedes Lewis this offseason, who is one of the better run blockers in the league, and he has commented that the Steelers first round pick of running back Najee Harris means he needs to block better.

Whether it is a newfound respect for his position, his realization that the run game is critical if he wants to win, or even the competition from a young, talented and hard blocking TE in Pat Freiermuth that has inspired Eric Ebron to say he is more committed to blocking, the tape shows it isn’t just words. He is backing those words up with action.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 1st quarter, 5:07.
Eric Ebron is the tight end, in-line to the top of the screen.

This is a very common tight end block you will see with the Steelers in 2021. Ebron slips through the line to get to the linebacker. He does his job here, and the play-side linebacker is unable to limit Harris’ gain. You can see the effort, and a bit of ugly technique when he drops his head toward the end of the block, but it works, Ebron did his job well here.

Steelers vs. Lions, 1st quarter, 7:38.
Eric Ebron is the tight end to the right side of the screen, moving inside at the start of the clip.

Here’s an H-back principle, and it is something the tight ends will need to be able to execute in Matt Canada’s offense. This H-back lead block lets the offense have one back in the backfield and still have a lead blocker. Ebron does a great job again, and Najee Harris is able to gain solid yards.

This is an incredibly valuable ability because Ebron is aligned in a spot where he is a serious receiving threat, and then he fills the role of a fullback, bringing a numbers advantage to the inside.

The most basic evaluation of a tight end’s value is who they can block, versus how hard they are to cover. On this play #25, a defensive back is covering Ebron. When Ebron blocks the middle linebacker he has created a huge advantage for the offense.

Steelers vs. Lions, 1st quarter, 5:09.
Eric Ebron is the tight end to the right side of the screen.

This is Najee Harris’ big gain. You can see Eric Ebron’s route, and how the LB dropping back to help on that route opens room for the catch. You can then see Ebron come back and deliver a very nice block on #25 who is again covering Ebron and Harris turns the corner untouched. The respect Ebron forces with his receiving threat, paired with a newfound desire to block is a big weapon for this team.

It isn’t like Eric Ebron suddenly turned into Heath Miller though, he still has technique issues and he will still struggle in space.

Steelers vs. Lions, 1st quarter, 3:44.
Eric Ebron is the tight end to the top of the screen.

There’s bigger problems with this play than Ebron’s block, but you can see he is chasing his man, who knows all he has to do is stop the sweep from getting outside. Ebron can’t pull it off and Diontae Johnson is forced inside where the linebacker is waiting for him. If you watch Ebron at the snap, you can see how slow he is getting outside and it gives the defensive back the advantage he needs to win the edge.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 1st quarter, 14:45.
Eric Ebron is the tight end to the bottom of the screen.

Eric Ebron shouldn’t be a pass protector very often as he’s very unlikely to ever be a better blocker than he is a threat running routes, but the Steelers had him do it a few times. This snap Ebron was matched up with Derek Barnett 1v1, and while Barnett would get a win on Ebron later in the game, Ebron held his own on this rep. Barnett is a good pass-rushing defensive end, so this is an impressive rep as he does roughly as good a job as Joe Haeg does on the right side.

The Point:

Eric Ebron will never be Heath Miller, but when he added a newfound desire to block to his game he became a much more valuable weapon in the Steelers offense. He’s more of a mismatch with his ability to line up as an H-back and be a receiving threat outside or a lead blocker inside from the same alignment creates serious problems for the defense.

The addition of Pat Freiermuth and how well he has played this preseason gave the Steelers a real versatile weapon at the tight end position. Eric Ebron is doing his best to match that threat, giving the Steelers what is likely their best 2-deep tight end position in franchise history. This is also great news for Matt Canada, Najee Harris, Ben Roethlisberger and all of Steelers’ Nation.