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Can Larry Ogunjobi help restore the Steelers defensive line to greatness?

Can Ogunjobi get the Steelers D-line back to the level they were in 2020?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have reached 2022 training camp and are on the cusp of their first preseason game. As the team prepares for the 2022 season, there seems to be hope in an improved defensive line which will have a ripple effect throughout the whole defense. After the retirement of Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers looked to improve their defensive line with the signing of Larry Ogunjobi. But does Ogunjobi bring enough to restore the Steelers defensive line to the greatness they were in 2020? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

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:

In five seasons in the NFL, Larry Ogunjobi has appeared in 76 games with 63 starts. With 21.5 career sacks, Ogunjobi has 229 tackles, 41 of which were for loss, 53 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and a pass defensed.

In 2021 with the Cincinnati Bengals, Ogunjobi appeared in 16 games and started all 16. With 49 tackles, Ogunjobi had career highs in quarterback hits with 16, tackles for loss with 12, and sacks with 7.0 in 724 defensive snaps.

When looking at Ogunjobi‘s regular season grades by Pro Football Focus (PFF), he has declined each year of his five-year career. After a rookie season where he had a 78.4 overall grade, Ogunjobi fell to a 60.6 in 2018, 56.0 in 2019, 53.0 in 2020, and 50.3 in 2021. What brought Ogunjobi down in his grades was a 38.9 run defense grade for 2021 despite only having three games in which he scored lower than this amount.

If including postseason grades, Ogunjobi falls to an overall score in 2021 of 47.5 according to PFF. Receiving a 29.6 grade in the Bengals Wild Card matchup against the Raiders before he was lost due to injury, Ogunjobi‘s overall score for the year had him ranked 88th of 108th interior defensive lineman in 2021.

But do these numbers and grades match the production Ogunjobi gives on the field, one that landed him a lucrative contract had he not failed his physical? Let’s see what the film has to say.

The Film Line:

The Steelers are looking to Larry Ogunjobi to fill a lot of the roles that Stephon Tuitt filled during his time on the Steelers, and while Ogunjobi isn’t the player Stephon Tuitt was, he brings value to the Steelers. Mike Tomlin brought up how he made his presence felt in his first practice with the team, and Ogunjobi is no stranger to making an impact quickly.

When Larry Ogunjobi joined the Bengals for their 2021 season, he made an impact right away.

Bengals vs. Vikings, 1st quarter, 0:23.

Larry Ogunjobi (#65) is on the defensive line, second from the bottom of the screen.

Ogunjobi is reasonably quick off the snap, but it is his power that shines as he drives the center backwards, pulls him up to wreck his leverage, and puts him right in the quarterback’s face. Ogunjobi is a powerful player and a mismatch for most centers.

Bengals vs. Ravens, 1st quarter, 9:55.

Larry Ogunjobi (#65) is in the middle of the defensive line.

Lamar Jackson takes a deep drop on this play, and Ogunjobi drives the center back. When he is threatened with a double team, he disengages the block violently and ends up sacking Jackson for a five-yard loss. Ogunjobi resets the front of the pocket deeper, and that restricts Jackson’s escape routes, and the Bengals get a sack off a three-man rush.

Bengals vs. Ravens, 2nd quarter, 14:56.

Larry Ogunjobi is on the defensive line, second from the top of the screen.

Here Ogunjobi blows up a run play by driving the guard backwards and twists him out of the run lane so he can make the tackle. What stands out the most to me on this play is Ogunjobi’s focus coming off the snap. Ogunjobi fires off low and hard, and doesn’t really look at the play until he’s driving the guard backwards. This is where Ogunjobi shines— when he’s allowed to attack aggressively without having to read the play first.

Bengals vs. 49ers, 1st quarter, 15:00.

Larry Ogunjobi is on the defensive line, second from the top of the screen.

The Bengals are in a heavy set and Ogunjobi is lined up like a 3-4 defensive end. He moves with the block initially, but sheds and hits the back for a loss on the play. While Ogunjobi is at his best when he can attack without worrying about reading the play, that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of reading and reacting to the offense. His strength is a weapon here, and if you keep your eyes on the left guard (#75) you can see that beyond the initial contact with a double team, Ogunjobi dominates the play.

Bengals vs. 49ers, 3rd quarter, 11:48.

Larry Ogunjobi is on the defensive line, second from the bottom of the screen.

On this play Ogunjobi is able to throw the 49ers left tackle inside and then hit the back, stopping the play. One of the knocks on Ogunjobi is his tackling, and this is an example of him hitting a back but not tackling him. I’m not going to count this play as a negative though, he stuffed the run lane, and that’s his main job.

Bengals vs. Broncos, 4th quarter, 0:56.

Larry Ogunjobi is on the defensive line, second from the bottom of the screen.

This is a great rush by Ogunjobi, and there aren’t a ton like it on film. But he can rush outside when called on, and that will be valuable to the Steelers when he lines up as a 5-tech and on stunts.

I’ve shown a lot of good plays here, and when I look at his film I don’t see many bad plays. There are times his aggressive play puts him out of position in run defense, and he misses a lot of tackles. But you don’t sign Larry Ogunjobi to be a defensive lineman that gets to the right spot and makes the tackle. Similar to Stephon Tuitt, Ogunjobi is a disruptor. You bring him in to attack forward, drive the pocket back, blow up gaps, and create havoc in the opponent’s backfield. And while he isn’t on the level Stephon Tuitt was, he should be a valuable addition to the Steelers defense.

The Point:

In 2021 the Steelers struggled to hold the point of attack in the run game across from Cam Heyward. Larry Ogunjobi is going to be a big part of solving that problem, and with his power he will also be a big benefit to the linebackers. If Ogunjobi can continue to win the line of scrimmage as he has so far in his career, Myles Jack and Devin Bush should be able to make up for the missed tackles and over-aggressiveness in Ogunjobi’s game, to say nothing of T.J. Watt who thrived lining up next to Stephon Tuitt for years.