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How important is the return of Larry Ogunjobi in 2023?

After one season on the Steelers defensive line, Ogunjobi showed his value within the position group.

NFL: DEC 18 Steelers at Panthers Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 offseason is underway. As the team looks at it’s potentially departing players due to impending free agency, some players may be returning while others will test the market. To get a better idea as to how the Steelers might be looking, we’re going to dive into several of the free agents starting with ones who played the most in 2022. Next up will be Larry Ogunjobi. 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:

I’ll be the first to admit that the stats put up by Larry Ogunjobi in 2022 for the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t tell the whole story. But still, I’ll give a portion of that story before I let Geoffrey finish it off.

Playing 636 defensive snaps on the season, Ogunjobi started all 16 games in which he appeared. With 48 tackles, seven of which were for loss, Ogunjobi had 1.5 sacks on 11 quarterback hits.

Where things get interesting is to see the impact of the score when Ogunjobi was not a regular contributor. The Steelers only had two games all season in which they lost by more than one score with the exception of a game with an inflated score at the end when the Steelers gave up a fumble for a touchdown when they were attempting the infamous “Stanford band” play. The other two games were the 38–3 loss to the Buffalo Bills and the 35–13 loss of the Philadelphia Eagles. Against the Eagles, Ogunjobi was inactive due to a knee injury. When it came to the Week 5 matchup against the Bills, Ogunjobi only played seven snaps in the game before he was lost with a back injury. So when Larry Ogunjobi was not on the field for the Steelers, things got out of hand. Whether Ogunjobi was the cause of that is up for debate.

That’s enough for the numbers. Let’s check the film.

The Film Line:

The Steelers were Ogunjobi’s third AFC North team to play for, with the Ravens being the only team he hasn’t spent time with. His knack for playing in the division showed up right away in 2022.

Steelers @ Browns 1st quarter, 9:28

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive tackle on the hash mark to the bottom of the screen.

Ogunjobi splits the blockers and is in the backfield for the sack on Jacoby Brissett. This is the quintessential Larry Ogunjobi. His best ability is splitting offensive lineman and powering through into the backfield. He is a power-based penetration defensive lineman, and this is what he does.

These kinds of plays wreck an offense, and Ogunjobi garners a lot of attention because of it.

Steelers @ Bengals 1st quarter, 13:31

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive tackle in the middle of the field.

The center is looking to help whichever guard needs it. Ogunjobi does his thing, and immediately looks to split the center-guard gap. That draws the center to Ogunjobi, and gives Cameron Heyward a 1-on-1 with his guard. You can see Heyward start his rush outside, and then coming back to win inside as soon as the center commits to Ogunjobi.

Steelers vs. Jets 1st quarter, 7:35

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive tackle to the right side of the screen.

Ogunjobi doesn’t just attack gaps though. Here he drives the guard back into the pocket, and when Zach Wilson bails, Alex Highsmith collects a sack.

Larry Ogunjobi is not on the same level of talent as Stephon Tuitt, but these pass rush clips are very reminiscent of Tuitt, and he fit really well next to Cameron Heyward because of it. Ogunjobi, like Tuitt before him, is the Steelers bull in the china shop. He’s here to wreck plays. He’s not here to read the play and get to the right spot, he’s here to cause havoc and let the other players sort out the rest. And that shows up frequently in run defense.

Steelers vs. Jets 3rd quarter, 15:00

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive lineman second from the bottom of the screen.

Ogunjobi penetrates straight up the middle on this play, and that forces the back to very quickly get outside. You may recognize this play from last week’s Devin Bush article as one of Bush’s best plays of the season. There’s a lot of plays I’ve used to highlight other player’s good plays that are started by Larry Ogunjobi.

The havoc Ogunjobi causes in the backfield often forces the offense out of their design and that creates great opportunities for the Steelers playmakers to do their thing. T.J. Watt put up good numbers early in his career, before he was a polished pass rusher, often because of the havoc Stephon Tuitt was causing next to him. Ogunjobi brought that kind of disruption this season.

Steelers vs. Buccaneers 2nd quarter, 4:07

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive end on the hash mark to the right side of the screen.

Here’s one from Terrell Edmunds’ film room a few weeks ago. Ogunjobi missed a lot of tackles like this because he’s shooting into the backfield somewhat recklessly. The takeaway isn’t Ogunjobi’s missed tackle, it’s the opportunity his penetration and disruption created for his teammates. In this instance, Terrell Edmunds is gifted an easy tackle for a run stop.

When the play lines up with Ogunjobi’s penetration is when you get the best highlights.

Steelers vs. Falcons 2nd quarter, 10:52

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive tackle in the middle of the field.

Watt forces the run inside just enough to force the runner right into Ogunjobi, and if you don’t love that clip, you probably aren’t a big fan of football.

If you haven’t noticed by now I like my film rooms to generally move chronologically from the start to end of the season, and there’s a reason we just skipped from Week 6 to Week 13. Ogunjobi was hurt in the middle of the season, missing some very big games (and big losses) and when he returned after the bye, he wasn’t his usual self for a few weeks.

I also wanted to show that clip because Week 13 is the best week of the season to show Ogunjobi’s biggest weakness, and I wanted to show he was back to being healthy and impactful that week.

Steelers vs. Falcons 3rd quarter, 3:35

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive tackle in the middle of the field.

Here is Larry Ogunjobi’s biggest weakness, and where his game drops off the most from the Stephon Tuitt comparison. Ogunjobi isn’t as good moving laterally as he is when he’s attacking forward. He’s not terrible at it, but you can see the blocker gets good hand placement and Ogunjobi is washed out of the play. When Ogunjobi is attacking vertically losing hand placement isn’t a big deal, he recovers and drives his blocker back. In lateral movement he loses ground and struggles to recover when his blocker gets good hand placement.

Steelers vs. Falcons 3rd quarter, 4:14

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive end to the right side of the screen.

Just because he loses ground doesn’t take him out of this play. With the play going the same direction he is, Ogunjobi disengages and runs down the play to get in on the tackle. Ogunjobi doesn’t have Cameron Heyward’s motor (no one does), but the man hustles and doesn’t give up on plays very often.

Steelers vs. Panthers 1st quarter, 5:09

Larry Ogunjobi (#99) is the defensive end in the middle of the field.

It’s not a consistent weakness either. Ogunjobi doesn’t lose his inside hand, doesn’t get pushed back and is able to disengage and make the play. His patience and slow movement to start the play and his burst to free himself from the block are both great on this play.

The Point:

Ogunjobi isn’t a big time defensive tackle, he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl and he probably won’t be making one, but he does his job well and is a great fit on the Steelers defense. He’s much healthier heading out of 2022 than he was heading out of 2021, but since the NFL doesn’t track number of plays disrupted by penetration into the backfield, Ogunjobi’s stats don’t show how good he was this season, and I doubt he will pull a big contract. I’d love the Steelers to bring back Larry Ogunjobi and bring in a young defensive tackle early in the draft. You can’t be too deep on the defensive line, and the difference Ogunjobi made, especially in the Steelers run defense, is easy to see.