Stephon Tuitt had his coming-out party on Sunday. The rookie second-round draft pick saw the most extensive action of his young career. Tuitt didn't merely hold his own, he led a dominant run-defense against the potent Bengals rushing attack.
This is a formation that you see a lot on Sundays. Unbalanced line one way and slot receivers the other way. This really put the defense in a bind as you want to try to slide your defensive line, as not to be outflanked by the offense, but doing so could leave you vulnerable to the open side.
By his pre-snap alignment, you can see the Tuitt is at a distinct disadvantage. He's not playing wide on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. As a result, the Bengals try to run the outside stretch play right at him. The stretch play has been a thorn in the side of this defense all year, but you see it defended very well here by the Steelers.
Notice how well Tuitt is playing behind his hands. Because he's able to lock out the offensive lineman, he's able to control him. Also, kudos to William Gay. You oftentimes hear coaches talk about things like "run fits" and people being where they're supposed to be on defense, etc. Here's a great example of that. It's easy to get all of those things correct when everyone lines up in one formation, but Troy Polamalu, who is normally playing cutback, is instead the backside contain player here. And Gay, who is normally not involved in the run fits at all, is playing the cutback. When you hear people say before the draft that, to play corner for the Steelers, you have to be able to tackle, they're not talking about tackling the hitch. They're talking about plays like this. Very nice job by him here on a day that wasn't kind to the secondary.
Speaking of coming out parties, Arthur Moats had a big game against the Bengals also.
A lot of ink has been used calling Le'Veon Bell the best all-around back in football, but too much of that ink has used to describe his running and catching at the expense of talking about his excellent blocking. Think about when the last time was when you saw Bell get blown up like this on pass protection. Don't spend too much time, because it hasn't happened yet. Therein lies what the Steelers have found in Bell. There was another play in the game (I almost chose it to prove this point) in which the Bengals threw a checkdown to Jeremy Hill; exactly the same play we've seen Bell get huge chunks of yardage on all year. Also same play that Bell scored on. Hill gained three yards. As soon as he caught the ball, he was enveloped by Lawrence Timmons. Bell shows receiver-like quickness getting in and out of his breaks on pass-blocks, while also having the size to be an effective blocker when needed and wear down a defense in the fourth quarter.
Here is Maurkice Pouncey doing his best impersonation of another all-time great Steeler center.
A couple of great things to point out in this clip. First, watch David DeCastro get off of the ball and cut off the defensive tackle. A great block by Ramon Foster also. The defensive end for the Bengals (as opposed to Tuitt from the earlier discussion) is lined up in a wide 5-technique on Kelvin Beachum. Beachum knows he can't reach him, so he just blocks the defender out, creating a lane wide enough for both Pouncey and Bell to run through. Pouncey looks like a fullback as he squares his shoulders, runs through the hole, and blocks the linebacker. Pouncey makes this look very easy, but you don't see many centers doing this.
Finally, look at the finish. Watch Beachum, Foster and DeCastro take their defenders to the ground. Even better, look at Math Spaeth. That's what you call playing to the echo of the whistle. Run-blocking is all about attitude and the Steelers had a lot of attitude on Sunday.
The Steelers had a lot of splash plays on Sunday, but the real story was the physical dominance that the Steelers displayed on both sides of the ball.