A question was posed in our recent video breakdown of Steelers' rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt regarding the differences between him and two other young Steelers' defensive ends, 2013 undrafted free agent Brian Arnfelt and 2014 UDFA Josh Mauro. It led to an example of the kinds of things Tuitt's unique skill set will enable the Steelers to do.
Tuitt's much stronger and is a very quick player. I think the key difference, though, is he's doing this at 305 pounds. Arnfelt is listed at close to 300, but I think they added a few pounds. Mauro played at about 280. Both have good technique but they aren't freezing guys with their punch the way Tuitt can.
That second clip is a good example of the cliche "heavy hands." Watch how he throws himself forward, but he doesn't compromise his base leverage. He "throws from his ass," as a coach I worked with used to say. When his hands connect with the blocker, the blocker doesn't go any further. He's hit with force, but Tuitt hasn't begun to drive with his legs, so he's still in an athletic position. The tackle has to overcome that force, so he's moving his legs, and ends up off-balance. Because of that Tuitt can move him wherever he wants to go. The tackle's been rendered ineffective, and it's because Tuitt's strength overpowered a bigger player. He utilized the exact same technique the Steelers teach their defensive linemen.
Ziggy Hood wasn't playing with this kind of technique at Missouri, and even Wreck It Heyward (a very different player) wasn't doing this kind of stuff at his age.
Tuitt's probably not the same kind of athlete Heyward is, they're both great complimentary players to each other. Tuitt can leave the edge to play along the interior (he's a better interior player all around, in my opinion, which is what his Boot Camp entry was about) because Tuitt will be able to own the edge.
Now, you've got a potentially outstanding base strongside end who's capable of attacking the guard and the tackle. Imagine this:
Tuitt lines up outside the tackle (five technique) and Heyward is on the guard's outside shoulder (three technique). Tuitt is strong enough, off the snap, to throw his hands and punch the tackle at the snap, just as Heyward is stunting down into the tackle, essentially double-teaming him. Worilds is rushing on the outside. He's either going to be handled by a tight end, the running back will have to pick him up or a tackle with two guys hitting him slides over to pick up an unblocked Worilds who's considerably faster than he is.
Or, Tuitt stunts inside, hits the guard's inside shoulder while Heyward rolls off his block and rushes off the edge Tuitt created. That pressures the tackle to the inside, and UH OH, he suddenly sees Lawrence Timmons AND Jason Worilds are coming off the outside. He's in extreme conflict, because, again, the TE and RB are going to have to pick up free rushers, and the tackle must decide quickly which one he's supposed to get: Heyward pressuring on the inside, Worilds from the C gap or Timmons from outside that with an angle toward the football in the QBs hands.
That's a lot of pressure, and it all starts with the DE's ability to control the tackle.
Here's a great example of the concept I'm ranting about:
This play was against Denver in 2012 in the season opener. It looks like the Steelers were attempting something of a tackle-end stunt but using Larry Foote as the tackle. The play could have been designed to free Foote up for a 1-on-1 with Knowshon Moreno (who, unwittingly, was featured multiple times on the wrong end of Steelers Film Room analysis. Goes without saying the Steelers didn't lift a finger to sign him in free agency.), or it could have been Carter looking to roll off Foote crashing the tackle, but Foote saw a huge hole open up, and decided (rightly) to take his chances with Moreno, who fans on a block attempt.
It's a small picture, but I want you to watch the offensive right side, what Keisel and Hood do here is EXACTLY what I'm talking about. Keisel lines up over the left guard and Hood is at the 4i technique. Hood crashes inside on the center, and Keisel wraps all the way around to hit the guard. Right after that happens you see Timmons rush the line of scrimmage, because all that's standing in front of him is the tight end. Woodley bends the right tackle out wide to open up all of this space.
Look at the power and aggression Keisel shows. The guard tries to get outside to help with Timmons, Keisel doesn't let him. He pushes the guard all the way back into the quarterback and ends up helping pile on Manning.
Foote ends up getting the sack, but look...at the snap, six Steelers players are going to be doing something that's not common for their respective positions. There are four Steelers players within a foot or on top of Manning when Foote takes him to the ground. This is an excellent example of the kind of play the Steelers can run on third and long with a player like Tuitt. Hood had that same kind of strength, and now instead of Keisel, you can put a quicker, more powerful Heyward in that same spot.
Tuitt crashes in, Heyward loops to the other side and chaos ensues.
On the outside, imagine Ryan Shazier as the one who's crashing instead of Foote. That's going from a Kia to a Ferrari in terms of athleticism, and it's Jarvis Jones stunting in on the left tackle instead of Chris Carter - a longer player, if not a better athlete. Arms in passing windows is key. Worilds is taking the right tackle 1-on-1 with no RB or TE help (and in four games this year, that right tackle is something called Ricky Wagner in Baltimore, and Cleveland's Mitchell Schwartz, who still may have embedded tire tracks from the run-over Worilds gave him last year).
Shazier is an upgrade athletically over Foote (to put it mildly). Jones is an upgrade over Carter. Tuitt is a better all-around athlete than Hood and plays with better technique (Hood's strength is what's key here, to be fair, he's a strong dude) and Timmons of 2012 is on par with Timmons in 2014. Heyward is a better pass rusher than Keisel, although Keisel is an underrated athlete. Point being, they can run this kind of play now and expect better results. Not to mention the fact this is just a crazy-ass blitz. Straight man for the corners, probably - and this would be a secondary with a starting-level free safety - something they haven't had in Denver in their last few trips there.