B.J. Finney had some mighty large shoes to fill on Sunday afternoon. Let’s face it, Steelers left guard Ramon Foster is one big dude. And even though we aren’t talking about Finney literally donning Foster’s cleats, the truth is that Foster has, quite possibly, been the Steelers’ best offensive lineman this year. Maybe not the most spectacular, but certainly the most steady and stable.
But, injuries happen and, this time, the bug bit Foster.
There’s at least a small amount of irony here in that Foster came to the team as an undrafted free agent and earned a starting spot. And if Finney keeps performing like he did against the Buffalo Bills, he might follow suit to the detriment of Foster.
I’m not anointing Finney just yet, but after watching and re-watching his performance, and then looking back to his previous start, it’s not a huge stretch to envision Finney at the top of the depth chart if he continues to get opportunities.
Finney employs surprisingly polished technique, and he’s more athletic than Foster. And that statement will cause the next one to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Finney’s superior athleticism allows the Steelers to get away from their usual zone-blocking formula to a more traditional rushing offense.
The reason that happens is because Finney is quick—surprisingly quick actually, and far more so than Foster. This means he can pull on outside runs.
2nd Quarter, 5:43 Remaining, 1st & 10
The most obvious thing here is how quickly Finney gets off the ball. In fact, he turns to the right in near-perfect unison with Bell, and gets well out in front of him.
The second thing to notice is solid recognition. Finney identifies his target well in advance and actually forces him wide simply by running toward him. Then he knocks the guy into Week 15.
Finally, he cleans it up: he pops the guy again, for good measure.
2nd Quarter, 2:24 Remaining, 1st & 10
This play is less about the end result, and more just a chance to look at Finney’s technique as an in-line blocker.
The very first thing Finney does off of the snap is to widen his base. While the defender lined up across from him is double-teamed by Finney and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, this is primarily Finney’s responsibility. The wider base combined with the the slight drop backward angles his body toward the midline of the field which, when he’s chipped by Villanueva, is enough to take the defender out of the play.
The last thing to notice is the active hands. He’s constantly engaging and re-engaging the defender, keeping him occupied and preventing the defender from gaining a leverage advantage.
3rd Quarter, 7:05 Remaining, 3rd & 3
Finally, let’s look at Finney in pass blocking.
The Bills had a hard time getting anywhere near Roethlisberger, and Finney played a considerable role in that on Sunday. Plays like this weren’t the exception; they were the rule.
The defensive tackle begins by moving across Finney’s face. Finney doesn’t chase him too far, instead recognizing that he can pass the defender off to center Maurkice Pouncey. Then, realizing he has no assignment right, he turns to his left, and cleans the outside linebacker’s clock. Again, this is all about his ability to diagnose and react quickly. For someone with very little game experience, his ability to do so is downright miraculous.
Finney might not displace Foster this year, or even next year, but the time will come for the team to decide between the two.
What Finney is putting on tape is going to make that a very, very tough decision.