Labriola On

Labriola on DeCastro, Le'Veon, Shamarko

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Ready or not, here it comes:*

  • Finally, a season of relative stability on the offensive line. Following a number of years where the Steelers were forced to change five-man starting combinations frequently, and then had to make changes in-game and sometimes even shuffling players mid-series, the 2014 season has been a welcome change in that respect. There have been only four different five-man starting combinations through 13 games.
  • Kelvin Beachum at left tackle, Maurkice Pouncey at center, and David DeCastro at right guard have played every snap of every game. Cody Wallace started two games for Ramon Foster, and Mike Adams has started three games for Marcus Gilbert, but in those starts the replacement played every snap.
  • Don't think for a second that stability hasn't been a factor in the unit's improvement since September.
  • Speaking of the offensive line, back in 2012, in the immediate aftermath of the Steelers using their No. 1 pick on David DeCastro, one of the points made about the guard from Stanford was his ability to pull to his left. As a right guard who can pull to his left, DeCastro supposedly would provide the offense with another dimension. It seemed like typical draft day talk at the time, the usual over-analysis of a No. 1 pick.
  • Against the Bengals, the Steelers used a counter-play often, with one estimate being that Le'Veon Bell following DeCastro around to the left at least 10 times. Bell rolled up a bunch of yards and scored twice on that very play, and he finished with 185 yards rushing and a 7.1 average.
  • Not just draft-day talk anymore.
  • Giovani Bernard was the first running back picked in the 2013 NFL Draft when the Cincinnati Bengals used the 37th overall selection on him, and so when the Steelers' turn came at No. 48 they had the pick of the rest of the group. The most well-known of the candidates was Alabama's Eddie Lacy, whose final college game entailed leaving the Notre Dame defense for road kill in the BCS National Championship. The Steelers picked Le'Veon Bell, and it's clear now that he was the right choice.
  • Bell was the right choice, not because Lacy has been shown to be lacking in any of the requirements for the position, but because Bell's running style is a better fit for today's Steelers. Lacy would have been a fit for the kind of running game the team employed during Bill Cowher's tenure. Think Jerome Bettis exploding into the line of scrimmage. Bell is more of a patient picker who looks for an opening and then accelerates through it with his unique combination of speed and power.
  • The two main reasons why Bell's style fits today's Steelers are named Pouncey and DeCastro, guys more suited to running and pulling and trapping than digging out 350-pound defensive linemen.
  • They could end up making a lot of trips to Honolulu together.
  • He was looking really good during the offseason program, right through OTAs and minicamp, and then Shamarko Thomas got an invitation from Troy Polamalu to train together in California. It all seemed to be progressing nicely, what with Polamalu's invite taking on a passing-of-the-torch feel. But as soon as the regular season started, Thomas was set back by a series of minor injuries. An Achilles in the opener against the Browns, then an injury to his left hamstring on Oct. 5 in Jacksonville, and then an injury to his right hamstring on Nov. 2 vs. Baltimore. During what amounted to a two-month hunk of the season, Thomas missed all or parts of seven games, with the real unfortunate aspect being the timing of his second hamstring injury coinciding with Polamalu's two-game absence with a sprained knee.
  • Had Shamarko Thomas not been injured at the same time Troy Polamalu was injured, he would've gotten his first real opportunity to play in the defensive backfield. And maybe he shows something that would've given the coaching staff some confidence to use him in games down the stretch. And maybe Thomas, who came into the NFL with a good reputation as a cover safety, would've helped a secondary hemorrhaging big plays.
  • As it is now, it looks as though Shamarko Thomas will go into his third NFL season without so much as a single pass defensed in a regular season game on his resume. That's not a good situation for him, or for the Steelers.
  • The Steelers defense already has allowed 13 pass plays of 40-plus yards, and in the previous two games A.J. Green caught 11 passes for 224 yards, and Kenny Stills caught five for 162. How will they ever defend Atlanta's Julio Jones, who torched the Packers for 11 catches for a team-record 259 yards last Monday night? The Steelers, in fact, have three players capable of neutralizing Julio Jones, and their names are Ben, Antonio, and Le'Veon.
  • With the win over the Bengals that pushed the Steelers to 8-5, Mike Tomlin became the seventh coach in NFL history to win at least eight games in each of his first eight seasons. In division play, he's 11-4 vs. the Bengals, 10-8 against the Ravens that includes a 2-0 in the playoffs, and 13-3 against the Browns.
  • He sure has done a lot with Cowher's players.
  • That last one was sarcasm.
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