Meat-Eater Match Up: Steelers-Browns, Week 11

His bio reads:

Signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers as undrafted free agent on April 27, 2013….Waived by the Steelers on August 31, 2013….Signed by the Steelers on December 31, 2013….Signed by the Cleveland Browns as an unrestricted free agent on March 15, 2018.

And so began the career of this week’s “Meat-Eater Matchup” featuring the Browns (formerly the Steelers) Offensive Tackle Chris Hubbard locking horns with the Steelers T.J. Watt.

The difference, between the undrafted free agent Hubbard was, and the guy that got waived, re-signed and ultimately rewarded with a big league contract was the time Hubbard spent in Pittsburgh.

In Pittsburgh “Old Mother Hubbard,” learned the trade craft of offensive line play from former Steelers line coach Mike Munchak and then assistant, but now head honcho of the o-line, Shaun Sarrett.

And I will tell you, learn he did. Hubbard became one of the guys I refer to as “Munch’s Millionaires.” The undrafted free agent, the overlooked, non-starter that became a starter, or starter worthy under the tutelage of Munchak and Sarrett. And worthy of a pay bump.

Standing 6-foot-4, and weighing in at 295-pounds, Hubbard has good lateral agility, good footwork in his kick-step and good strength and balance. In other words, he has a lot of the naturally occurring intrinsic attributes of an offensive tackle. What he didn’t have is the draft pick “pedigree.” But pedigree has nothing to do with being durable, and 34 consecutive starts in the pros attest to Hubbard’s durability.

When Hubbard first came to Pittsburgh as a raw, unfinished product, he had a big heart and little else. Hubbard was a tough guy from a school that first dropped football, only to resurrect the program a few years later at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

All this, of course, made him a perfect candidate to enter into the molding process and teaching skills of Munchak/Sarrett. Other graduates of that humble school of hard knocks, that you might recognize, include Al Villanueva, Matt Feiler and BJ Finney.

Hubbard is a good run blocker, able to come off the ball and use his long arms to position block on the backside of runs going away from him. He’s athletic enough, and fast enough to get after a second level linebacker when he’s got a bubble over him.

Hubbard has a powerful set of ham-hocks. Those ham-hocks power up his ability to drive block when all the positioning stuff of zone blocking ends, and the heavy collisions of the straight blocking schemes start.

As a pass blocker, Hubbard has learned to use his hands as a weapon, though maybe not as consistently as he could.

With those long arms, Hubbard has a wide punch radius, and has learned the art of timing the punch.

Just as a tall heavyweight boxer should do, Hubbard will stand tall, keep his head back, and use his feet and punch radius to “tag” a pass rusher with his punch, and time it so he hits his opponent with extended arms.

This is referred to as “keeping a man at the end of your punch,” and is a difficult concept to master. Punching a moving, uncooperative opponent is not as easy as it might sound. Especially when you consider that Hubbard’s moving, uncooperative opponent is Watt.

Watt frankly, is on a tear. Watt plays the run like he’s offended if you run at him, and pass rushes like his hair is on fire.

He’s got an edge to his game where he’s grown from being just an energy-bringer (which is huge), and an “adder” to his defense. Watt is now a multiplier of the people around him.

With Hubbard’s kick-step and punch radius, Hubbard can match Watt in up field rushing. Watt’s challenge will be to time Hubbard’s punch, and trap his hands. (Trapping is knocking down the hands on a pass rush).

Watt has notched 9.5 sacks so far in 2019, and has grown each year in his pass rushing repertoire. Whereas he was primarily an up the field guy, and a bull rusher as a young buck, he has added trapping skills to his game, a nice dip and rip, along with a mean cross-arm chop when he rushes to the inside.

As if that wasn’t enough, Watt has added a nice spin move reminiscent of former Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney.

And if he had longer hair, you might mistake Watt for Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, on some of his “Speed to Power” rushes, which Watt has mastered as well.

But what I love most is the fearless abandon and full commitment to the pass rush that Watt employs. He doesn’t stick his toes in to test the water. The man is all-in.

The Steelers have to get after a running game that bangs out 123.9 yards per game. They have to shut down potential 1,000 yard rusher Nick Chubb (he has 919 yards).

They have Jarvis Landry, and Odell Beckham Jr. at wide receiver. And you can add Kareem Hunt to the list of problematic playmakers.

But make no mistake about it. The whole offense goes through Quarterback Baker Mayfield.

And I would suggest that on many plays on Thursday night, the only thing that will stand between Mayfield and Watt is Hubbard.

Let the hunt begin.

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