This week's Classic Jurassic Meat-Eater Matchup takes us to my homeland, Orchard Park, N.Y. I grew up in the shadow of Highmark stadium. My boyhood home was 2.4 miles from Highmark. Yes, it's true, I grew up in the land of chicken wings, beef-on-weck and sweet sausage pizza. All excellent food entrees for the boys that battle in the trenches.
This week pits the Steelers right tackle Chuks Okorafor locking horns with the man Mike Tomlin calls "an alien from another world," Von Miller.
To be fair, the alien called Von Miller travels around and lines up in a couple different positions. So the workload will be spread around somewhat over both offensive tackles, and possibly some points in between. Nevertheless, Okorafor will have his hands full in "Miller" time, and Miller might be meeting his match in Chuks.
Back on Nov. 25, 2018, against the Denver Broncos, Okorafor made his first NFL start at right tackle due to injuries to Marcus Gilbert and Matt Feiler. And guess who Chuks made his first start against? None other than the man who is still terrorizing quarterbacks in his 12th year in the NFL at the age of 33 years old. Four games into the 2022 season, Miller has already registered three sacks. But in their first encounter with each other, Chuks only gave up a late sack and certainly more than held his own.
Miller came to Pittsburgh last year as a member of the Denver Broncos. The two tangoed in the 'Burgh, and Chuks held Miller without a sack or quarterback hit. And the "Yonkos" (circa Myron Cope) left town with a loss. Tht was easy feat to be sure. But the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Okorafor is not your typical offensive tackle.
Chuks played soccer in his native Nigeria, and only began playing American football when he came to the states. Very athletic for his size, Chuks has length, strength and speed, uncharacteristic for someone his size and job description.
For his part, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Miller has a keen eye for a scientific and professional approach to his art of rushing the passer. Miller hosts a yearly "pass rushing summit" where some of the top quarterback hounds of the NFL gather together to work and trade secrets on the art of bagging, sacking and dancing on the quarterbacks they take down.
In six career outings against the Steelers, Miller has registered four sacks. Over 154 games, Miller has nailed 118.5 QB pelts to his trophy wall. Miller has a samurai 6th sense in timing the snap, getting up the field and running the arc. With his speed and quickness, he'll utilize an inside arm stab to help leverage the bigger offensive tackles with which he routinely does battle. And he's not adverse to try running down the middle of a man on occasion to test his chin.
Once he gets the tackles leaning heavily into him, trying to use their massive size garner control, Miller will work his arm-under, slide-by technique that James Harrison made famous. Tackles that get head heavy on Miller give a pivot point to him. Miller will use a wrestling move to under-hook an opponent's opposite arm, slide the opponents' arm across his body and turn the offending tackle like he's square dancing with mammoth 300-plus pound pass protectors.
For his part, Chuks obviously needs to keep his head back and punch, using his long arms to keep Miller at the rim of his punch radius. Chuks has the athletic footwork advantage over many offensive tackles. He has the gift of quick feet. This is what has enabled Chuks to compete with the likes of speed to power rushers such as Miller, especially in his first start years ago against Miller.
In terms of run blocking, Okorafor is getting stronger and more dominant and is getting better at moving a man from A to B against his will. Chuks maintains good contact surface, while using his balance and strength to negate counter measures found in the world of close quarter combat in the trenches.
For the Steelers to get out of Buffalo with a win, they are going to need to win the battle of the trenches. As long as Chuks uses his length, bends his knees (not waist) and uses all his God-given attributes, he's got an opportunity to battle it out successfully with one of the most uniquely gifted pass rushers the NFL has ever seen.