This week's meat-eater matchup pits a rookie from the New England Patriots, left guard Cole Strange, against one of the most fearsome and dominant trench fighters in the game, the Steelers' Cam Heyward.
Strange was the Patriots first-round draft pick this year, and made his first start last week in a losing effort against the Miami Dolphins.
Physically, it's an even matchup. Cole is 6-foot–5, 305 pounds. Cam weighs in at 295 pounds and the same 6-foot-5. And that's about the last attribute they share.
Cole is slimmer than most interior behemoths. He's athletic and runs and uses his hands well, but he's not overpowering and doesn't appear to be as strong as some of the other guys around him, such as massive 6-foot-8, 380-pound left tackle Trent Brown, who I watched on film pick his teammate, 213-pound running back Damien Harris, up off the ground like he was a child.
For a rookie, Strange works well in conjunction in combo blocks with the man to his right, center David Andrews, and the massive Brown on his left. Overall, the strength of his play is his ability to stay on his feet and stay locked up with whomever he's blocking. Engage the opponent, stay upright and move your feet. He's not a "people-mover" outright in that he's going to walk you straight back off the ball, but will attempt to stay locked up with the defensive player. And when the opponent attempts to disengage and get to the ball, that's when he'll accelerate his feet and use the opponent's momentum in a little run blocking "Jiu-Jitsu."
Where Strange is effective is in the outside zone blocking schemes in which he'll try to get across Cam's face and get him to turn his shoulders towards the sidelines and become one dimensional. If he can do that he wins.
Cam, on the other hand, has to resist turning and keep his strength focused on the shoulders of Strange and use his monstrous upper body strength to control Strange at the point of attack.
Strange is disciplined and will attempt to get inside hand position in the close-quarter combat that occurs in the phone booth of the interior line. But he can get out fought for the inside position. When the two combatants come together like clashing sumo wrestlers, locked up chest to chest, battling for the all-important inside hand position, Cam has a distinct advantage.
Strange did get replaced for a couple series in the second quarter in Miami. But he returned to play in the second half.
There are contrasting reports why Strange sat. Per his own words, Strange said it was pre-planned because of the heat. But there also are reports that it was the result of a miscommunication on the offensive line that resulted in a QB sack. Whatever the case might be, Strange is in for a nightmare of a second start.
On the first play from scrimmage last week, Heyward overpowered another rookie, Bengals left guard Cordell Volson and sacked Joe Burrow. Heyward went on to recover a fumble, tackle a few ball carriers, including one for a loss behind the line of scrimmage, and record three QB hits besides the sack. Just another day at the office for one of the most decorated defensive performers to ever wear the black and gold.
Because Strange stands up and grapples in pass pro, rather than punches, Heyward has a made-to-order double spear (two arm lockout) bull rush that I can't help but think will have Strange on skates.
Strange also gets a little head heavy at times in pass pro and is susceptible to a swim (arm over) move that I'm sure Cam will attempt to take advantage of. And because Strange is a little light compared to the large prairie mammals that Cam normally does battle with, I'm sure throwing an uppercut or two and uprooting Strange will be another weapon.
Cam has such overpowering leverage when he gets the four-wheel drive going, Strange may feel more than a little "strange" after Cam gets his pass rush mojo going.
Overall, Cam plays with a much lower pad level than Strange, is stronger, and they don't come anymore ferocious than Cam. I don't see the young buck Cole Strange having an enjoyable Acrisure Stadium experience against the multiple-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, Cam Heyward.