Meat-Eater Match Up: Steelers vs. Ravens, Week 17

"So how much do you think I weigh?" The question was posed by former Steelers great, nose tackle Casey Hampton, to Tunch Ilkin. 

"I think you weigh about 350-pounds," replied Ilkin.

"350-pounds?" Hampton's face scrunched up incredulous, in part because of the training camp sun, and in part because he was feigning injury over being accused of weighing so much.

"Seriously, 350-pounds? Really? Well, then it's the best 350-pounds you ever saw!" Hampton spat out.

I laugh thinking about this story. Because of all the possible matchups across both lines of scrimmage in the regular season finale in Baltimore, this week's meat-eater matchup features the Steelers BJ Finney stepping in for Maurkice Pouncey and coming to grips with the Ravens Casey Hampton lookalike, Michael Pierce.

Into his fourth year in the league, Pierce is a noted run-stopper. Standing 6-0, tipping the scales in a Hampton-esque 345-pounds, Pierce lines up over the center, or on the outside shoulder of the guards.

Whether you watch Pierce on film, or in the flesh, the first thing that stands out is the tremendous girth of the man. He is thick everywhere, and in the nomenclature of run-stopping nose tackles, measures about "two axe handles" across the backside.

That's a lot of run-stopping power.

Pierce plays with a low pad level, and frankly, as short as he is, I don't think it's possible he could play with a high pad level.

When Pierce comes off the ball on an opposing player, he will bury into the opposition grille like a tick on a hound. Pierce fires low and hard, driving his palms like a sumo charging, delivering forceful palm blows into his opponent. 

The resulting effect can be staggering. Particularly on the man opposing Pierce.

When you have 345-pounds (and I'm guessing this was before breakfast) forklifting you in the chin and shoulders, you better have some serious ham-hock power to back you up.

Enter BJ Finney. Standing 6-4, and pushing 318-pounds, Finney will be making his 13th start of his career, fourth of this year. And, just for the record, Finney is 11-1 as a starter. 

Ham-hock power is exactly what Finney has. And he's going to need all of it while matching up with Pierce.

While surprisingly nimble of foot for such a huge man, Pierce has limited overall range laterally. At times, he will work as a scraper on some lateral run schemes, bubbling over the top to secure some gaps. 

But where Pierce really shines is when he will 2-gap a guard, drive him backwards into the backfield, and then throw him down, while still making the tackle.

It's an impressive display of raw power.

Double-teaming Pierce has got to be a frustrating experience. Unless you match his uniquely low pad level, and can generate some serious, and I do mean serious leg drive, you don't have a chance to move him.

If Pierce was plugging up a sink, a gallon of Drano wouldn't be enough to move him.

Pierce is obviously a power rusher, not deviating from a bull rush in the slightest. Though he has only been credited with half a sack, Pierce will make you fight him every step of the way. 

Whether Pierce plays over the center, or either one of the guards, I suspect one might come away from an afternoon of head-butting with Pierce feeling a little shorter, and with a jammed up neck.

Pierce can blow up a gap, create a tear in the run-fit fabric of a defense. He will create run-through lanes for the linebackers, and run-through they will.

If you're a tackle having to block down on Pierce while the guard is pulling, you have an ordeal. 

If you put your head in front, and hope to stop him as a penetrator, that will leave you vulnerable. Pierce is agile enough to club across the face of the tackle blocking down and then move laterally.

However, if you play the down block neutral (down the middle of the man), he can penetrate. Glad I don't have to choose. Even happier I don't have to play him.

Where Finney has to be on his toes is when Pierce is the penetrator on pass rush stunts. His explosive first step can open rush lanes, and when the Ravens walk up linebackers, three bodies in a phone booth space can be a little overcrowded.

Overall, the Ravens defense is 5th in the league. Number four against the run, seventh against the pass. 

However you want to slice this, Michael Pierce, squaring off against BJ Finney, is going to be a big piece of the pie.

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