Here's an excellent analysis (as usual) written by the guys at postgameheroes.
Let’s take a look at Pittsburgh’s running stats from this past season:
Running Left End/Outside—-61 carries, 227 yards, 3.7 yards per rush
Running Left Tackle—-44 carries, 166 yards, 3.8 yards per rush
Running Left Guard—-55 carries, 195 yards, 3.5 yards per rush
Up the Middle—-102 carries, 284 yards, 2.8 yards per rush
Running Right Guard—-62 carries, 190 yards, 3.1 yards per rush
Running Right Tackle—-86 carries, 357 yards, 4.2 yards per rush
Running Right End/Outside—-84 carries, 405 yards, 4.8 yards per rush
Darnell Stapleton took his fair share of heat last year for his average (sometimes sub-par) play at RG. He was actually a nice fill-in for Kendall Simmons but that really isn’t saying very much. Simmons was the worst Steeler OLineman for 2+ seasons and putting somebody else in his spot was only going to improve the line. Now that we have a full season of Stapleton to digest I think we see why he is a Center by trade, and useful at Guard primarily as a backup plan.
Stapleton’s play this past season has many Steeler fans hoping that Kraig Urbik can somehow win the starting spot at RG during training camp and instantly upgrade that position. I would agree that this is probably the option that would work best for the team but I’m not sure if a rookie OL can come in and snag a starting job in July/August. Each of the past few seasons, the Steelers have broken camp in Latrobe WITHOUT their top 5 lineman gettting all the starting spots. Kemo could have started ahead of Simmons 1 year before he became a starter…..Starks was better at RT than Colon was when Willie took the starting RT job……Sean Mahan was awful at Center…..etc….. So Kraig Urbik might be the best Right Guard in the preseason but there is no guarantee that simply playing better than Stapleton in July and August is enough to win him a starting job. With the Steelers and their OL, you just never know. Urbik has a lot in his favor headed into camp though:
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 7 times during this past postseason and depending on who you ask….Darnell Stapleton gave up 4 or 5 of those 7 sacks. A quick look at the graphic above will also show you that when running up the middle or up the butt of the Right Guard, the Steeler RBs had a tough go in terms of yards per rush. ProFootballFocus also put a few numbers together and determined that Stapleton allowed 21% of the QB Pressures on Big Ben last year. That’s a pretty high number considering Darnell played about 200 plays less than the other starters on the offensive line (not including Max Starks). Should Urbik beat Stapleton out for the starting job, the Steelers will gladly have Darnell slip back into a backup C/G role where his position flexibility will be a nice insurance policy in case any of the 3 interior OL get hurt. Who knows, maybe 12 months from now Darnell Stapleton and AQ Shipley are battling it out for the starting Center spot?
Another stat that doesn’t look real good if you’re a Stapleton fan is the number of QB Pressures given up in relation to how many times he was asked to pass protect. Darnell Stapleton gave up a QB Pressure on 5.4% of all plays in which he was asked to pass protect. By comparison….Hartwig was at 3.5%….Starks was at 4.5%….Colon was at 3.2%….and Kemo was at 2.9%. Playing interior line, I would fully expect Stapleton’s “pressures allowed” to equal or better Chris Kemoeatu’s numbers. LT and RT have to face sackmasters and speedrushers and Hartwig often faces huge NT/DTs. There really is no excuse for Stapleton or any Guard to be getting pushed around by your everyday DL.
One more interesting note for you: Most penalized left/right Guards in the NFL last season? Darnell Stapleton ranked #7 in the league last year.
This might be a good spot to insert Kraig Urbik’s scouting report from CBS.
GENERAL REPORT: GRADE: 6.92
Body Structure: Urbik is a big body type with good arm length, and large and strong hands. He has a bit too much girth, but has the big hips, thighs and calves to anchor strongly when he stays down in his pads. Outside of his girth, he has an overall firm frame and while he is not explosive out of his stance, he has a very strong lower body.
Athletic Ability: Urbik lacks ideal stamina, as he is more apt to lean into his man and use his body as a crutch as the game wears on, but he has enough quickness and movement to get the job done coming off the snap. He lacks great muscle definition, but is a naturally strong athlete, doing an excellent job of anchoring firmly vs. the bull rush. You will not see him show suddenness taking on double moves, but he has enough lateral skills to execute the short pulls to the outside (just not as fluid getting into the second level). GRADE: 6.2
Football Sense: Urbik is very effective adjusting to line stunts and shows……….
very good vision to pick up the twists. He works well with others on double teams and keeps his head on a swivel moving into the second level. He easily takes plays from the chalkboard to the playing field. He plays with good concentration (just three penalties during his career) and is very alert to the defender’s movements. GRADE: 7.4
Character: Urbik is a blue-collar type who has no problems off the field. He gets good family support and has been a good program player who is compliant. He does not need any prodding in the training room and is a good self-starter and role model for the younger players. GRADE: 7.2
Competitiveness: Urbik plays with a nasty temperament and his aggression rubs off on players lining up around him. He works to finish and while he sometimes gets too anxious, he will not play outside himself and lose balance when anchored at the point of attack. He is just a tough, gritty athlete who has a few tricks in his bag that he uses to combat the more physical opponent, as he loves the confrontations in the trenches. GRADE: 7.0
Work Habits: Urbik is a hard worker in the weight room, called by the staff the toughest player on the team. He was the unquestioned leader of the offensive line and will not hesitate to get physical with his opponent. He takes well to hard coaching and his mean streak on the field — while not in the Conrad Dobler category — is one that makes a defender take pause before deciding whether to challenge him. GRADE: 6.8
ATHLETIC REPORT: GRADE: 6.48
Initial Quickness: Urbik has enough functional initial quickness off the snap to gain advantage, and he has good pop and explosion on contact, although he must sink his pads to be effective. He is a very good position blocker who uses his natural leverage to sustain blocks. Despite his girth, he does a good job of staying low in his pads, but when he gets tall, he will get walked back or lose relationship with the bull rusher. He does not come off the snap with good explosion, and if a quick defender gets a side on him, he will lose contact when he “short arms.” He’s not quick getting his hands up or recoiling vs. counter moves. But for a big man, he moves well along the line (struggles in the second level) to gain an advantage: GRADE: 5.8
Lateral Movement: Urbik is a marginal mover in space, especially when trying to mirror smaller, quicker opponents, as he does not have the ease of movement to recover when he lunges or over-extends (footwork needs major refinement). He looks stiff in his movements down the line and is better battling in the trenches than when asked to pull or trap. He can find his way around the center, but shows no hip snap when having to redirect. GRADE: 5.4
Balance/Stays On Feet: Like most large offensive linemen, his girth sometimes causes problems when trying to play at a good pad level, as he is prone to getting too tall in his stance, resulting in him struggling to maintain balance on the move. He does have some balance concerns when he over-extends, but generally plays with a wide base and strong anchor to maintain position. He uses his leg drive and strength to get movement off the ball, as he is an efficient knee bender who might lack great flexibility, but he rarely bends at the waist. To compensate for a lack of explosiveness off the snap, he has developed into a very patient blocker, especially in pass protection, as he can sink his weight and slide better when he keeps his pads true. GRADE: 6.5
Explosion/Pop: His style of play is more suited for a power-oriented attack, as he does not have the agility needed to play in a zone blocking scheme. Even when he gets too tall in his stance, he does a good job of maintaining his anchor, as he comes off the snap low in drive blocking situations. Urbik is a strong straight-line blocker who is adequate at moving down the line, but also shows functional lateral agility and kick slide needed in pass protection. He is generally effective when angle blocking and walling off, as he does a good job staying with his blocks. With his powerful punch, he has had good success drilling blitzing linebackers and neutralizing the bull rush (see 2008 Fresno State, Ohio State and Florida State games). GRADE: 7.6
Run Blocking: Urbik is best when blocking for the run. He might be a plodder, but shows the ability to get a good fit and drive the defender off the ball. His leg drive gets him good success to work for position. He is better on the short pull to the front side than when working as a trap blocker off tackle. In the run game, he is a good technician who comes off the ball well with some quickness to position and play with good leverage and hand usage. He has the leg drive to clear the rush lanes and shows good hand placement to root out the defender. Some coaches might want him to sink his weight and lower his pads more, especially in short-yardage situations, as he does take false steps that make his leverage inconsistent. He is not asked to get out on the edge and impact for outside running plays, as he does not have great timed speed, but he will not cross his feet, and compensates for lumbering into the second level by taking good blocking angles. GRADE: 7.2
Pass Blocking: Urbik might struggle with the quick double move at times but is generally efficient in pass protection, as he stays on his feet and anchors well. Some teams might look at him as a right tackle, but he does not have that natural balance or foot quickness to mirror edge rushers (best when not isolated on the outside). He could have problems vs. the speed rush at the next level, but he does sink his hips adequately and compensates by playing with a wide base to maintain his anchor. When he tires late in games, he relies more on pushing and leaning into the defender to gain advantage in pass protection. When he plays with good patience, he has better ability to neutralize, thanks to his anchor and kick slide. GRADE: 6.7
Pulling/Trapping: Urbik is a poor long distance trap blocker, as he is too slow when having to attack the second level. He needs to move his feet and hips more when attempting to pull and trap. When pulling from the back side, he will get caught in traffic and this prevents him from getting to the point of attack, as he pulls too flat and gets swallowed. He works hard to open his hips and move down the line, but he is just not quick enough to reach a second-level target. GRADE: 5.3
Adjust on Linebacker Downfield: Urbik does not have the speed needed to get to the second level, but when he times his moves and takes proper angles on screens, he is better when working in space. He has adequate straight-line quickness to reach the second level, but struggles to adjust and will only sustain when he achieves contact. He is also sometimes slow to adjust to the linebackers on the blitz and while he has a good hand placement, he will get a little lazy and allow some inside penetration (see 2008 Penn State and Cal Poly and 2007 Penn State and Ohio State games). GRADE: 5.5
Use of Hands/Punch: Urbik is not that flexible, but when he comes off the snap with good hand placement, he is quite effective at neutralizing the straight-line charge (will struggle vs. side movement due to inconsistent hip snap). He is an effective reach blocker thanks to a long wingspan and does a good job of keeping his arms and hands active to gain separation. He gets good hand placement and generates strong force behind his punch, enough to get a good jolt — he likes to use his hands as weapons. He needs to show better hand extension to control on the move, though. He plays with good nastiness, using his hands effectively to generate a punch to shock and jolt. He’s also quite effective at grabbing and locking out without getting caught by the refs. GRADE: 7.3
Reactions/Awareness: Urbik is a low rep assignment player who does a good job of keeping his head on a swivel and anticipating the defender’s moves in the trenches, although he’s not as aware of activity moving in space. He works well with other linemen on combo blocks, as he is an efficient contact seeker with impressive upper body strength. He also shows very good alertness to pick up stunts and blitzes, getting good position to sustain. GRADE: 7.5
Compares To: DAN BUENNING, Chicago — One thing about Wisconsin offensive linemen — they are tough and well prepared to play the NFL power game. Urbik is never going to impress with his foot speed and is not suited for a zone blocking scheme, but he has very good tenacity and a strong hand punch. He will struggle to handle speed moves, making a shift to offensive tackle not ideal for a player who is better suited working inside in combination with other blockers. With his ability to wall off defenders and widen the rush lanes, a team with a strong inside running game will benefit most from a player of his caliber.
OVERALL GRADE: 6.55
Some other notes:
*Max Starks is such a dominating run blocker, it surprises me that the team was so “right-handed” in their rushing attack. With Darnell Stapleton and Willie Colon on the right side, you would think the Steelers would be more likely to run behind Starks and Kemoeatu (a true road-grader).
*I’m not a huge fan of singleback zone running schemes but the Steelers won a Super Bowl with it, so how much can I complain? I will say this, if the Steelers #3 and #4 WRs don’t step up and if Santonio Holmes or Hines Ward get injured, this offense will have to turn into the “old” Steelers pretty quickly. Maybe not run, run, pass, punt like the old days but certainly no more pass, pass, pass, FG from the 5 yard line. With Mendenhall, Moore, Parker, and Summers in the backfield I think Pittsburgh could easily transition into a power running team if the are forced to (due to injury or game circumstances).
*102 carries up the middle (referencing the graphic above) probably represents a lot of the “stuffs” that took place at or near the line of scrimmage. Steeler RBs often receive the ball in the backfield and have to find the hole themselves. The Steelers were not a power running team last year and the days of “run the ball right behind the LG” might be over. The zone blocking scheme the Steelers employed last year is one of the reasons we stopped going all-out on our Offensive Line grades and analysis. As it became more and more subjective we found it hard to hand out grades to guys blocking “zones”. Handing out negative scores to guys giving up sacks is one thing, but grading a Singleback zone scheme stretch play (like the Indy Colts running game) and rewarding or punishing Kemo, Hartwig, Stapleton and others on a 4 yard gain just didn’t seem to prove much, solve any problems, or get to the bottom of anything. We don’t want to toss stats at you for no reason. Our screencaps and play-by-play breakdowns and analysis have always been done to generate discussion and to dig deeper than other sites were willing to go. We’ll continue offering the same content and more this upcoming football season. Hopefully, the battles in training camp will unveil a few other areas of the team that we need to grade and follow on a weekly basis. Looking forward to it.
Post-Super Bowl Disclaimer:
Let’s also keep in mind that the Steelers are just coming off a Super Bowl victory. They don’t NEED to improve all that much and any/all nitpicking done over the next few weeks before the new season starts is simply done in an effort to engage in discussion and get back into the groove of Steeler season. For example, Darnell Stapleton could start all 16 regular season games and the Steelers could be just fine…..but looking at the numbers/stats and wondering what the Line would look like with a possible upgrade can help pass the time between now and the start of training camp.