A Mid-Season Film Break Down: the Eagles Game

The highlight of the Eagles game film was the play of center Jeff Hartings. I reviewed the film with a particular focus on the offensive line because I have been wondering where all of the recent domination was coming from.

The highlight of the Eagles game film was the play of center Jeff Hartings. I reviewed the film with a particular focus on the offensive line because I have been wondering where all of the recent domination was coming from.

Jeff Hartings and the Offensive Line

I expected to be surprised by the play of Vincent and Ross on the right side of the line. While their play was good, it was not surprising. What was surprising was the domination coming from the center of the offensive line, particularly Jeff Hartings and Alan Faneca. While we all know Faneca is an all-pro, the most surprising Steeler on film was clearly Hartings who graded out higher than any player on the line including Faneca. Hartings played the game at an all-pro level from the opening snap, consistently opening up running lanes and dominating the player opposed to him. Hartings is pure hustle on every snap, using technique, strength and good old fashioned effort to consistently remove Eagles from the play. When Hartings wasn't mauling defensive linemen, he was 10 yards downfield beating up worn out linebackers. On most running plays, Hartings and Faneca were taking out 3 defenders between the two of them.

As for the rest of the offensive line, after Hartings and Faneca there was a sizable drop off in play to Marvel Smith. Marvel is more of a finesse player who is at his best in pass protection. Marvel earns his money when pitted against the NFL's best pass rushers. After Marvel there is a good drop off again to Oliver Ross who plays a very physical brand of football, particularly in the running game. For the most part Oliver also held his own against Jevon Kearse in pass protection. Bringing up the rear is Keydrick Vincent who at this point is clearly the Steelers' least skilled lineman. Vincent is at his best when he is able to use his size and power to his advantage, which may come more often with better technique.

Hello Max Starks

Another big highlight of the Eagles game film was the play of rookie OT Max Starks. Starks got plenty of snaps toward the end of the game at LT in place of Marvel Smith. I noticed that Starks also got on the field in relief of Marvel toward the end of the Patriots game but I did not know why. Now I know, and it's a pretty simple reason. Max Starks is already a far superior run blocking OT than Marvel Smith.

Overall you have to be very excited by the rookie's potential. With his size and wingspan, Starks has the look of a first round pick that the Steelers somehow stole in round 3. He's a 6'7" 350 pound run blocking monster that plays with both aggression and technique. Starks was collapsing the entire side of the defensive line, knocking defensive ends into linebackers and nose tackles. It was Starks who, early in the game, paved the way for Bettis on a 4th and 1 in the Steelers' first touchdown drive. It's hard to even see the defender once big No. 78 locks on. If Starks can add some pass protection to his repertoire, he has the look of a dominating future RT.

Tuman and Kreider

Another surprising performer was Jeremy Tuman. For a guy who is never seen dominating his man, Tuman is extremely effective as a run blocker. Jeremy usually holds his block just long enough in the running game, and when necessary, Jeremy just plain holds. On almost every block, Tuman deftly grabs the opponent's jersey and holds on just long enough to avoid the flag. A dangerous game I know, but against the Eagles it was a very effective one. Dan Kreider is also a key contributor to the run game, operating as almost another offensive lineman lining up in the backfield.

Team Balance

I noticed that the offensive line really did not begin to take over the game until the Steelers' third drive. In the first two series, key plays by Roethlisberger and Ward kept drives alive and/or resulted in touchdowns. Ben converted two key third downs by using his unique ability to turn a strong pass rush into big plays for the Steelers. Ward's two touchdown runs, one after a short catch, reinforced that he is one of the best football players in the league, regardless of position.

You also must credit the Steelers' defense that didn't allow an Eagles first down until the game clock showed 10 minutes left in the half. Enough cannot be said about what Dick LeBeau has done for this defense. Without his schemes, the Steelers would have a hard time getting pressure on the QB. The Steelers blitzed on 14 of the Eagles first 21 pass plays – two out of every three snaps. The players are responding with inspired play because they strap up knowing the feeding frenzy is about to begin. It was also very good to see number 97 out there bench pressing offensive lineman again. With LeBeau blitzing the ILB's as much as the OLB's, it won't be long before Kendrell Bell is having a rookie season type impact again.

The combination of good running, timely plays in the passing game when the run game stalled, and strong defense caused the Eagles' undersized defense to be on the field for nearly the entire fist hour of the game. That allowed the offensive line to be even more dominant than it may have been otherwise.

The Grunts

Rather than flat out domination, the big key to the offensive line is simply the effort with which they play. If you listen closely, the first thing you notice on every snap is the un-usually loud sound of pads popping. The next sound you hear is of large men grunting, presumably the defensive line. You almost get tired watching Hartings and Faneca giving maximum effort on every play. They are both smart, talented, and strong, a deadly combination. It's a shame that Kendall Simmons is not able to join this duo. Regardless, there is no doubt that Hartings and Faneca are the engine that makes this team go.

The Formula Man™

Catch the Formula Man right here on every Pittsburgh Steelers game day.

The Red Hot to Red Face Formula: Last week the Formula Man said to expect a Bettis-like 129 yards from Duce Staley. As it turned out, the only game day impersonation was the Bus masquerading as the 2001 model year as he rumbled for 149 yards. It's bad news for the rest of the league when the Steelers can lose their starting running back and the backup is a Hall of Famer named Jerome Bettis. With the offensive line now expecting to dominate every contest, it may not matter who plays running back for the Steelers. So much for Duce Staley getting a big head.

The "Taking it to the House" Formula: Fast RB + Gaping Holes = Touchdown. Some of you may know that the Formula Man is a Willie Parker homer. There are primarily three reasons for this: (1) speed; (2) speed; and (3) speed. The Formula Man believes that the rookie with blazing speed should get more touches, regardless of the health the players ahead of him on the depth chart. With his speed, Parker may have taken a few of those 6 yard Bettis runs to the house. Think about trying to hit a fastball after 20 straight change ups – it might just slip on by before you even notice it's a fastball. If Bettis is forced to be the primary running back again, look for Parker to get a few more carries and possibly break one.

The "You Had to Say it, didn't you" Formula: Dumb Comments + Quality Opponent = Loss. After two rousing victories against the best the NFL had to offer, a letdown game was in order for the Steelers. Then, like a gift from the gods, Gerard Warren decided to make some comments about going after boy wonder's head. Bad idea. The Formula Man is slightly confused by the comments because, if Warren's goal was to make a really stupid comment, why stop at allusions to flagrant fouls on the Steelers' QB? Why not go ahead and add that he thinks Alan Faneca is a girly man, and that Jeff Hartings and Keydrick Vincent have ugly mothers? That way, Warren would have virtually assured the best game of the season from the Steelers offensive line – and another loss for the Browns. I guess the Browns just can't do anything right, even losing.

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