Steelers Film Room: Can Steve McLendon Be a Three-Down Nose Tackle?

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Part 1: Run Defense

Ever since Dick Lebeau came back as the Steelers defensive coordinator, the Steelers have been at the top of the league in run defense. They had stayed there up until 2011. It’s no coincidence that this is when Casey Hampton’s play started to decline. This is a big problem because the defense the Steelers run relies on a dominant nose tackle in the middle that commands a double team, creating lanes for linebackers. Hampton wasn’t doing this anymore as he began to only command one blocker.

What defines a Steelers defensive tackle in the run game?

1. Explosiveness off the ball

2. Controlling hands that can create extension.

3. Needs to be able to push offensive lineman in to the backfield creating lanes

4. Needs to be able to hold at the point of attack when being double and sometimes even triple teamed.

If someone can do this, they are a perfect fit for the 3-4 defense the Steelers run. Casey Hampton was never much of a sack artist,as he never had more than 1-2  in one season. Steve McLendon, however, has flashed the ability to rush the passer in the limited snaps he has received. Quite honestly, the biggest question I had about McLendon was his ability to control the line of scrimmage, shutting down the opponents running game. What I found out was very positive concerning Steve’s ability in the running game. Below is a play that I have analyzed where Steve dominates the line of scrimmage, and stops the Jets from getting any positive yardage.

Coaches Film from NFL Game Rewind

On this play in the first quarter against the Jets, Steve McLendon is lined up in a one-technique on center Nick Mangold. Shown by the red arrows, the Jets will be running a zone stretch play to the right.

Coaches Film from NFL Game Rewind

On the right side, there are four Jets, the tight end, tackle, guard and center. Their responsibility is to block Woodley, Hood, and Timmons depending upon which way Timmons decides to go. In order to free up Timmons, one of the three Steelers up front needs to take on two blockers.

Coaches Film from NFL Game Rewind

At this point, before Sanchez can even hand the ball off, McLendon is already 2-3 yards up the field. He is pushing Center Nick Mangold into the backfield, totally interrupting the play. Middle linebacker Timmons comes from behind Mangold taking away the cut back lane from running back Shonn Greene.

Coaches Film from NFL Game Rewind

McLendon has now forced the center and guard so far into the backfield that Shonn Greene’s options have drastically diminished. Greene sees Woodley with the edge set, so he knows he is going to have to cut inside.

Coaches Film from NFL Game Rewind

With McLendon taking both Brandon Moore and Nick Mangold, Lawrence Timmons comes flying in and tackles Shonn Greene. The red “X” is where Greene couldn’t go, and the white “X” is where the original line of scrimmage was. As you can see by the white “X”, McLendon’s penetration made it extremely hard for the Jets offense to get positive yardage.

Extra Notes:

With McLendon being one of the strongest players on the Steelers, he has no trouble taking double teams. In the play above, he didn’t just push back some backup center and guard. Nick Mangold is a top 5 center, and Brandon Moore was a top 10 guard last year. This goes to show how strong and how explosive Steve McLendon is. He pushed back two very good lineman 3-4 yards!

Of course, he did have some faults I noticed. One of the issues I saw was his leverage. At times, I saw him come off too high and he wasn’t able to create penetration. This is something that does not come as easy to him since he is 6’4 compared to Hampton who was 6’1. You can teach leverage, but you can’t teach McLendon’s strength and explosiveness that he shows on the field when defending the run.

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Tags: Casey Hampton Pittsburgh Steelers Steve McLendon

  • Dom DiTolla

    Solid post once again, Nick. I really like when you do the picture & still-photos of film breakdowns.

    I also have high hopes for McLendon this fall. Seems like he is geeked up to finally play full-time, and he has received nothing but high praise from Mitchell & Big Snack while he has developed over the last few seasons.

  • Marc Thomas

    sorry, but this post sucks. first of all, you’re a full yard off on the line of scrimmage. mclendon is not “2-3 yards up the field” as you put, but rather at the line of scrimmage and barely engaging the center (mangold) at that point in your post. finally, sanchez blew the call by not audibling to run to the other side. before the play even starts it’s clear the steelers have overloading the one side, yet the jets run right into it. easy play for the steelers.
    if sanchez audibles to the other side, the center and right guard combo block mclendon (easily because of how he is lined up) with mangold sliding up field to seal off timmons which leaves 3 blockers on 3 steelers and greene picking his hole.

    • Nick Kelly

      Interesting take, but I’m not sure what your definition of “overloaded” is, but from the way I count, on the left side, you have Woodley and Hood, and on the right side you have Carter at OLB and Heyward at DE, with Timmons lined up on the right guard and Foote lined up on the left guard. The only difference is, Steve McLendon is slightly shaded to the left side of the center. If you want to talk about overloaded, the JETS have an extra man on both sides. The reason the Jets had a three yard loss is not because it was an “easy play” for the Steelers. It was anything but easy for the Steelers. The only reason it worked for the Steelers was because of the strength and athleticism of McLendon, as well as his ability to take the double team. Mangold is expected to make that block, and McLendon is lined up there on purpose because the tight end is on that side. Thanks for stating your opinion but I stand by my analysis, and I suggest you look more closely at the film before you decide to comment next time.

      • Marc Thomas

        Not sure what you are looking at. Mclendon is almost lined up over the guard and his stance is such that Mangold’s reach block is nearly impossible. What double team? Mclendon is not engaged by the guard until they are outside the opposite hash marks. Actually, the guard isn’t even looking at him until he realizes he doesn’t have anyone to block! By the way, nice to see Hood get stood-up by a TE, bum. The real succes here is Woodley holding the edge and forcing the RB to look elsewhere, Timmons had a “lay-up” for a tackle. Like I said before, Sanchez blew it by not audibling the run play to the other side. Mclendon would be an easy combo block because of how he is lined up and Mangold could then slide up field to seal off Timmons. That leaves a hat-on-a-hat for the rest of the Jet’s blockers and the RB would have room to run.

        • Nick Kelly

          Do you watch the Steelers defense? The nose is always shaded to one side of the center. Not sure why you think he is lined up over the guard. And you say that Mangold’s reach block is near impossible, thats why McLendon is lined up like that. It’s very difficult to block. Also the guard did have someone to block, McLendon, because it is his responsibility to take any one in his zone, hence the term zone blocking. Say Sanchez did audible to the other side, it wouldn’t have made a difference because the Steelers defense would know what would be going on. In that case, McLendon would have angled on the other side. It’s not as simple as you make it sound to just “audible to the other side.” You can’t argue with the fact that McLendon forced the double team because he ended up having to be blocked by two blockers, freeing up Timmons. While you may think its a given Timmons tackled him, no tackle is ever a given. I can respect where you are coming from, but you make some of these things such as easily switching to the other side, or that Timmons making the tackle was a given. Thanks for commenting!

          • Marc Thomas

            Clearly, you do not pay attention to what is written in my posts or illustrated in your still shots. You are incorrectly repeating what I have said, your line of scrimmage is wrong, your red blocking arrows are wrong, you appear to be ignoring what the players are actually doing in the play, your complete diagnosis of the play is wrong. This play was doomed from the start because of the Steeler’s alignment and basic execution. But, for some reason, you are trying to prop up Mclendon. I don’t know why, maybe he’s your favorite player or something, but he’s an average NT. Do you want to know why – because old, broken down Casey Hampton started over him, that’s why. I love Hampton, one of the best ever in my opinion, but he was at the end of his rope last season and Mclendon still couldn’t win the job. I hope Mclendon comes out and plays well this year, but he’s no stud, that’s for sure.