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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