For years the Steelers have run over the Browns thanks in large part to the blocking of Alan Faneca. Chris Kemoeatu did an outstanding job of filling Faneca's shoes on Sunday. In fact, you could argue that Kemoeatu's pull blocks were even more effective than Faneca. Faneca has quicker feat than the massive Kemoeatu, but Kemo packs a much bigger whallop in his punch, and he did an outstanding job on Sunday of locking up his man and ensuring that once he engages him, he's erased from the play.
To see Kemoeatu give Shaun Rogers a shove and knock him to the ground is an amazing sight. To see a Browns' safety run away to avoid being blocked by him was just flat-out hillarious. Overall I counted five different plays where Kemoeatu put his man on the ground. As a road-grader, his strength is pretty remarkable.
Kendall Simmons still is the weak link on the line, although he has played better than he did in 2007. But it was startling to see the difference between him on pull blocks and Kemoeatu. The Steelers asked Simmons to pull three times, while Kemoeatu was asked to pull 11 times. Pull blocks should be one of Simmons' strengths, as he has good mobility for an offensive guard. But what's apparent is that Simmons just can't stick a block like Kemoeatu. Where Kemoeatu locked up Willie McGinnest and drove him for eight yards, Simmons made an initial hit on Andra Davis, but then watched Davis shed him to make the tackle. That kind of small miscue is the difference between a four-yard gain and a 19-yard scamper. Simmons' overall poor grade here does deserve one explanation--Shaun Rogers abused him, but Rogers will abuse a lot of offensive linemen. Simmons had one play where he fell in front of Willie Parker which tripped Parker up. He was responsible for half of two different sacks and he also gave up a quarterback hurry to Corey Williams.
Marvel Smith had another solid day. As the left tackle on a team that ran right all night, it's hard to get a whole lot of plus grades, but Smith did a solid job with the exception of one bad pass play, where he left Shaun Smith by for a sack.
Justin Hartwig did about as well as I would hope for a Steelers' center to do against Rogers. He got plenty of double-team help from Chris Kemoeatu and Kendall Simmons, but what impressed me is that he was able to handle Rogers' strength. There were times where Rogers beat him off the snap, and others where he was able to use a quick move to slip Hartwig, but whenever he tried to simply bull rush Hartwig into the backfield, Hartwig planted his feet and stoned him. The success of the running game in large part starts with the ability of the inside of the Steelers offensive line to hold its ground. When that happens, Willie Parker's first cut comes as he reaches the hole, instead of trying to dodge a defender in the backfield.
Willie Colon may have graded out at an even zero for the game, but it was an impressive performance. Colon gave up one-half of a sack, but the Steelers ran to the right all game, and a key part of that success was Colon's ability to seal off the Browns' defensive ends, creating the inside portion of a running alley for Willie Parker. Heath Miller did a very solid job of setting the outside of the alley, while Kemoeatu destroyed the Browns' linebackers when they tried to come up and fill the hole.
I'm also this year going to try to keep track of the sacks as they happen. In this game there were three sacks. Two of them should be blamed on the offensive line, as Roethlisberger was sacked in 2.3 and 2.4 seconds after the snap. The third one (credited to Marvel Smith) came when Roethlisberger pump faked and brought the ball back down. Shaun Smith got there 3.5 seconds after the snap on a play with an empty backfield. Put that sack on Roethlisberger, who had to know he needed to get rid of the ball more quickly.
Both of Roethlsiberger's sacks in the first game came on quick sacks, so at this point, as I count it, there are four sacks that can be blamed on the offensive line, and one that's to be blamed on Roethlisberger.