It is one thing to make your second career start in the NFL. It is another thing when the team you are facing has one of the best defensive lines in the league.
This was the situation third-year center J.C. Haussener was facing against the Washington Football team on Monday. Overall, the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line did an excellent job keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger clean in the pocket, while surrendering no sacks against Washington's talented defensive line.
From and individual performance standpoint, Haussener's day came with its fair share of peaks and valleys. As the replacement for a player as accomplished as Maurkice Pouncey, he had some large shoes to fill. If anything can be said, he played all 71 snaps and gave a valiant effort throughout the entire game.
A Few Stumbles
Whether it was by design or not, there were many occasions we observed in which Haussener either looked lost or almost missed an assignment. Much of the time, the Washington Football Team rushed three defensive linemen, with the occasional edge rusher. For the most part, Haussener was unable to locate his man and seemed lost and times.
In this sequence, Washington presented a hybrid front; three defensive lineman with one edge rusher on the right side. After he snaps the ball, comes out of his stance and looks to locate the oncoming Washington linebacker on the left. During this process, he briefly stumbles as a result of tripping on his fellow lineman Matt Feiler's leg; this was attributed to his lack of spatial awareness. He would eventually find his man, but the process to the point could have been much smooth with better field awareness and better timing.
Winning One-on-One Battles
Haussener's willingness to complete, resulted in his ability to win a few one-on-one battles. When viewing his performance in this game, it was apparent that what he lacked in true physicality and athleticism, he compensated it with good technique. Of the many things he did well in this domain, it was his pad level that stood out the most.
The focus in this sequence is the Washington interior lineman in shaded 2-technique (#93- Jonathan Allen). When Haussener snaps the ball, he redirects the defensive tackle's hands with a quick slap technique; by doing so, Haussener is able to establish the proper hand placement inside. Secondly, he successfully employs a lower pad level, neutralizing the opposing lineman from moving forward. When it comes to fundamentals, Haussener seemingly has a knack of using them to his advantage.
During the course of the game, Haussener started to adjust to the pace of the opposing defense. From this, he became more aware of oncoming blitzes, and his spatial awareness started to improve.
In this sequence, the Washington defense has stacked the line of scrimmage, indicating an all-out blitz. Once he snaps the ball, the Washington defense rushes four defenders, while executing a modified stunt. Haussener does a great job staying composed, as he takes on two defenders in succession. Furthermore, the fact that he's able to slide over and provide assistance for David DeCastro, makes this blocking sequence that much more impressive.
With Pouncey still on the team's COVID/Reserve list, the Steelers are likely to continue with Haussener as their starting center. Despite the many mistakes, Haussener proved that he can adjust to the speed of the game, and win battles in the trenches. Considering he came to the team as an undrafted player, as he continues to evolve with each game, he could transform into the type of player who could reach far beyond his value.