Thursday, January 03, 2008

Are You Ready for Your Close-Up Mr. Essex?

UPDATE: Steelers.com offers an article assuring all Steelers fans that Mr. Essex is ready for the challenge!

Original Posting

Coaches in the National Football League, when faced with injuries to their players, are fond of saying things like "everyone with a helmet is a playmaker," or "we have the same expectations we have when (fill in the blank) is in there." With that in mind we take a look -- a refresher look, really -- at the Steelers' third-string playmaker at left offensive tackle, Trai Essex.

Upon being chosen in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft (out of Northwestern), Mr. Essex told Pittsburgh reporters that "[t]he Steelers have been my team since I was a kid. Whenever I played Nintendo, they were my team." One can only assume that his electronic version of the Steelers rarely, if ever, utilized a third string lineman. However in assessing Mr. Essex former Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm had this to say: "He can play both tackles. He can play both guards. He's an explosive-type of lineman. He fits our scheme. He's a guy we were looking for."

But things haven't really worked out. Mr. Essex hasn't started a game since December 18, 2005 (he started the final three regular season game of his rookie season), and after appearing in 15 games in 2006 he has made it onto the field in only three games in 2007. Now the Steelers are, quite literally, asking him to watch Ben Roethlisberger's back. Though there is precious little evidence to work from, we decided to evaluate the three starts that Mr. Essex has in 2005 in the hopes of getting some idea of what to expect on Saturday against Jacksonville.

Using the NFL's official game books from the final three regular season games of the 2005 season we decided to break down just where the Steelers rushed the football (i.e. rushes to the left side of the offensive line, rushes up the middle, rushes to the right side of the offensive line) and just how effective those rushing plays were (note: for our purposes we did not include quarterback scrambles). Here's how the numbers look:

DateOpponentLeftYds.MiddleYds.LeftYds.
12/11/05Cincinnati11471025627
12/11/05Chicago75920771859
12/18/05Minnesota12248681542

So what do these numbers mean? A look at the percentages -- i.e. what percentage of runs in any single game went left/middle/right, and what percentage of rushing yardage came from going left/middle/right -- reveals that over the course of the three games, while the Steelers remained committed to running left, the overall percentage of yards gained on such plays steadily declined.

DateOpponentPct. LeftPct. Yds.Pct. MiddlePct. Yds.Pct. LeftPct. Yds.
12/11/05Cincinnati40.7447.4737.0425.2522.2227.27
12/11/05Chicago15.5630.2644.4439.4940.030.26
12/18/05Minnesota34.2917.9122.8650.7542.8631.34

There is no way to say with certainty that it was Mr. Essex's performance which led directly to the decline in rushing effectiveness to the left side; however rushing effectiveness did decline, and in addition to that Mr. Essex surrendered two sacks in the game against Minnesota and was flagged for a holding call as well.

And of course there is the fact that he hasn't started a single game since.

Much has been made regarding the loss of Willie Parker, but as much as that injury hurt the Steelers offensive capabilities it is the losses of Marvel Smith and Max Starks that may is more likely to prematurely end the Steelers' season.

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