Steelers rookie right tackle Kelvin Beachum helped his offense on Sunday, when everyone had been worried he'd harm it.
In the short term, Beachum provided depth in an area of the Steelers offense that has been plagued with injuries over the years, but the plan for Beachum likely didn't include him starting a game in his rookie season.
Before Week 13, Beachum saw action at right tackle in Weeks 3 and 12 (via profootballfocus.com) playing three snaps against the Oakland Raiders and 20 against the Cleveland Browns, once starter Mike Adams had to leave the game with an ankle sprain.
With that ankle still not healed, the Steelers decided to give Beachum the start at right tackle in Week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens. Though his primary collegiate experience was at guard, the Steelers opted instead to play Beachum at tackle and keep Ramon Foster at right guard, though if Beachum would have struggled, he and Foster would have likely switched positions.
Beachum, however, did not struggle. Though he was tasked with helping protect not Ben Roethlisberger but the less-elusive Charlie Batch, it could have been much more difficult for Beachum to keep Baltimore's pass rush at bay, let alone help open holes for the Steelers' run game.
Beachum wasn't impressive in the preseason, where he worked on the left side of the line at both tackle and guard, but he more than held his own against Ravens linebackers Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger in Sunday's 23-20 win. He played all 67 of the Steelers' offensive snaps, giving up one sack, two quarterback hits and a hurry—not too bad for an inexperienced seventh-round pick getting the unexpected start.
Let's take a closer look at how Beachum was able to keep Baltimore's pass rush at bay and keep Batch upright in this pivotal Steelers win.
Holding His Own Against Haloti Ngata
Though Beachum did see help in both run-blocking and pass protection, he was also left to fend for himself when the scheme dictated it and he handled the added responsibility well. Here, he controls Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata single-handedly, allowing lead blocker Will Johnson to create a hole for running back Isaac Redman that resulted in a 24-yard fourth-quarter gain.
Before the handoff, Beachum already begins engaging Ngata so that Johnson can open a hole for Redman. So far, so good.
Beachum even succeeds in turning Ngata slightly, which keeps his own back to the area in which Redman is preparing to run, providing more space between Ngata's would-be tackle and Redman.
He then forces Ngata backwards—quite a feat for any offensive lineman to manage on his own, let alone a seventh-round draft pick like Beachum, who had only a handful of snaps prior to this game.
Once Ngata gets anywhere close to disengaging from Beachum, Redman has already blown past them. Ngata has been neutralized and Redman gets into the second level, gaining 24 yards before being brought down.
His One Sack Allowed
The lone sack that Beachum gave up against the Ravens—also in the fourth quarter—was one of the rare instances Sunday that he showed his inexperience. The sack he gave up (to Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones) wasn't about him being manhandled by Jones but resulted from being unaware of his protection assignment.
Here, Charlie Batch play-action fakes to Redman before dropping back to pass. Redman, however, wasn't about to run out and be a potential checkdown target; instead, his job was to assist Beachum in holding back Jones.
Beachum does get pushed back by Jones, but he doesn't seem prepared for the Redman assist. Instead of Redman adding to the protection, Beachum's failure to account for Redman's assistance dooms them both.
Both men are thus left in no-man's-land while Batch is ultimately sacked by Jones.
Protecting Batch Against the Pass Rush
All told, Beachum was mostly successful in keeping Batch protected. For example, he does a good job here against Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger, giving Batch time on this third-quarter play to get the ball to receiver Emmanuel Sanders, resulting in a seven-yard gain on 2nd-and-10.
As you can see, Kruger is coming right for Beachum, hoping to run him over and get to Batch. Aware of this possibility, right guard Ramon Foster, who at the start of the play is not matched up with any individual Ravens defender, is immediately ready to help out Beachum on Kruger.
Foster joins Beachum in keeping Kruger (presently Baltimore's best pass-rusher) contained. They each take a side and then fully neutralize him, keeping him from pressuring Batch. Batch doesn't even appear concerned about Kruger's presence.
For a seventh-round draft pick making his first-ever NFL start, Beachum was a positive surprise for the Steelers on Sunday. He wasn't without his mistakes, and sometimes he did require help from other members on the offense, but he certainly was not the liability many had worried he'd be, especially with Batch under center.
Should Beachum have to start again this coming Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, he seems more than capable of doing his job.