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Carter’s Classroom: Steelers Defense Perfect Fit for Larry Ogunjobi

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Steelers DT Larry Ogunjobi
CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 08: Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (65) leaves the field following the National Football League game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns on December 8, 2019, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

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The Steelers’ decision to sign Larry Ogunjobi adds a talented interior defensive lineman to a group that still needed an answer for Stephon Tuitt’s retirement. Ogunjobi won’t do everything that Tuitt did, but his strengths will mix well with the Steelers’ defense.

But it’s also Ogunjobi’s biggest flaws that could fit in with the Steelers and be masked over by the other talents in the defensive front.

The Steelers have led the NFL in sacks for an unprecedented five consecutive seasons. Ogunjobi just put together his best pass rushing season in 2021 with the Bengals when he totaled seven sacks. When you watch his pass rush efforts you can notice an attention to detail to stay aware of gap control. But you also see how quick and violent Ogunjobi can be off the ball and with his hands.

Watch how Ogunjobi attacked from the right B-gap on this sack of Teddy Bridgewater last season. You can notice his stunt to A-gap to fill his position in the Bengals’ pass rush. But watch how once he got there, his powerful punch knocked the center back to create the lane for his sack:

Ogunjobi honed his pass rush skills to be a consistent interior threat. Mix that with Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and he will fit right in with the Steelers’ aggressive pass rush.

But the Steelers also need Ogunjobi to help in the run. They finished last in run defense last year for the first time since 1941. Ogunjobi and the Bengals finished fifth in run defense.

Where Ogunjobi helps the Steelers’ run defense right away is in his one-on-one matchups. He’s alert with his hands and does a good job to counter various approaches.

Watch how he slapped down an attempted chop block by the Ravens. The point of that move is to take out a defenders’ legs to neutralize them on the play. The guard may not move his man, but if executed, his man won’t make a play either.

But Ogunjobi saw right through this. He slapped down his man to maintain his gap, then when the run came his way he made the tackle:

The Steelers needed their defensive linemen to win more one-on-one situations like that in the hole last year. Too many times Isaiahh Loudermilk, Henry Mondeaux and others would completely lose their gap control. That led to more rushing lanes and harder days for Devin Bush and Joe Schobert.

Ogunjobi helps there, but it’s when he’s double-teamed that could become a concern for the Steelers. When he faced off with a single lineman, Ogunjobi more often either stood his ground or won the spot.

But when he faced double-teams, Ogunjobi didn’t look proficient in how to hold up that double-team in the hole to wait for help. It’s not an easy task, but it’s one Tuitt filled very well, and one the Steelers sorely missed last season.

I noticed on Ogunjobi’s tape was that his violent hands and explosive burst lessened when he either was double-teamed or perceived he’d face one. Watch this rep against the Steelers last year when Chukwuma Okorafor and Trai Turner lined up in front of him. Ogunjobi is stoned by Okorafor and Turner didn’t have to even do much.

Turner got to the second level and Najee Harris ran for 20 yards:

If Ogunjobi can improve this part of his game, he becomes a serious every-down threat. But even if he can’t, Mike Tomlin, Teryl Austin and Karl Dunbar can still scheme up ways to win with him.

The Steelers already have a defensive front with several stars and role players who attract attention. T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward are already two players offensive lines look to double-team throughout games.

This is where Ogunjobi’s one weakness could be neutralized by the Steelers’ other strengths. If a team uses a double-team to block him in the run or pass, it will open up better opportunities for Watt, Heyward, Alex Highsmith and Tyson Alualu.

The Bengals’ defensive front had talent, but Ogunjobi didn’t have that many assets to work alongside last season. If Ogunjobi gets a healthy Steelers roster, the biggest concern on his 2021 tape may get masked over.

The Steelers need that kind of player who would feast in those moments and make offensive lines pay who didn’t double-team him. Watch this interior move against the run when Ogunjobi worked from the right B-gap to use his hands to get to A-gap. Once he was there, he bottled up Le’Veon Bell:

If the Steelers get that kind of Ogunjobi this season, the defense will have added a major asset to a unit full of stars. Ogunjobi wouldn’t have to be a star or even play to Tuitt’s level. He would just need to win enough one-on-one battles and prove he won’t fall apart on double-teams.

But in the Steelers’ defense, double-teaming Ogunjobi could be a major risk for any offense to open up opportunities for the rest of the defense.

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