Tyson Alualu exited the game against Baltimore early after suffering a reported MCL Sprain. It kept him out of that game and the game against Dallas on Sunday. Thus, naturally, Isaiah Buggs was the next man up with Alualu out for those two weeks. Karl Dunbar praised Buggs and Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis, signaling that they “answered the call” with the defensive line’s injuries. What does the tape say about Buggs’s performance over the past two weeks?
Isaiah Buggs Has Up and Down Play
Naturally, with a second-year guy who was a sixth-round pick. Buggs is far from perfect. After all, he very well may be the third player on the depth chart at nose tackle. Both Alualu and his backup Chris Wormley were down with knee injuries, and Buggs had to step into game action cold against Baltimore. The past two weeks have examples where Buggs’s issues at Alabama are there, but functionally he has grown dramatically as a player.
Part of why this team misses Alualu is because of the consistency factor. Alualu is just so steady and consistently blows up the center of run plays. Buggs, on the other hand, has the ability to do that, but it is far from consistent. In this play, Buggs tries to hold his ground and does a good job against the center, but the guard turns him out of the gap and leaves it wide open. It ends up not mattering because of a nice play by Stephon Tuitt, but Buggs has to work on the outside shoulder of the guard and rip across his face to make this play and tackle.
This is a similar play where Buggs plays upright almost from the snap. His pad level is atrocious on this play, and it allows the tackle to work under him and get inside of his pads. Buggs is a tough spot since he is slanting with the zone action, but he never wants to stand straight up like that and get pancakes into the ground. This is where Buggs has to reset his hands and work to the outside shoulder of the tackle. That should allow him to control this line of scrimmage, and then he can stack and shed to make the tackle.
Here against the Ravens, Buggs shows his flashes and his woes. The first clip is similar to the one above against the Cowboys. Buggs gets turned and washed out of the hole. Tuitt gets blown off the ball on this play as well, but Buggs would be the relief of Tuitt to the inside, but instead, he helps this hole get created in the middle of the defense. It is largely about pad level and working his hands through the outside shoulder and then stacking and shedding. Once Tuitt gets clamped, it seems like his hands go dead. He does not have a counter.
However, in the second clip, Buggs does a fantastic job of two-gapping this play with Lamar Jackson. It is effortless to pick a side and turn and go either which way once a direction is picked. Jackson is reading Buggs depending on the direction he chooses, but Buggs does a great job of coming off the ball with a flat back and driving the center back. Buggs stays disciplined and square to the line, which allows him to shed the block and make the tackle short of the first down marker.
This is the type of play that Buggs needs to show more often in the run game. He comes in with strong hands and pops the tackle back. Notice the fact that Buggs does come off the ball the lower man, and can turn the tackle as a result. It helps that Vince Williams blows up the front side of this play, but in a one-on-one environment, Buggs does exactly what is needed here. He works towards that outside shoulder and flips the tackle around so he can pursue from the backside on this play.
Isaiah Buggs is a player that is on his way. The flashes are there that prove he could be an excellent player. He is just not there quite yet. The inconsistency is hurting the Steelers in the running game. They do miss Alualu as a result, but fans should be encouraged by the development of Buggs. As long as he keeps the upward trajectory going, Buggs should be a future high-level contributor.