|Pittsburgh's starting center Maurkice Pouncey leaves the 2011 AFC Championship game with a broken ankle|
With Pouncey's absence, the Steelers will turn to undrafted, second-year center Doug Legursky to handle the snaps for Ben and the offense. The German born Legursky, was twice released in 2008 after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Marshall by these same Steelers. He was re-signed to the team's practice squad this year after starting guard Kendall Simmons was placed on season-ending injured reserve. He played in 8 games this season, filling in for a Pittsburgh offensive line that has suffered from the injury bug this year and serves as the Steelers' fullback on short yardage situations in their Jumbo personnel package. With the injury to Pouncey, he is now thrust into his first start at center this season, in the Super Bowl.
|Legursky as a member of the 2010 Steelers, photo courtesy: Steelers.com.|
Though this injury and replacement is far from the lead of the Super Bowl news blotter this week, it will have a more profound effect on the game than the average fan may observe.
The first concern that develops from this news is the center-quarterback snap exchange. Quarterbacks become comfortable with the timing and rapport they develop with their center and the snap exchange mechanic they are both familiar with. It only takes a small amount of timing to be off for a center-quarterback exchange to be mishandled or fumbled. With Legursky's inexperience at center with Roethlisberger and the intense pressure of playing in the Super Bowl , look for a possible turnover on the exchange.
Another concern the Steelers will face with Pouncey's absence will be the offensive blocking scheme checks at the line of scrimmage. It is the job of the center to make line blocking adjustments based on the defensive front that is presented at the line. This is crucial to getting blitzes picked up and makes sure that all the offensive line gaps are protected. Because of Legursky's inexperience in making line audibles and reading defensive fronts at the NFl level, the wrong protection could be called leaving the Packer's speedy linebackers, gaps to rush in on Roethlisberger and the running backs. Look for a couple for Packer sacks and/or tackles for loss due to a few misread protections by Legursky.
|Doug Legursky points out a blitzing linebacker in a game vs. Tennessee when he was a center at Marshall. Will he be able to make effective line checks versus the Packers?|
Possibly the worst of the Steelers' concerns, outside of the pre-snap protection checks that Legursky will have to call and the unfamiliarity of the center-quarterback exchange that he and Roethlisberger have, Legursky will have to block one of the most athletic and best nose tackles in the NFL. Opposite Legursky is Green Bay's B.J. Raji. You may remember him if you watched the NFC Championship last week in Chicago. Raji became the answer to an NFL postseason trivia question when he intercepted an attempted underneath pass by Chicago's Caleb Hanie and returned it for a touchdown becoming the heaviest player in NFL postseason history to score a touchdown at a robust 337 pounds.
|B.J. Raji returns an interception for a touchdown in the 2011 NFC Championship|
|B.J. Raji(90), celebrates after a tackle for loss against the Atlanta Falcons in the 2011 NFL playoffs|
It's not just the sheer size of the Boston College product that will be an enormous challenge for Legursky to handle but also his freakish athletic ability for a very large man. Few nose tackles move the line of scrimmage backward like Raji, which will be a real key to Pittsburgh's rush-oriented offense. He is one of the best at shooting the gaps, stuffing up running lanes at the first level and has the raw strength to get off of blocks and make tackles. If Raji can keep himself playing on the the Steelers' side of the ball against Legursky, it will hamper Rashard Mendenhall's chances of making a difference in the ground attack. It's the Steelers' ground attack, that draws in those linebackers and safeties, that give Hines Ward and Mike Wallace those open areas of the field in the intermediate and deep passing game.
The matchups between Legursky and Raji and the Packers' ability to create confusion in their blitzing schemes verses Lugersky's ability to make the appropriate line checks could very well be the difference in whether or not the Steelers will have full functionality on offense. They will need it to keep pace with a Packer's offense that finished 4th in the NFL in rushing yards per game(118.0) and 5th in passing yards per game(251.0) in the regular season and have only increased their offensive production in the postseason.