Analyzing Dan McCullers Against The Green Bay Packers

For fifth-year defense tackle Dan McCullers, this season marks his last chance to make a first impression. Even after signing a one-year extension back in March 2018, many speculated his days as Pittsburgh Steeler were numbered after they drafted Joshua Frazier in this year’s NFL Draft. Throughout all the speculation, McCullers quietly had a good training camp, even earning some time reps on the first-team defense. His performance Thursday evening against the Green Bay Packers was one of his best in a while. In a game where much of the defensive performances were less than desirable, McCullers was one of the few bright spots. Though his contributions were not reflected on the stat sheet, he certainly made his presence felt.

Improvement With Hands

One of McCullers biggest attributes is his natural strength. Many that criticize him cite his disposition as being his issue, as he is perceived as being too passive and in some cases soft. In this particular sequence, McCullers is seen aligned on the inside shoulder of the Packers left guard (at defensive right tackle position). The Packers offense is showing at four-wide receiver set with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers seen at shotgun. From the snap, note how McCullers is able to get able to get underneath the Packers guard with his hands. From here, he is able to elongate his arms and gain complete control of the guard, eventually throwing him to the ground. McCullers improvement in his use of hands was noticeable in his preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. One of the ideas defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has tried to instill in his d-linemen is the usage of hands to control opposing linemen. From this clip, it is apparent that McCullers has adopted this idea.

 

Forcing Rodgers Out of The Pocket

In this sequence, McCullers is in his natural position at nose tackle. The Packers are showing a five-wide receiver set, with the right side showing an inside and outside slot receiver. As was the case in the previous clip, McCullers is able to get under the Packers center. What is worth noting is the manner in which McCullers is constantly moving this legs; the combination of improved hand use, movement, and natural strength result in the Packers lineman being completely physically dominated. McCullers is able to move the Packers center back far enough, forcing Rodgers to vacate the pocket and take off running. What is even more impressive about this sequence is how McCullers came inches away from sacking Rodgers in the backfield. For McCullers, finishing plays such as this could be the deciding factor in whether or not he merits more time with the Steelers first-team defensive unit.

 

Finishing The Play

One of the components in coach Dunbar’s “run progression” process entails pressing the blocker and locating the ball; this particular example shows this idea put into action. McCullers is seen in this sequence position against at nose tackle. When the ball is snapped, McCullers wasted little time in attacking the Packers. In this case, rather than driving the Packers center backward, he holds his ground for the purpose of locating the Packers running back. Once he determined where he was going to run, he released the Packers center and made the tackle on the Packers running back. These type of plays is where  McCullers is at his best, as his size takes up much of the room a running back would need to gain yards.

 

In all likelihood, McCullers may never possess the type of quickness and explosiveness needed to be an effective pass rusher. For him, it will all about playing to his strengths, by using his size to stop the run and natural strength to push opposing linemen back far enough to create disturbances in the backfield. So far this preseason, McCullers is doing just that and is on the right path to solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster.

 

 

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