Sometimes events are not what they seem.
Coming off of a 2015 First Team All Pro selection, David DeCastro was expected to showcase more of the same in 2016. To further add hopeful credibility to his resume.. players like Geno Atkins, Trent Murphy and Fletcher Cox were waiting for his arrvial within the coming NFL regular season. As such… the time to see if DeCastro’s 2015 All Pro season was not an anomaly came quickly.
Four weeks in however, it sure does feel like one.
According to PFF, DeCastro already has two sacks and two penalties on the year already. Last season.. he had been only credited with 2.5 sacks along with 2 penalties for the entire year. Granted… while some may conceive the notion that players like Geno Atkins and Fletcher Cox give many offensive lineman problems.. this is quite disappointing. It is not like he has lost his All Pro abilities either.
Week 1 was his best performance this far of the season; his dominance against the likes of a rising star in Preston Smith and Trent Murphy no less. Zero sacks.. zero penalties. However, after week one, DeCastro’s level of play fell off a cliff.. literally. Against the Bengals, DeCastro was credited with giving up 1/2 a sack per SteelersDepot; Alejandro Villanueva the same. However.. looking back at the All 22 film showcases DeCastro more than giving up said sack. He had his hands full against Geno and even looked overwhelmed at times. Even though the Steelers would end up winning that bout, DeCastro’s performance left me anxious as a bigger test in Fletcher Cox, arguably the best defensive lineman not named J.J. Watt, awaited him.
Sadly for me, Steelers Nation no less, things did not turn out well for him nor the team.
A 34-3 beatdown of the Eagles was bad enough. A slaughterfest between DeCastro and Cox though confirmed my fears. Throughout the entire game, seldom have I watched an offensive lineman of the talent, caliber and pedigree that DeCastro possess get throughly beat so effortlessly. It was almost as if, by the third quarter, Cox had already won the psychological aspect of the game and purely used his athletic talent and brute force to smash DeCastro to dust. He had displayed great technique, footwork and hand placement the entire game. However, due to Fletcher’s usage of mind games, this affected the timing of his first step out of his stances when engaging considering how wavered he must have been. This was easily the worst performance Steelers Nation has ever seen out of the Stanford Product. After the loss.., I had concluded that maybe DeCastro was ironing out some rust and we would see the 2015 All Pro version in the Sunday Night game against the Chiefs. As a result, he was creditied with giving up 1.5 sacks, two for the season.
Again.. I was wrong.
Yes.. the Steelers did win 43-14.. but for much of the early part of the game, I had noticed that DeCastro was yet again struggling against the likes of Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe. This game would ultimately lead to his second penalty of the season, matching what he had all of last year. He did settle down… but the fact remains is that DeCastro’s first quarter season performance has to have some of you worried as he accounted for two penalties in one game.
This leads to DeCastro being this weeks X Factor.
Again, as odd as it is to place such a player on a list, DeCastro’s level of play has been suspect. To make matters worse, he will be going up against a defensive line that is ominously parallel to what he faced against the Eagles in week three. To start, one could argue that Leonard Williams is not only the best defensive player on the Jets, but possibly the best overall. Already exceeding his rookie total of sacks from three to four, Williams has been a monster upfront for the Jets defense. While his 15 tackles are not too much to write about.. teams generally avoid running in his direction as he is equally stout against the run. To say he is a budding superstar is an understatement and it will not surprise me in the least if he obtains his first Pro Bowl selection.
While Leonard is their best player… this does not mean he is without friends for David and the Steelers offensive line to face. While he has not been on the stat sheet as I thought he would be, Muhammad Wilkerson is still a reputable force in the NFL. Quick as he is powerful.. Wilkerson is able to generate heat from the outside as he is from the inside. Much like Wilkerson though, Richardson is also a player worth watching out for. His sack total is not that impressive at only 1/2 a sack to his name… but do not let that number fool you. Like Wilkerson, Richardson is able to penetrate to wreak havoc against his opposition if left unchecked. Sheldon and Muhammed may not have the stats.. but those two are as good as bookends asnyou are going to find.
One final adversary of DeCastro’s will be in the form of his old friend in Steve McClendon. His nine tackles and two sacks will not amaze you.. but this is his statistically best start to his career. Much of the traits he showed in Pittsburgh’s Okie and Eagle Schemes are now being deployed in Bowles under and over 4-3 fronts along with Bowles unique 4-1-6 looks. While no one will mistake him for Damon Harrison, McClendon is still a quality role player who can get the job done.
While this Steelers team can easily win this Jets game.. they can also lose this game. This game will be decided in the tried and true “battle in the trenches.” Considering that Marcus Gilbert is out and the uncertain status of Ryan Harris, look for Jets Defensive Coordinator Kacy Rodgers to overload both Wilkerson and Richardson on the right side and have Williams along with either Lorenzo Mauldin or Freddie Bishop gunning on the right; McClendon being a plug on rushing situations.
Ultimately, while it will take the entire offensive line to win the game… it will be DeCastro who may ultimately decide the winner of the game.