The Pittsburgh Steelers feature a big, physical offensive line. Left tackle Max Starks stands 6’8″ 345 pounds, and left guard Chris Kemoeatu is a wide 6’3″ 344 pounds. They just signed Flozell Adams to potentially replace Willie Colon at right tackle. Adams is no small man at 6’7″ 338. Justin Hartwig is the incumbent center and is 6’5″ 312 pounds. That’s bigger than both Sam Baker and Harvey Dahl. And at right guard, rookie Maurkice Pouncey (6’4″ 304) and Trai Essex (6’5″ 324) are battling it out.
And Babineaux with his quickness had a chance to offset and exploit some of that size. Most downs he would likely be lining up against Chris Kemoeatu, who isn’t exactly known for his pass protection prowess. If Byron Leftwich does win the starting quarterback position in place of a suspended Ben Roethlisberger as most are projecting, that potential pressure up the middle could be very critical to the Falcons success. As most Falcon fans recall from a few years ago, Leftwich’s elongated deliver requires him to be able to step into his throws like a baseball pitcher and pressure up the middle can severely disrupt his windup.
And the Falcons do not have a defensive tackle on this roster that has Babineaux’s quickness and explosive ability off the line. None can match him and be as capable of exploiting the mismatch of the Steelers size vs. the Falcons speed in the middle. And if the Falcons still wish to be able to exploit this potential mismatch they are going to have to rely heavily on second year tackle Peria Jerry.
But Jerry isn’t completely healthy and right now it’s unknown if he will be by the time September rolls around. He should be, but who knows what setbacks and issues could arise over the five or so weeks. Jerry is quick, but as a player at Ole Miss mainly relied upon his power rather than speed to beat opposing blockers. If Jerry is healthy, he’ll likely be lining up at left defensive tackle against the more unproven right guard of the Steelers. Trai Essex struggled in that role last year, which is why the Steelers drafted Pouncey. But it’s been a number of years since Pouncey last suited up at guard and the rookie could be exploited in his first NFL start if that is the case.
If there is a positive to come out of this suspension it’s that the Falcons should be able to get longer looks at their other defensive tackles. While Babineaux’s suspension does not prevent him from practicing with the team in August, as the Falcons prepare for their opener they can afford to give Babineaux some days off and give other guys more reps with the first team. Among those will be Corey Peters, Vance Walker, Thomas Johnson, and Trey Lewis. And that will probably benefit Peters more than anyone else because of his status as a rookie.
The loss of Babineaux will probably put more pressure on the defensive ends to be able to pick up the slack in terms of pass rush. While Starks and Adams definitely have size in their favor, they aren’t the swiftest tackles known to man. If Abraham is going to prove that last year was an aberration, he’ll definitely get an opportunity right off the bat to see if he can exploit either tackle. And if the Falcons are wanting to get more out of Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury this year in terms of pass rush, they too will have opportunities. And with Leftwich’s mechanics, a quick end around the corner has a good opportunity to strip the ball. As some may recall, Leftwich fumbled five times in two starts with the Falcons in 2007.