Movie theater: what new OLB Malik Reed offers the Steelers

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New Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan has introduced a new passing thrower. Khan was a busy man yesterday. Pittsburgh sent a 2023 6th round pick for Reed and a 7th. Reed figures to slip in as No. 3 OLB, a veteran and statistically productive player behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith.

So what do the Steelers get with Reed? Let’s break down the tape and find out.

run defense

The run defense is the best part of Reed’s game. That doesn’t sound super exciting, we’d both rather talk about an awesome sack reel, but run defense is where things start in Pittsburgh. Above all after a year in which the Steelers had their worst run defense in franchise history. That’s probably one of the reasons Genard Avery was released. Not to be so stray and play too out of control, out of structure, for what the Steelers are asking.

Reed isn’t a big, 6,012,234-pound player with 31 1/4-inch arms from Nevada, but he’s strong and plays with good pad level and hand placement. He consistently sets the edge, spins runners on the inside, and is able to get rid of blocks from the tight end. He has a harder time getting out of tackles, getting gobbled up because of that size and length, but he’s holding his own. Reed also chases the ball with a good chase.

From last year’s game, here are three clips of him against Steelers tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry. He is No. 59 in all of this. In the first, he holds the attack point and comes out of Freiermuth’s block to make the tackle. Similar story in the second but against Gentry, doing the same against a bigger and better blocker. In the third, from his ROLB spot, he turns the stroke inside and channels his back to his inner help.

An excerpt from the pre-season, the final against Dallas. Watch it pick up and anchor against the puller on the deflecting block, helping the back get out of its way and run away from where it’s designed to go. Reed plays big and loud for his stature.

Here is the same from the 2021 regular season encounter against Washington, very nice work against the commanders RT to hold the offensive point then get out of the block and make the tackle. He is able to create space to keep vision on the ball and lose.

fast pass

Reed is not a particularly well-equipped pass thrower. He relies on his scramble and long arm to try to collapse the pocket and plays with good power, his hands and feet well connected to shake tackles back on his scramble. I traced his rushing moves in the Week 5 game against the Steelers. Here are the moves Reed used on his 21 opportunities.

Bull/long arm: 9
To delay: 5
Contain: 3
N/A (RPO): 2
Soak: 1
Cross cutlet: 1

Pretty clear pass rush plan. The five stunts are also notable, showing Denver’s twists and plays under former HC/DC Vic Fangio. In Pittsburgh, he’ll play in a similar system that likes to use the same stunts.

Here’s a nice bull run against Steelers LT Dan Moore Jr. last year. A powerful strike as he converts speed into power and gets into Ben Roethlisberger’s throwing lane.

Reed picked up five sacks last season. I have compiled them all below for you.

I would consider only one of these high quality players, the second against Washington, with a nice bull run to fend off the tackle with Reed clutching the pocket and ending the game. Still, one in five is little disappointing overall . The first against Washington was partly due to the return of the QB, the Jets’ was a cover/containment bag, the Steelers a better rush but Reed still in the arc with good coverage, and the last against the Eagles a zone reading that technically went down like a sack.

One positive I see in these clips is how aware he is of the ball. Two forced fumbles on those five sacks and he recorded one on a Justin Herbert sack of LA in 2020, but again it was a coverage/effort sack and a shoddy overall rush. But when he gets to quarterback, he knows how to take the ball and that’s attractive.

He has generally been a one-note passing thrower who misses many rushing moves and can be gobbled up by bigger tackles. From pre-season against Dallas, his lack of length and size against the Cowboys’ right tackle put an end to this rush attempt fairly quickly.

Occasionally he can work on power pushes and tear contact, but he doesn’t bend the edge well enough and doesn’t have the size/length/strength to avoid getting crushed in the arc. That’s… not where you want to be as a pass thrower. Eight yards behind LOS won’t get you to the quarterback.

And you can see him fighting against these blocks being “chased” by RT, attacking and being the aggressor here, chewing on Reed.

Use/Role

What Reed did in Denver is similar to what he’ll be asked to do in Pittsburgh. He has no problem playing on his feet and has done so throughout his career, even this pre-season under a new DC and a new coaching staff. He started ROLB for Bradley Chubb against the Steelers last year and started and mostly played LOLB this preseason.

He is also comfortable playing in space and moved from the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh doesn’t drop its linebackers in coverage much anymore, but they do so more often against twin WR sets. They don’t run their corners, so they’ll split the linebacker.

And Reed did the same with the Broncos. He fell into cover and overall he’s comfortable playing in space.

Final Thoughts

Reed’s resume and overall production looks impressive, 13 sacks in the past two years, and he has experience. Two things that have certainly piqued the interest of the Steelers. But his band wasn’t as impressive as those numbers might suggest. It’s mostly down to effort/coverage and he’s not as flexible as his 6.89 three-cone suggests and lacks counters outside of his bull/power. His run defense is good and he holds the edge well.

It’s a better option than Derrek Tuszka, but they’re cut from a similar fabric. Reed is also pretty small on the edge and these guys usually haven’t lasted long in Pittsburgh. It’s probably unique to him in Pittsburgh, he’s a free agent after the year, but the Steelers needed more EDGE depth. And they got it. Still, he’s a far cry from Melvin Ingram, who had much better depth a year ago before leaving town.

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