Steelers rookie Chuks Okorafor plays ‘butt off’ in 1st start
DENVER — Had the Pittsburgh Steelers completed their fourth-quarter comeback Sunday, there was a chance the game ball would have found its way into the hands of rookie tackle Chuks Okorafor.
Making his first NFL start, Okorafor was part of an offensive line that gave up just two sacks on the 58 times that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass against the Denver Broncos.
The Steelers totaled season highs in total yards (527) and passing yards (462) with Okorafor, the team’s third-round draft pick, filling in for starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and backup Matt Feiler.
Gilbert missed his fifth consecutive game with a knee injury, and Feiler dressed but did not start because of a pectoral injury.
“Chuks played his butt off,” All-Pro guard David DeCastro said. “It hurts when you have nothing to show for it.”
Okorafor often found himself lining up across from Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, who entered the game with 10 sacks. Miller increased his streak of sacks in a game to six, but he was held to just a half sack of Roethlisberger and had only two assisted tackles. Broncos rookie Bradley Chubb, who entered with nine sacks, had his string of consecutive games with a sack end at five.
Aside from a false start in the third quarter, Okorafor held his own against the Broncos pass rushers.
“He did a good job blocking,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “When you’re going against Von Miller, you’re going to need some help with the chipping and sliding, but he did a great job overall. He’s got a lot to build on.”
The Steelers averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but only ran the ball 16 times. James Conner had 53 yards on 13 attempts.
“The game plan dictated we could throw it,” Roethlisberger said. “A lot of guys made plays for us. Why get away from something that you’re successful doing?”
Roethlisberger credited Okorafor with helping keep him upright despite the constant pressure the Broncos applied.
“I thought the line was awesome,” he said. “I wish we could have won it for him. He stepped in and played a great football game. It’s not an easy place to play. It’s loud, they have two of the best pass rushers in the game, and the guys gave me time today.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.