Cleveland Browns social media was abuzz on Thursday night over what it viewed as a cheap shot on the part of Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. Early in the third-quarter of Cleveland’s 29-17 victory over Pittsburgh, Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. went down awkwardly after being blocked by Okorafor, at which point the fifth-year tackle fell on top of Walker, assuring he remained a non-factor in the play.
A ’Dirty’ Play on the Part of Steelers’ Chukwuma Okorafor?
John Sabol, a sports anchor/reporter for Fox8 News in Cleveland, called it a “dirty, bush league play” and an “awful look” on the part of Okorafor, having noted that Walker was hurt on the play and had to be carted off with what Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski initially described as a knee sprain. (A subsequent report indicates that Walker suffered a torn quadriceps tendon, as per Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network.)
But Sabol wasn’t alone in condemning Okorafor. Tyler Carey of WKYC 3 News also called it a “dirty hit” and Browns fans on Reddit called for the Steelers lineman to be suspended and even “banned from the league.”
Predictably, Okorafor was asked about the play after the game, and he advised Dejan Kovacevic of DK Pittsburgh Sports that he had no idea that Walker had been injured.
“I’m just playing ball, man,” Okorafor told Kovacevic, who pointed out that Okorafor did nothing against the rules.
Steelers Beat Writer: ‘It’s Called Playing Offensive Line’
Mark Kaboly, who covers the Steelers for The Athletic, also noted that the 25-year-old Western Michigan product did nothing wrong.
“It’s called playing offensive line. He doesn’t know he’s hurt. You lay on him so he can’t get up and make a play. That’s been taught forever,” said the longtime Steelers beat writer.
As it happens, Okorafor — who was third-round pick of the Steelers in the 2018 draft (No. 92 overall) and signed a three-year, $29.25 million contract extension during the offseason — was penalized on the play, wiping out a 35-yard gain on a shovel pass to undrafted rookie running back Jaylen Warren. Except the penalty was for being an illegal man downfield, which took the Steelers out of field goal range and forced the Steelers to punt two plays later. Cleveland added a field goal on its next possession — and a touchdown on its possession after that — providing the Browns with a two-score lead that the Steelers could not overcome.
Pittsburgh (1-2) now has 10 days to prepare for its next opponent, the New York Jets, while head coach Mike Tomlin faces questions about whether he should change quarterbacks in the runup to that pivotal game, which comes ahead of a trip to Buffalo to face the undefeated Bills.
Through it all, Okorafor has arguably been Pittsburgh’s best offensive lineman this season. In three games he has played 100% of the team’s snaps on offense, as well as 16% of its snaps on special teams, as per Pro Football Reference. And over the course of 181 offensive snaps he has yet to allow a sack and has earned a 78.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, with a 72.0 run blocking grade and 79.5 pass blocking grade.