After former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva signed a two-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens in early May, he openly admitted that his options in free agency were “not plenty.” Nevertheless, the Ravens inked him to a two-year, $14 million contract, one that includes $8 million fully guaranteed. It’s only one game, but it’s possible the Ravens are already regretting that decision.
On Monday night, Villanueva made his Ravens debut vs. the Las Vegas Raiders, and it was obvious that the man affectionately known in Pittsburgh as Big Al, was struggling mightily against Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby.
Early on, it was crystal clear that
Villanueva—now 32 years old—was going to be in for a long night, and not just on the field:
Daniel Valente of The Score likened Villanueva to an undercover agent, one still loyal to the Steelers:
Meanwhile, Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tried to be diplomatic, tweeting:
But many other observers were not so gentle….
Sean Gentille, who covers the NHL for the The Athletic said:
Chris Mueller of 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh went the obvious route:
As did Barstool Yinzers …
… which took multiple opportunities to gloat:
In the end, the aforementioned Crosby racked up nine quarterback pressures (per Next Gen Stats), along with eight quarterback hits and two sacks, a big reason that the Raiders won 33-27 in overtime.
On the other hand, it wasn’t all bad for Villanueva. For instance, he made a key block that opened a lane for Ravens running back Ty’Son Williams to score a 35-yard touchdown near the end of the first quarter. (Williams was making him NFL debut and had nine carries for 65 yards and the touchdown, an average of 7.2 yards per carry.)
A Hero to Many in Pittsburgh (and Beyond)
Of course, Alejandro Villanueva will always be respected and fondly-remembered in Pittsburgh for his years of military service and for the 90 consecutive games he started for the Steelers at left tackle between 2015-20. Recall that Villanueva, a graduate of West Point Military Academy, did three tours of duty in Afghanistan before coming into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and earning a role as an always-available starting left tackle.
Yet the Steelers made no effort to re-sign him when he hit unrestricted free agency earlier this year, hence the contract with the Ravens.
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Villanueva vs. Watt?
But Monday night’s performance explains why countless Steelers fans took to Twitter saying they are looking forward to seeing how All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt will fare against Villanueva later this year.
As always, the AFC North rivals are scheduled to play each other twice this season, though not until December 5 (Pittsburgh) and January 9 (Baltimore), by which time a lot may have changed.
Next up for the Steelers are the Raiders, who visit Pittsburgh for an afternoon game at Heinz Field on Sun. Sept. 19.
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