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Looking At The Steelers Failures Versus Zone Blocking Scheme Last Season


Earlier today I wrote about how the Pittsburgh Steelers defense will need to shut down the zone blocking running scheme of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in order to win the game. As I pointed out in that post, the defense has not done a good job against that blocking scheme as recently as last year against both the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans as the two teams combined for 350 yards rushing early in the 2011 season.

In this post will break down the biggest failures that the defense had in those two games defending against the zone blocking scheme. The first one against the Ravens was a front-side breakdown, while the breakdown against the Texans was a back-side one.

The last animated gif shows how the Miami Dolphins executed well on one play against the Raiders last week.

The first offensive play that the Ravens ran last season against the Pittsburgh Steelers went for huge yardage and it set the tone for the day. Below you can see linebacker James Harrison kick inside pre snap over the top of the tight end. He is easily stuck inside after taking on the fullback and the tight end releases to take safety Troy Polamalu out of the play. All of the Steelers defensive linemen fail poorly at staying square and ultimately all three wind up on the ground. Inside linebacker James Farrior is eaten up by the left tackle at the second level and it is off to the races for running back Ray Rice through a huge hole. This play was a total breakdown for the Steelers and it started with the decision of Harrison to jump from the 9 technique to the 8 technique as he was likely reading a power run inside the tackle. Once he lost containment outside of the tackle by taking the fullback head on, the play was over.

Steelers Ravens Zone Blocking Animated Gif

The first example against the Ravens shows poor front-side containment against the zone blocking scheme and the run below that Texans running back Arian Foster had against the Steelers shows poor back-side containment. The Steelers defensive line, outside of Hampton does a much better job on this play at keeping their feet. Harrison does a good job at standing up the tight end that motioned to his side and safety Ryan Clark then has free containment on the outside of him to force Foster inside. Even though Hampton winds up off of his feet, he still fought well enough off of the block to fill the lane and Chris Hoke really does a good job on the play at flowing down the line square. The breakdown on this long run is a result of LaMarr Woodley giving to much respect to the quarterback rollout as he takes way too wide of an angle to prevent the cut back. In addition, Farrior can\'t handle the tight end and Polamalu, who is the last resort back-side, fails to make the tackle. This play should have gone for 2 or 3 yards at the most, but instead it was a homerun touchdown, because of the poor play on the back-side.

Steelers Texans Zone Blocking Animated Gif

Below is an example of how the Dolphins did a great job of defending the zone blocking scheme of the Raiders. Notice how the front of the Dolphins flows to the ball and not one defensive player is off his feet. This is strung out perfectly and the linebackers are kept covered up so they can make the play.

Raiders Dolphins Zone Blocking Animated Gif

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About Dave Bryan

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • Busforever

    It doesn’t look a failure by design to me. In the first example, I only see a bad reaction by James Farrior, who stays on the same gap that Keisel. This particular scheme seems to be drawn so Farrior is free to tackle. At the end of the day, run defense is always about having a man in every gap. Execution is good on this one, except for Farrior who doesn’t slide in the new gap created by the FB.
    Second example, as you said, is just too much respect by Woodley. But again, it looks like a player mistake. I wouldn’t say the Steelers have a weakness against zone blocking scheme.

  • SteelersDepot

    Of course it is player execution error and not scheme failure. Where in the world do you get that?

  • Busforever

    It’s just that the title of the article could suggest that Steelers defense has a hard time to defend the zone blocking scheme. I see it more as isolated mistakes, that could happen even against man blocking. I don’t think our players have difficulties at reading zone blocking. I mean, if we are «too old» as some say, we have also a lot of experience in reading all kind of blocking schemes :)

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