The Pittsburgh Steelers running game finished 26th in the league last year in rushing yards per game with a 96.1 average and 28th overall in yards per rush with a 3.73 average. They addressed those problems during the offseason by drafting Michigan State running back Le\’Veon Bell in the second-round and made the commitment to youth on the offensive line, as it will be the youngest in the league by the time the regular season starts.
So, will the Steelers be committed to the running game in 2013? Veteran wide receiver Plaxico Burress told Jim Corbett of USA Today on Monday that he believes they will be.
“I mean, this is Pittsburgh. We\’re going to run the football, that\’s what our offense is going to be about,\’\’ Burress told Corbett. “We\’re going to have to run the football. The Steelers and running the ball go hand in hand, like a ball and chain. Receivers are committed to helping run the ball, blocking downfield, not just catching the ball and worrying about scoring touchdowns.
“Everybody else around the league is going to be going up-tempo, flashy, four- and five-wide, pistol, shotgun, spread passing. We\’re going to stay true to our roots and run the football.\’\’
In addition to Bell and the young offensive line, the Steelers also brought in offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. to replace Sean Kugler, who left to be the head coach at his alma mater, Texas-El Paso. Bicknell is expected to use more outside zone in 2013 and the team has worked on that extensively during the first few days of training camp practice.
In order to run more outside zone effectively, it will require athletic linemen that can bend and move. Head coach Mike Tomlin told Corbett the obvious in regard to his front five.
“We have a young, talented offensive line group and we\’re going to play to their strengths,\’\’ Tomlin said.
Those strengths that Tomlin speaks of certainly doesn\’t include pass protection, at least not yet. Now that the team has both David DeCastro and Mike Adams back fully healthy, they will use their ability to move out in space in their running attack.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley also gave his thoughts about using more outside zone in 2013 as opposed to the man and inside zone that was mostly used in 2012.
“You have to be able to excel at that blocking scheme in today\’s NFL,\’\’ Haley told Corbett. “Last year, everything had to be perfect for us to gain four yards on a running play.”
Four yards per carry? Last season the Steelers running backs and fullbacks were only able to accomplish that 146 times on 371 attempts. They will need to improve that percentage in 2013 if they are going to win more than eight games and appear fully committed to doing just that.