The Pittsburgh Steelers made strides in attempting to install some outside zone concepts into the running game last season under new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. The problem is that it’s hard to say how successful the installation was.
The Steelers barely ran the outside zone at all due to a few quite obvious reasons, the biggest naturally being the injury suffered by center Maurkice Pouncey, who was essentially the centerpiece of the new dimension.
Pouncey’s rare athleticism for the center position is primarily what inspired the Steelers to take advantage of incorporating the outside zone into the picture. When he went down just eight snaps into the season, the entire plan was basically scrapped.
Add into the mix a rookie running back who missed most of training camp and the first three games of the season due to injury—not to mention a less than ideal candidate for a position coach—and it becomes obvious why it didn’t take off last year.
But the pieces now appear to be in place, including a new and accomplished offensive line coach in Mike Munchak, who is versed in running the outside zone, which the Steelers experienced firsthand last year in the season opener as they fell to the Tennessee Titans behind pulling guard after pulling guard.
While the whole system isn’t going to be turned over and repackaged as an outside zone production, Steelers guard Ramon Foster confirmed that it is installed into the offense and that they do intend to incorporate it this year.
He told Mark Kaboly recently that the Steelers had the same amount of the outside zone installed last year as they do now, even though they didn’t run it, adding that it was simply far more publicized a year ago.
The Steelers have a certain tradition of running the ball that isn’t likely to change in the near future. They will always be a heavy power running team and will use an inside zone, when they do actually run the ball. But they believe that sprinkling in the outside zone will help them throughout the course of the game and the season as a whole.
We are going to do it and get outside and run but it is also going to help the inside run. You have to keep the defense honest…If you try to pound down guys the entire game, they get in tune with that you are doing. The outside zone keeps them honest. Sometimes we catch defenses off guard, too. We have to perfect it and get the little things taken care of in perfecting the run but I think it will be a tool that we use.
It seems that this team has been one to cry wolf far too often in recent years, showing promise of either performance or change during the offseason and seeing it never come to fruition once the games start.
The phantom outside zone of last season is just one more example, even if the reasons for its abandonment are obvious. It would appear that the obstacles in running it a year ago are now removed, but will we really see much of it this year? I know I will be watching for it, but as always, its usage will be predicated upon its success.