TribLIVE

| Sports

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Steelers insist they will not abandon outside zone-blocking scheme

Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media - Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum block during practice Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Latrobe.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media</em></div>Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum block during practice Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media - Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak talks with David DeCastro during practice Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Latrobe.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media</em></div>Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak talks with David DeCastro during practice Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media - Steelers offensive linemen David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Chris Hubbard and Kelvin Beachum approach the line of scrimmage during practice Monday, July 28, 2014, at St. Vincent College.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media</em></div>Steelers offensive linemen David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Chris Hubbard and Kelvin Beachum approach the line of scrimmage during practice Monday,  July 28, 2014, at St. Vincent College.

Steelers/NFL Videos

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Taking it outside

Steelers' rushing yardage from 2011-13 compared to a sampling of teams that relied upon outside zone blocking:

Team Yards Yds/Carry

Washington Redskins 6,487 4.73

Denver Broncos 6,337 4.26

Tennessee Titans 5,019 4.13

Steelers 4,823 3.89

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Alan Robinson
Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
 

This might seem familiar: The Steelers offensive line ran one outside zone-blocking play with their starters against the New York Giants and didn't try another.

The one-and-done routine was similar to last year's opener against the Tennessee Titans, when right guard David DeCastro's unintentional cut block resulted in Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey's season-ending knee injury.

Out went Pouncey and with him went the zone blocking, never to be attempted again after one more ineffective play.

Until now.

Convinced the Steelers must give defenses an alternative look — and prevent their linemen from getting worn down by constant power blocking — offensive line coach Mike Munchak is reinstalling the outside zone blocking. It will become more visible, he said, as the preseason progresses.

“In practice, we've been mixing it in quite a bit,” Munchak said Tuesday. “If (the starters) had played longer (Saturday), you would have seen four or five more opportunities. There may be games where that's something we stick with even more. The thing is to have it available, (that) they understand it and they can block it.”

The Titans knew how to run it under Munchak, their head coach from 2011-13 and their line coach before that, as Chris Johnson rushed for 7,965 yards from 2008-13, including an NFL-leading 2,006 yards in 2009.

DeCastro calls the outside zone simply “another tool in the tool box,” but to the Steelers, it's one unlike they have had before.

Before, they leaned mostly on a gap-blocking scheme in which their blockers used power rather than precision to create running lanes. But in anticipation of installing the outside zone, they shed bigger linemen such as Max Starks and Willie Colon and brought back tight end Matt Spaeth, an excellent blocker, to add to their collection of quicker and more mobile linemen, including Pouncey and DeCastro.

In the outside zone, the line moves as a unit in one direction to create double teams and get all of the blocking flowing toward the play. Rather than run to a specific hole, the running back cuts upfield after a lane opens.

“These are the plays (the running backs) have to get a foot on the ground and get downhill fast,” Munchak said.

The outside zone meshes well with the no-huddle offense because it can effectively be used from a shotgun formation.

“It's been a mix, and we've kept it pretty balanced: outside zone, inside zone and the gap game,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “It's not like we're going to get this many plays or this many shots at it. It's part of the game plan, and we put it in when we need to put it in.”

In June, Pouncey said the Steelers were eliminating the cut blocking aspect of the outside zone — blocking at the knees — in an apparent attempt to eliminate repeats of his injury. However, Beachum said the linemen still cut on some plays.

Expanding the zone-blocking concept isn't all that's different for the linemen in this camp, Munchak said.

“We're changing things, so these guys are adjusting quite a bit,” Munchak said. “Some people say the preseason isn't important, and I've always disagreed with that. Maybe the result isn't as important … but the technique and communication for the offensive linemen, we need all the work (possible).”

This time, the outside zone isn't going away after one bad game, one bad month or one bad injury.

“We've got to continue to repeat it and not just repeat it but repeatedly do it the right way,” Beachum said. “When it pops, everybody will be happy.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Steelers

  1. 2014 showing has Steelers RB Harris confident he belongs
  2. Steelers OLB coach Porter teaches as passionately as he played
  3. Inside The Steelers: LB Williams dominates backs-on-backers drill at Latrobe Memorial Stadium
  4. Steelers notebook: Officials discuss new game ball procedures
  5. Steelers’ reserve quarterbacks vie to secure spot behind Roethlisberger, Gradkowski
  6. Inside the Steelers: Rookie linebacker Chickillo continues to excel
  7. Steelers stress improved conditioning in attempt to play past injuries
  8. Memories of Steelers fan from Beaver Falls go beyond simple recall
  9. Starkey: Garoppolo baffles Steelers
  10. Inside the Steelers: Williams’ quickness out of backfield evident in drills
  11. Steelers’ Wheaton adjusting his game moving to slot receiver