The Steelers are left at a crossroads; run power, the scheme they're accustomed to, or run outside zone, the one they allegedly implemented this offseason.
Tribune Review writer Mark Kaboly pointed out what's been obvious, if unmentioned to this point in the season - the Steelers aren't running outside zone at all.
According to Kaboly, they've run it exactly once. While he didn't point out which play, exactly, it's safe to say (simply by having watched the running game slog away with its 2.4 yards per carry average) it didn't gain much.
Center Maurkice Pouncey, whose speed and quickness could have made for outstanding contributions in zone, was lost just eight plays into the season, and that may be some of the reason why the Steelers are zone-adverse right now. Perhaps they are saving it for when rookie running back Le'Veon Bell returns to the line-up (although they ran it once during his four-carry effort before suffering an injury in the second preseason game).
The lack of Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, and perhaps more importantly, the presence of David Paulson and David Johnson, could be the main instigators to tucking their new vehicle deep in the garage.
Whatever rhetoric is doled out to the media, it wasn't an accident the team brought in an experienced zone scheme offensive line coach and drafted a zone runner in the second round. There's a specific reason behind them not using it. If it's due to all of the aforementioned reasons, they're indeed in trouble. They may get Miller on the field, but it really shouldn't be expected he'll come on the field and do what he's been known to do. Spaeth, who's a better run blocker anyway, won't be back for several weeks. Bell will begin individual drills this week, but can't be counted on for a return in Week 3, and they may wait until after the bye in Week 5 to get him on the field.
The Steelers seemed to employ a similar plan last season, trying to maintain a .500 record with the players they had while the defense played its way into shape and experience. The team was on a four-game winning streak heading into Week 11, but that would be the first of three starts missed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The wheels fell off after that winning streak, and the Steelers have been losers of five of their last seven games.
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