Prisuta: Making The Cut (Block)

The live tackling is forging the Steelers' zone running game, but there's more to come Saturday night, says Mike Prisuta: Cut-blocking.

The other shoe in the Steelers' outside-zone approach to the running game is about to drop.

That would be cut-blocking, a skill the Steelers are likely to begin honing in the preseason opener on Saturday night against the New York Football Giants.

"We can't wait for it," center Maurkice Pouncey gushed. "You can't cut our guys in practice; we'll see what it's like in a game."

Does Pouncey like it?

As he says about everything else, heck yeah.

"I think it's going to help us out a lot," he said. "You see all the other teams doing it in the NFL and they're really successful with it. Hopefully, that same thing happens to us."

Pouncey might have been overstating the outside-zone, cut-blocking rage as a league-wide success story, but his point is nonetheless made.

Consider the periodic problems the Steelers, traditionally as stout against the run as anyone, have had against outside-zone teams and the frustration that's been generated when they're confronted with cut-blocking and the resulting cutback lanes it creates. Remember Ray Rice right out of the chute a couple of openers ago in Baltimore?

Consider, also, the Steelers' inability to run the ball to their standard a season ago while trying to do so as they traditionally have. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has, and he'd rather not go there again.

"When you're bashing your head against the wall for 3 yards, that's hard to watch," Haley assessed.

The idea this season will be to get the big guys on defense moving and then get them on the ground. Get in the way and fall down, as opposed to trying to move Haloti Ngata.

"When you run the power play and you're going against guys that are 500-pound bench (press) and weigh close to 500 it makes it a lot harder to block," Pouncey acknowledged. "Whenever you get guys running on the edge and you're able to cut guys down it kinda makes the scheme a little better.

"It kinda wears the defense out some."

Again, Pouncey exaggerated to a degree (Ngata is listed at 340), but he still managed to capture the spirit of the thing.

What the Steelers are doing used to be referred to, by the Steelers and others, as "sissy football."

No more.

"That's Old School, baby" Pouncey said. "This is New School. I like New School."

Chris Hoke, likewise, appreciates the New School approach after confronting it in the trenches as a Steelers nose tackle.

"You watch the film the last couple years, when Casey (Hampton) was trying to fly front side that back-side guard was cutting him, chopping him down, which made a big crease in the defense," said Hoke, a coaching intern this summer at St. Vincent College.

"When you have a team that lines up and tries to knock you off the football you have to hunker down and be physical. And then you go against a team like the Ravens have done the last couple years, the Denver Broncos, Atlanta did it for years, they try to run on you and cut you on the back side, you have to change your mindset. You have to kind of be peeking on that backside as you're fighting front side and not let that guy bring you down.

"What you're trying to do is get a guy (on defense) who can't cross the face of the center, can't cross the face of the guard, gets behind the block (and gets cut-blocked) and then there's a big crease. The key is to have a running back that's patient that can go lateral, lateral, lateral and then all of a sudden see that crease at the last second and, boom, hit it, and can explode through that hole.

"That's when you have a good running game."

That's where Le'Veon Bell enters the picture.

The Steelers' No. 2 pick ran this stuff at Michigan State and is a part of the Perfect Storm that's transitioning the Steelers from the Old-School to the New-School approach to running the football. New offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. ran outside-zone under Haley in Kansas City. And new-age linemen such as Pouncey, David DeCastro, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are the type of athletic, mobile blockers that ought to be able to execute it.

Bell, the presumptive nominee in the backfield, should be able to take it from there.

"It's going to be interesting," Bicknell said. "I'd love to say we're going to go right out there and be perfect. My experience has been it takes a little while. You point out some things and they start to get the feel of it and that's something that progresses as you go."

Somewhere, Hampton is smiling.

Haley eventually should, too.


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