Déjà Vu for Steelers Backfield in 2013

When the Steelers selected Le’Veon Bell with their second-round pick, they were hoping to push through their rushing woes that resulted in an 8-8 record and missed opportunity for post-season play. It only took three weeks of pre-season action to derail  Pittsburgh’s aspirations of improving on the 26th ranked rushing attack from one season ago.

Steelers RB Le'veon Bell
Le’Veon Bell

Thought to be the savior in Pittsburgh, Bell sustained a Lisfranc injury—one that could sideline him for 6-8 weeks. Fortunately, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, media sources around the team, and even Bell himself are optimistic that the rookie rusher should not be out for too long. The once-serious injury has now been downgraded to a mid-foot sprain, and should require less recovery time than the dreaded Lisfranc injury that has hampered several NFL players in previous seasons.

Although Steeler Nation and it’s coaching staff can breathe a sigh of relief, Bell’s health is still not where the team would like it to be—prompting the Steelers to former 2008 first-round pick Felix Jones. Ex-Cardinal Larod Stephens-Howling was also added as an insurance policy during the off-season.

To emphasize the impact that Le’Veon Bell could have on the roster—take a look at the comparison between Bell’s individual statistics, and the slew of Steeler rushers in 2012.

2012 Running Back Statistics, via Sports-Reference.com

Steelers’ Running Backs                       Le’Veon Bell


412                                                                            382

Rushing Yards

1,537                                                                        1,793


3.7                                                                              4.7


65                                                                                32

Receiving Yards

503                                                                              167

Total Touchdowns

8                                                                                    13


As the Steelers gear up for the 2013 campaign without Bell in the backfield, it appears that Isaac Redman, not Jonathan Dwyer, that will get first-team reps in preparation for a week one matchup with the Tennessee Titans. Though NFL-action in September is not usually considered must-win, the Steelers can ill-afford a loss to such an inferior opponent.

Steelers Ben Roethlisberger 350
Ben Roethlisberger

It might be déjà vu all over again in Pittsburgh. After struggling to figure out new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offense a season ago, the Steelers run-game might be struggling to transition to a zone-blocking scheme of new offensive lineman coach Jack Bicknell Jr.

During their pre-season stints, the Steelers offensive line has looked lost—leading to big hits on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Bicknell’s presence is due in part to his success with his zone blocking concepts for the Super Bowl-winning Giants in 2011, as well as other successful college and pro offenses. While Bicknell does not use zone blocking exclusively on running plays, he uses outside runs to build most of their play-action passes from it.

“Our philosophy is to try to be multiple, give teams different things, and see what best matches up against different opponents,” Bicknell said. “Sometimes outside zone will be the best. Sometimes, it will be our double play where we power it up on the guard.”

For a franchise that utilized the power-run game as their staple, Bicknell seems to be molding the reputation of the franchise’s rushing attack—a move that might benefit the aggressive Steelers and allow them to get back to their patented rushing attack that has made them a force to be reckoned with all these years.

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