Zach Gentry doesn’t get much of the glory. But he plays a key role in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run game. Though that unit has struggled all year long, Gentry and the ground game finally got going in Sunday’s win over the New Orleans Saints, running for over 200 yards for the first time in nearly six years. Speaking during his weekly Tuesday presser, Mike Tomlin praised the role and value Gentry offers.
“The 4-3 end is a challenge in today’s game at the tight end position,” he said via the team’s YouTube channel. “They’re much bigger people than tight ends, and that’s why a guy like Zach Gentry has value. Zach doesn’t look like most tight ends. He looks like a lot of 4-3 ends. That’s why guys like Zach are employed.”
Gentry played 43 snaps in the win, 51% of the offensive snaps. The former are the most snaps he’s played in a game this season where Pat Freiermuth wasn’t hurt/was inactive and the latter were his second highest percentage of offensive snaps this season. It helped the Steelers never trailed in Sunday’s game, allowing them to play their big people like Gentry.
As Tomlin noted, the Saints run a 4-3 defense, a unique challenge to a Steelers’ offense that practices against a 3-4 and has often played 3-4 teams in the AFC North, sans the Bengals, who have been a 4-3 team for decades. For the “average” tight end who weighs in around 6’5, 240, trying to base block a 6’5, 270+ pound defensive end is tough. Doubly so in an era where most tight ends aren’t good blockers as the college game has focused more on receiving and playmaking. Gentry is an old-school player, a Matt Spaeth type, and weighing in at 6’8 and roughly 270 pounds, he can go toe-to-toe with say, Cameron Jordan.
Pittsburgh used a throwback four-minute offense to close out the win over New Orleans. Up 20-10 with 4:23 left in the game, the Steelers ran ten plays. All ten were runs and they drained the clock to end the game. Gentry was on the field for eight of those snaps.
Coming out of Michigan, Gentry was a raw player and if anything, was a better receiver than blocker. He’s developed over time, most notably during the summer of 2021, and has carved out a niche spot on this offense. Tight ends in football today are a bit more specialized and Tomlin discussed those tradeoffs.
“They’re less dynamic in the passing game but their efforts are appreciated in more subtle ways. More subtle ways to the naked eye, not those of us that are in the business.”
That’s a very nice way of Tomlin calling Gentry slow and there’s no question his impact in the passing game is limited. Gentry is a straight-line runner who struggles to turn and change directions and made most of his plays in college down the seam. While he’s a primary run blocker, the Steelers have been able to occasionally use that to their advantage and get Gentry open on screens and misdirection plays, as they did in Week One against the Bengals for a 32-yard gain.
Pittsburgh will play their rematch game versus the Bengals this Sunday. Cincinnati still runs its 4-3 defense so Gentry will be counted on to keep the Steelers’ run game momentum going forward.