Fixing The Steelers Offense


I’m turning over a new leaf.

After stewing over Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Indianapolis Colts, I’ve decided to stop dwelling on the negative. There’s no point in rehashing the past. What’s done is done and we must march onward toward the future.

I think I’ve watched one too many Mike Tomlin press conferences.

Anyway, instead of criticizing what’s gone horribly wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m going to try and help them. From now on, this blog will be solutions oriented. Obviously, Tomlin and Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians need all the help they can get. I may have never coached one down of football at any level but I kick all kinds of ass when it comes to designing plays on Madden ’09 so I feel qualified to offer my advice. Arians probably blows at video games.

With that in mind, I’ve devised four easy-to-implement solutions which can’t help but drastically improve our offensive play.

1 – Establish Identity

The Steelers have been a running team going all the way back to the Dynasty teams of the 70’s. Ball control, grind-it-out offenses which throw the ball only as a complement to the ground game. There was a brief period when Jerome Bettis was hurt and our backups stunk where we became a high-powered run-and-gun offense under Tommy Maddox but that didn’t last long. And it wasn’t too successful either.

Over half way through this season and does anybody know what kind of offense we are?

We currently rank 24th in rushing offense. Think about that. We’re currently behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks if both total yards and average/game.  Clearly we’re not a running team.

Maybe we’re a passing team. Hmmm… Well what do you know? We’re ranked a stunning 24th in that category, too. Right behind the high-powered attacks of the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers. Guess we’re not much of a passing team either.

I’m sure some people will point to our injury situation this year. Those people are idiots. Every team has injuries and unless you’re ineptly coached or poorly managed, you should be able to work through them. Sometimes that means finding new players. Sometimes that means finding new strategies.  Blaming poor play on injuries is just the ultimate in excuse making for homers in denial.

The Patriots were a high-powered aerial attack under Tom Brady. He was lost for the season, then they lost not only their starting running back but his backup as well. Guess what? They’re 7th in rushing offense this season using an undrafted free agent who was 4th on their depth chart at the start of the year. Yet they’re winning using a primarily running based offense because that’s what works best with their current personnel.

Mewelde Moore is a more than capable back. Gary Russell has looked decent when given a chance. Our line doesn’t always excel at run blocking but that’s the kind of thing which tends to improve with repetition. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to go back to old fashioned Steeler football. For that to happen, however, a commitment has to be made to the run. That means no more of this one carry and then two passes crap. You have to keep feeding the backs even if the first few carries don’t net many yards.

2 – Throw It Away

Ben Roethlisberger is a magician. He has escaped sure doom to make a big play more often than any QB not named Flutie. However, he has to be smarter when it comes to time and place.

The Steelers only had 2 sacks on Peyton Manning last week. One reason is when he felt the heat bearing down on him, he’d throw the ball away. Does anybody remember the last time they’ve seen Big Ben do this? I honestly can’t.

He tries to save EVERY play. That’s either extremely confident or stupidly cocky. In any case, it’s hurting the team more than helping. When it’s the first half and you’re facing a 2nd and 10, there is no harm in throwing the ball away so you may live to fight another play. How many times this season has Ben faced this situation and while twisting and turning like Urkel on the dance floor, he ends up taking a seven yard sack? If he learned to throw the ball away, we’d have a lot more 3rd and 6’s instead of 3rd and 14’s.

Obviously, if the team is down by 10 in the 4th quarter, sure you try to make something happen. If it’s 3rd down at midfield, sure you try to make something happen. But if you’re nursing a 3 point lead deep in your territory, that is not the time to take chances. Be smart.

3 – Start The QB Who Can Make All The Throws

The Tiffin Thunderbolt Nate Washington caught a bomb to break the game open against the Bengals. He caught another one to break it open against the Redskins. Last week? Nada. Know why?

The answer can be found in the Post-Gazette’s Notebook item on Ben:

The quarterback threw with limited effectiveness in drills and had ice applied to his right shoulder before leaving the practice field.

He didn’t hit Nate deep because he couldn’t throw deep. Why the hell would you start a QB if you know he can’t make all the throws? That’s ridiculous. If they want a guy who can’t get the ball more than 20 yards down the field under center, they should’ve signed Chad Pennington instead of Byron Leftwich.

Determine exactly what Ben’s injury situation will allow him to do. If he can play up to his normal level or reasonably close, start him. If he can’t, he sits. Simple as that.

4 – Simplify Schemes

Let’s be honest, athletes are not the brightest bulbs on the tree. One of the reasons given for Ben’s tremendous season last year was the fact Arians supposedly simplified a lot of the playbook he inherited from Ken Whisenhunt.

The terminology might be easier to remember but the schemes appear to be more complex than ever. There’s always an occasional miscommunication between receiver and QB. We all know it when it happens but only a douche like Neil O’Donnell throws their teammate under the bus publicly.

This year, however, there seems to be a degree of confusion which extends beyond the occasional. I often see two receivers running oddly similar routes. Other times I see them making complicated dekes, bobs, and curls which would make Sidney Crosby jealous. And there have been a lot of times where throws have gone to one spot while the wide out has gone to another.

Our line takes a lot of heat and they are definitely weak. But anybody who knows the basics of football knows a QB only has an average of 3-4 seconds to drop back and let the ball go.  Provided you can count that high, time them yourself the next time you see them play and you’ll realize except for on all-out blitzes, the line usually provides that much time.

They have given Ben a chance to step up and throw the ball on a fairly consistent basis.  The problem has been the 3 seconds of time they allot the QB hasn’t been enough to allow the complicated routes to develop. By the time the WR is in position and Ben has spotted them, he’s got a guy in his face.

The reason the offense tends to look much better in No Huddle situations is because that’s when you’re dealing with a very simple and limited set of plays. They are just basic formations and routes and everything is quick hits. That’s what we need to see more of, not just in Two Minute Drills, but in any passing situation.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to draw up a few tricky Wildcat type plays for the sadly unused Dennis Dixon.