Arians Gone and What it Means for the Steelers

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We’re goin’ streakin!  Woooooooooo!  For those of you that haven’t been reading my posts, I’ve been a proponent of the Steelers getting rid of their newly-retired Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians for the last four seasons.  If my jubilant yet comical nature offends anybody I must apologize, but my distaste for the underachievement and inconsistency of the Steelers’ Offensive output reached an all time high during the 2011 season.

In lieu of yesterday’s news, I figured that today’s post would be centered around which players stand to benefit the most from Arians’ departure and why.  Furthermore, I’d like to discuss the merits of some of the candidates which might be considered to fill the newly vacant O.C. position.  So let’s get started shall we:

Who Benefits and Why

Big Ben:

I’m sure Ben is a tad salty now, because he was arguably the only supporter Arians had during his tenure in Pittsburgh.  Nevertheless, Big Ben should be thanking his lucky stars that the Steelers will now be able to acquire their “pick of the litter” of Offensive Coordinators.

It seemed like at times during Arians’ career in Pittsburgh that he would rely too much on Ben to go “no-huddle” in the final 2 minutes and just hope and pray he could extend broken plays to move the ball in crucial situations.

The Offense to me seemed like it lacked a true identity, and at times the semblance of a game plan appeared to be non-existent one week (Houston, Kansas City), while another the Offense would be firing on all cylinders (New England, Tennessee, Cincinnati #2).  In fact, during numerous games over Arians’ tenure the Offense would be hot in one Quarter, but then just go stagnant no more than 10 minutes later, or vice versa (Cincinnati #1, Indianapolis, AFCWC Jaguars, AFCC against Jets, Super Bowl XLIII).  If you want me to give you more examples of each, I will, but for the sake of brevity I’ll leave you with this sampler platter from above.

Even though Ben likely defended Arians until the bitter end, he will be benefiting immensely from Bruce’s departure.  With a new coordinator, there will come a system and a comprehensive and consistent game-plan that will likely play to his team’s strengths and do whatever possible to help Ben become the best and most efficient QB he can be (I’ll get to this in further sections).

Who knows?  Ben might be putting up better numbers if the Steelers can roll out a consistent game-plan week after week and the new guy can keep the Steelers talented Offense going at all times.  Ben has so many weapons at his disposal, and if the new Coordinator has 20-20 vision he will see how much more dangerous this Offense can be with a QB of Ben’s caliber leading it.  All it will take is the Coordinator doing his job to make this happen.

Miller, Saunders, Redman and the Red Zone Offense:

These three guys have to be thrilled that someone else will be calling the plays in 2012, especially in the Red Zone.  Pittsburgh has been one of the poorest Red Zone teams in terms of TD% over the last few seasons (18th last season with a 50.91% TD scoring percentage), and a big reason why is that many weapons have been largely ignored and the play-calling has not been centered around these guys’ strengths.

Maybe instead of the 5-7 ridiculous nancy-pants, college, bubble-screens run per game and sometimes in the Red Zone under Arians’ tenure (that 3rd and 7 one to Wallace on Drive 1 in Denver still is giving me nightmares), the Steelers will look more to their enormous and athletic TE’s (Heath Miller and Weslye Saunders) when their Offense needs some important yardage to sustain drives and score points as well.

Maybe instead of going with telegraphed and obvious runs with “Twinkle-Toes” Mendenhall (a.k.a. the 4 straight rushing plays against Cleveland), the new Coordinator will use their big-bodied guys inside the 20 against LB’s and Safeties and create matchup issues.

The Tight Ends on Pittsburgh’s roster are too darn athletic to be wasted in the Red Zone and neglected like they have been over the years.  They add a dimension that many teams cannot adequately defend against. and the Steelers have the QB to make the opposition pay.

I did have issues with Arians use of his RB’s in the Red Zone as well.  Instead of Mendenhall being the Red Zone “Bell-Cow,” Isaac Redman was almost nowhere to be found on the ground and through the air while down there?  Redman has proven time and time again that he is willing to grind out the tough yards and get the necessary amount instead of cutting it back like Mendenhall.  Why not let him pound the rock?

Furthermore, why is Redman (as well as Mendenhall) just a check-down option in the passing game?  The guys have the hands to be at least dangers in the screen game and even on the RB slants you’ve run with Me-Mo?  (BTW, that TD play against New England was utterly predictable.  Had I been on the Pats. sideline I would have told them to guard against the Me-Mo slant because I told my Brother-In-Law exactly where that play was going when Moore lined up there pre-snap.  It would have been six the other way had I been a Pats. Coach, but I digress)

For a team to underachieve so much in the Red Zone with the amount of talent they have on the Offensive side of the ball like the Steelers have had in recent years is reflected not only in their Red Zone efficiency numbers, but the points per game put up as well.  In fact, Pittsburgh has only topped out at 23.9 Points Per Game in a season since 2008!  That’s nice if you’re the Browns and Colt McCoy is your QB and “McLovin” Massaquoi is your #1 target, but for a team like the Steelers?  Mediocrity at its best.

Sure, the Arians supporters will point to Pittsburgh’s rankings in Total Offensive Yards over the last 5 years, as well as new Offensive records being broken in terms of total yards during his tenure as well.  However, yards don’t always equate to Offensive success, and these people need to recognize how the Steelers’ leaving points on the board due to bad play-calling and game-planning has cost this team too many times.

This squad ranked tied for 21st in scoring this past season with 20.3 Points Per Game, and that number is downright putrid.  There is no excuse for this type of talent to be putting up those kind of numbers.  No excuse what-so-freakin-ever.  Drives need to be finished when they enter the opponents’ 20 yard line, no ifs ands or buts about it.  Hopefully this new Coordinator will not make the same mistakes as Arians and help to remedy these Red Zone play-calling and scoring woes.

Offensive Line:

This is the group which will inevitably benefit the most from Arians shipping out of town.  I’ve alluded to it on numerous occasions, but the work Sean Kugler has done as the O-Line Coach over the last two seasons is nothing short of remarkable.  With the litany of injuries and the lack of talent he’s had to work with, Kugler deserves high praise.

I wrote an article a few months back asking people to reconsider and redirect their vitriol and criticism from the O-Line to Arians himself with regards to who was to blame for the Steelers’ Offensive woes.  I discussed that a lot of the reason the Steelers weren’t succeeding, and hadn’t succeeded much over the years was because Arians’ play-calling simply exposed the weaknesses of his own O-Line.  For example:

Why the heck would you be calling 5-7 step drops with your QB without a side-car and expect a patch-work O-Line to consistently keep him upright?

Remember San Francisco?  You know, where the Running Game was actually doing a nice job against one of the League’s best Run D’s?  And you Bruce, you had a hobbled Ben fire close to 50 passes and allowed him to be hung out to dry against the 49ers deadly pass-rush?

That being said, why not hit these quicker guys like Brown and Wallace, or guys that run solid patterns like Sanders on slant patterns to get the ball out of Ben’s hand quicker?

Every second counts, and Ben finding these guys quickly and efficiently gets not only him on a roll, but the Offense as well.

Why wouldn’t you get Ben on rollouts and move the pocket in an attempt to get the ball out of his hands faster and not get drilled every freaking time?

Ben is a large dude, I get it, but he’s mobile enough and accurate on the run (you know on those broken plays you wait for every game) to hit guys on a consistent basis.

Why wouldn’t he take better advantage of the Defense’s over-aggressive pass-rush and hit them with screens and draws to his TE’s and RB’s which have adept hands?

I’ll repeat it again.  I’m not trying to make it seem like the Offensive Line is without blame for the protection issues that the Steelers have had since 2008.  They have played downright lousy at times and should shoulder at least part of the blame.  Yet let me reiterate, Arians’ play-calling and lack of scheming around his O-Line’s weaknesses has created more problems over the years than there rightfully should have been.

Sure Ben, it’s great throwing for over 4,000 yards twice and making 2 Pro Bowls.  But what good are stats when you are getting hung out to dry each and every week and have to run for your life every week because your coordinator won’t scheme around the less than stellar O-Line?

There is room for hope however, because if the Steelers can acquire a stand-out Guard this off-season to add to a Line likely consisting of LT- Gilbert, C- Pouncey, RG- Legursky, and RT Colon, Pittsburgh will have themselves a pretty stout situation if all of them stay healthy.  Not terrific, but decent nonetheless.  If the Coordinator can recognize and game-plan around this group’s strengths and avoid their weaknesses, the Steelers should be in a good spot.