How Can the Pittsburgh Steelers' New Coordinator Make the Offense Better?
The retirement of Bruce Arians (via Yahoo Sports), means that Tomlin has to bring in a new offensive coordinator. It also means that there will be at least a slight shift in offensive philosophy.
Pittsburgh's offense is loaded at the skill positions, particularly at receiver, and yet they only managed to rank 21st in the league in scoring. That is simply not good enough.
There is also concern with Ben Roethlisberger's health moving forward. As he approaches 30 years old, Roethlisberger's body will not be able to sustain the high number of sacks that he has taken in the past.
Does this mean the days of Roethlisberger extending plays are over? No. However, there are some areas that the offense can improve to not only protect the franchise quarterback, but also to increase its scoring production.
Let's take a look at improvements that the next coordinator can make to improve the offense.
Scheme to the Personnel
Come hell or high water, Arians was going to run his offense.
The personnel did not matter. The opponent did not matter. Pittsburgh's offense was going to run the offense as Arians wanted to and this created a lot of problems.
Pittsburgh has a lot of offensive weapons and their talents were not maximized due to Arians' philosophy. The next coordinator has to maximize his own offensive talents without exposing the weaknesses.
The Steelers have tremendous speed at receiver, and they can make plays not only 40 yards down field, but also off of short passes. But depending on the status of Hines Ward and Jericho Cotchery, the new coordinator cannot forget that sometimes using the possession receivers to get the tough yards is not a bad thing.
Heath Miller is a very good pass catching tight end, and Weslye Saunders has the athleticism to be a legitimate second option.
Pittsburgh has a solid group of running backs with varying skill sets that makes them a very versatile group. If Rashard Mendenhall returns to health, he can be a dangerous weapon in the passing game.
A lot of what the offense does is based off of the offensive line, which needs a lot of work. The coordinator cannot expect Roethlisberger to have deep drops and receivers going down field if the line cannot maintain their blocks.
All too often we saw Arians' play design expose Pittsburgh's weakness on the offensive line that sent Roethlisberger running for his life.
And speaking of Roethlisberger, he is excellent moving around. The coordinator needs to remember that he can design runs to get Roethlisberger on the move. That's right, they can extend plays without having a defensive end breathing down Roethlisberger's neck.
Remember the Run
Can you remember the last time that the Steelers went into a game where you felt that they could just line up and run the ball down their opponent's throat? Neither can I. Pittsburgh needs to put an emphasis back on the run.
No, the Steelers should not return to a run-first team and I'm not suggesting that. However, the run should be more than an afterthought, which is exactly what it was for the Arians-led offense.
Pittsburgh will need some personnel upgrades before they can be a consistently effective rushing team. That includes an upgrade at both guard positions as well as the addition of a true fullback. The ability to be physical on offense and pound the ball does not mean that the Steelers can't throw the ball all over the field. It should actually help them achieve that.
Roethlisberger is excellent off the play-action and a stronger ground game would only enhance his ability to use it. An effective ground game would also keep defenses on edge, meaning that the Steelers would not be so predictable.
An improved running game would allow the Steelers to pick up solid yards on first and second down so they are not in long yardage situations as often. This is particularly important in the red zone, where Pittsburgh struggled this season.
Roll out Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger is great when moving around the pocket and looking downfield. All too often, he has to do so because the offensive line is allowing pass rushers to get to the quarterback.
Rather than have Roethlisberger run around exclusively due to a pass rush, the new coordinator should implement roll outs and bootlegs to utilize his abilities to throw on the run. This would not only give Roethlisberger the ability to run or throw in space, but it would also slow up the pass rush.
As a threat to run the ball, Roethlisberger could pull defenders off of the intermediate receivers allowing for some easy completions. Of course, there is always the ability to hit a receiver such as Mike Wallace deep off of the run.
Throwing on the run is one of Roethlisberger's assets, and it is something that we did not see enough of under Arians.
In this game, Roethlisberger was playing with a sprained foot behind a banged up offensive line. Arians implemented a quick, strike passing attack and Roethlisberger executed to near perfection, completing 24-of-34 passes for five touchdowns.
Miller commented that Roethlisberger did not find the game plan to be particularly fun. Yet, a few weeks later, he had more success with a similar type of attack.
Roethlisberger picked apart the New England Patriots' defense with a quick rhythm passing attack in which he completed 36-of-50 passing.
The strategy was so much different than the usual scramble around and heave it deep, but it was highly effective. Do the Steelers need to completely change Roethlisberger's style? Definitely not—it has won them two Super Bowls. However, there is potential for more of a balanced attack.
The new offensive coordinator should devise a more conventional approach to creating big plays and that is through design, not accident.
A quick strike passing game could help. This would allow Roethlisberger to get into a groove and bring up the defenders. He could then go deep for the big play.
But maybe they could get the big play off of the short passes. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are both excellent after the catch and Emmanuel Sanders may have that ability as well. If hit in stride, Wallace can catch and run away from any defender in the league, and while Brown does not have that same breakaway speed, he is very good at picking up yards after the catch.
This goes back to the coordinator using his player's strengths, not exposing weaknesses. The Steelers would be using the speed of the receivers while hiding the weaknesses of the offensive line.
No More Red-Zone Woes
Art Rooney had a couple of concerns with the offense, and scoring was one of them.
Pittsburgh had to settle for too many field goals in 2011, and this cannot be the case next year or else they will be sitting around 21st in scoring again.
The Steelers have the offensive talent to score more than 20 points a game. They should be scoring at least another touchdown each week.
It all starts in the red zone. No longer should field goals be the norm.
Here is where the emphasis on the running game comes into play. If they treat the ground game as though it is important, it will show on the field and there is no more important area to be successful running the ball than inside the 20-yard line.
Too often the Steelers would go for it all on first down, pick up a couple of yards on second down and be forced into a third-and-long where they would then fail to convert and take the field goal.
Besides the ground game, the coordinator needs to consider the personnel that he uses in the passing game.
In tight quarters, speed can be neutralized, but toughness cannot.
Will Ward and Cotchery be back? There is no way of knowing today, but these two were not on the field enough—particularly Ward—when the Steelers were deep in the opponent's territory. There is no receiver on the team better than Ward at finding space in tight quarters, and yet he was sitting on the bench.
If not a physical receiver, the Steelers have two pretty good receiving tight ends in Miller and Saunders. Though they are needed to block, there are still ways to get the tight ends open in the end zone.
Besides their scoring offense, Rooney also believed that the Steelers took too many sacks. He is absolutely correct, and the Steelers need their franchise quarterback to stay healthy.
Whoever takes over at coordinator needs to provide Roethlisberger with check down receivers, but also emphasize the point that he needs to use them.
Roethlisberger is a gunslinger. He likes to go for the big play at the risk of taking a sack. Sometimes it works out, other times he needs to take the safe pass to his safety outlets.
There needs to be options out of the backfield and in the flats for Roethlisberger to use, and he needs to use them.
Mendenhall is a very good receiver and even Redman has shown good hands. The Steelers could even have a pretty good receiving back with Baron Batch if he makes the roster this year. Not only should they be check downs, but they are good weapons in the passing game.
The tight ends are also dangerous, particularly over the middle of the field.
With the receivers clearing space on the outside, Miller and Saunders should be working the middle of the field or the sidelines on quick outs, and would be good options for five to eight-yard gains.
More importantly, it would help prevent Roethlisberger from getting hit and keep him healthy through the course of the rigorous 16-game season.
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