Some people love him, some people hate him. There is rarely an in-between for Steelers fans when it comes to Bruce Arians.
He was brought to Pittsburgh by Head Coach Bill Cowher in 2004 to be the wide receivers coach. Prior to that, he served as the Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator and before that he was Peyton Manning’s quarterback coach in Indianapolis.
On January 23, 2007, new Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin promoted him to Offensive Coordinator. From that day on, the Steelers’ offense would take on a new look.
Arians’ threw out the Steelers’ old offensive playbook and made a new one of his own, with some assistance from Ben Roethlisberger.
Arians’ new playbook would phase out a true blocking fullback and replace him with multiple tight ends.
Arians favors more of a zone blocking scheme for the linemen. Therefore, the theories of get a body on a body and move them out of the way that Russ Grimm favored were outdated. Much to the displeasure of the linemen, especially Alan Faneca.
Also out was the run to set up the pass theory. It was now vice versa in Arians’ playbook. Much to the displeasure of the “hard nosed” Steeler fans.
The running game now consists of mostly single-back formations, with two tight ends and two wide outs or one tight end with three wide outs. You’ll see a lot of finesse running plays, with the line zone blocking.
You’ll see Ben Roethlisberger pump faking a receiver screen and then handing to the running back on a delay.
Arians prefers five and seven step drops by the quarterback and deep, long developing routes by the wide outs.
It all started off well enough in 2007. The Steelers were winning and Willie Parker was leading the league in rushing until his injury.
Then the weather became cold, the fields became sloppy, and Arians’ offense struggled just like they did in Cleveland.
Here lies my problem with Bruce Arians.
I personally believe that he is too insistent that “his” offense succeeds. Instead of doing what a good coach does and that is create the offense to fit his talent. Call the plays that hide the weaknesses of your players and put them into positions to succeed.
He sticks stubbornly to his philosophies, whether they are successful or not.
While he was the Offensive Coordinator in Cleveland, the Browns had trouble establishing the run and problems in short yardage situations. The Steelers, for the most part, have had the same issues the past two seasons.
An example of this, from his days in Cleveland, would be the 2002 AFC Wild Card game between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Cleveland had the game in hand. All they had to do was run out time off of the clock. They could have done this by running the ball, whether they gained yardage or not. But Arians chose to keep passing.
Incomplete passes stop the clock.
Bruce Arians does not care.
The Browns give the ball back to the Steelers; the Steelers score and win the game.
Although the Browns dominated the game, they could not run a couple of minutes off the clock to win the game.
Now, let’s fast forward to the 2007 AFC Wild Card game between Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.
Its late in the game, all the Steelers have to do is run some time off of the clock by running the ball.
The Steelers used to have the power football mentality. They were going to run the football down your throat. You knew it was coming, but you were not going to be able to stop it.
To be successful at running the ball you have to have that mentality. It starts in the mini-camps. It’s reaffirmed in training camp. It’s strengthened in preseason. It's instilled and perfected during the regular season. Then it’s galvanized in the post season.
The new Steelers’ playbook didn’t do any of that.
So the Steelers couldn’t run the ball. Although, they did attempt to convert a third and short situation late in the forth quarter by running a quarterback sweep behind the backup left tackle. (Nice call, Bruce!)
Therefore the Steelers, just as Cleveland did five years prior, gave the opponent the ball back and lost the game.
When Bruce Arians took over as Offensive Coordinator, he said that his style of running game would open more lanes and give more room to Willie Parker, which would enable him break more long runs.
The stats say otherwise.
In 2005, Willie Parker averaged 4.7 yards per carry. In 2006 he averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
Under Bruce Arians, Parker’s yards per carry averages have been 4.1 and 3.8.
And in the passing game, Arians continues to let Ben Roethlisberger get battered.
Yes, Ben holds on to the ball too long.
And, yes the offensive line doesn’t pass block very well.
But knowing that, why does Arians still consistently call plays that take a long time to develop when he knows that the line has difficulty pass protecting that long?
This is where he needs to swallow his pride and develop a gameplan that plays to the players’ strengths and covers their weaknesses. Isn’t that what a “good” coach does?
When the O-line doesn’t get much push, put a powerful fullback ahead of the tailback and let him create a hole for the ball carrier to gain a yard or two.
When your O-line is having difficulty pass blocking for very long. Call shorter, quicker routes. Use a three step or even a five step drop instead of the seven step drop. Therefore, the ball generally gets out of the quarterback’s hand quicker and the line doesn’t have to block as long.
Don’t refuse to “max-protect” or make adjustments as he did in the game against the Eagles.
I’ve heard Arians refer to the Colts offense many times and how he was a coach there. And yes, the Colts have a great offense.
But the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, not Peyton Manning. They are very different quarterbacks.
Manning likely gets better pre-snap reads. He gets rid of the ball quickly and efficiently. He uses his mind to excel.
Roethlisberger tends to hold on to the ball. He manipulates the coverage by moving around. He uses his physical ability to excel.
The Steelers have Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. They are very different receivers than Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
And the Steelers offensive line and the Colts offensive lines are much different. I wish that he would understand this. The Steelers’ O-linemen, in general, are bigger, slower, and more powerful than the Colts O-linemen. The Colts O-linemen, for the most part, are smaller and quicker.
This is another instance, where I believe Bruce Arians needs to base his offense around the strengths of his players.
He wants the Steelers line to zone block, be quick, and use technique.
The Steelers O-line is built to be aggressive, go straight ahead, and over power.
Look at the Steelers O-line. I don’t think I’d place Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Darnell Stapleton, Willie Colon, or Kraig Urbik in the small or quick categories.
They are not very well suited for a zone blocking scheme. None of them are quick enough to take a slide step, then take off, and then engage the defender in their zone and block him.
I can hear some of you now.
“But didn’t they win the Super Bowl with his gameplan?”
I believe they won the Super Bowl in spite of Arians' and his gameplan.
The Steelers had a great defense that allowed the offense to struggle, but yet stay in the game, throughout the season.
The Steelers also have a very good quarterback that can improvise when plays break down.
And finally, the Steelers offense was the most successful while running the “no-huddle” throughout the season.
Who calls the majority of the plays during the no-huddle?
It isn’t Bruce Arians; it's Ben Roethlisberger.