The Verdict: Bruce Arians Gets a Stay of Execution...

Joseph SirimarcoContributor INovember 2, 2009

All rise! 

The BR Kangaroo Court is now in session, Judge Joey presiding.

Please be seated. 

This court is not the biggest fan of Bruce Arians.  Indeed, it may be his worst critic. The court's position is that Bruce Arians is still an idiot or semi-idiot.  However, he seems to have had a change in philosophy lately. 

In the last four games he has called a lot more of the quick-developing running plays that have worked consistently, and called a lot less of the useless running plays (anything between the tackles) that have never, ever worked since he became offensive coordinator. 

Arians apparently began the season trying to force the Steelers to be a pass-happy team.  Pass-happy teams usually don't make it to the Super Bowl, nor win it if they do.  However, lately he's changed the run/pass mix to about 50/50, instead of trying to force the Steelers to be a pass-happy team. 

Things are looking rather good on offense, but we really don't know if that's because of the weaker defenses the Steelers have faced lately (Minnesota notwithstanding), or if Arians has changed his tune.  We'll just have to wait and see. 

Therefore, it is hereby declared that Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, shall be granted a temporary stay of execution, pending review of further evidence. 

Other semi-random thoughts:

  • Have you noticed how well the offense plays in the no-huddle, or when Ben takes it upon himself to make things happen?  This cannot be coincidence. Arians needs to use the no-huddle offense more, or at least let Ben call his own plays more. Frankly, I trust Ben more than Arians with the play-calling.
  • The running game: As noted previously, the play-calling is more off-tackle and wide, with quick-developing plays and direct lines to the hole.  This has been working for the past several games, while the between-the-tackles plays are still not so successful (although moreso than in the past).  The Steelers must keep this up to have a running game that can support Ben. It would also allow more use of play-action to disrupt the opposing defense's timing, thereby helping the passing game all the more. 
  • Mendenhall gets to the line quicker than Parker.  Parker still dances a lot, or moves laterally along the line looking for a hole.  The offensive line hasn't been able to hold blocks and open holes long enough for that kind of running to be successful.  I don't think Parker has lost all that much speed, if any.  But it does look like he is running in the same style as he did in Cowher's system, which doesn't seem to work in Arians' system.  He needs to run more like Mendenhall (without the fumbles):  Get to the line, hit the hole, and then make moves.
  • Speaking of Mendenhall's fumbling:  When is this guy going to learn?  How many times does he have to cost the Steelers potential points or the game before he wises up?  How hard is it to wrap both hands around the ball when running in traffic?  Heath Miller does it all the time.  Mendenhall needs to study film of Miller until he gets it right, or just pretend that he is Heath Miller.
  • In a previous article, I posited that the defense wasn't the Steelers' primary problem, and that the offense needed to pick up the slack.  Well, I'm happy to say that, lo and behold, they have, and how sweet it is.  The offense is now playing noticeably better than last year, overall, and they have made up for the drop-off in defensive performance. 

    And now the defense seems to be getting back to the level of play that we expect.  As Ben Grimm would say, "It's clobbering time!"

    However, the soft coverage by the corners, and sometimes the safeties, is still a problem.  More teams are using the short drop and quick release by the quarterback to underneath receivers to keep the pass rush at bay and to keep the defensive backs from making big plays.  The Steelers were victimized by the Bengals and the Vikings because of this.  The defense needs to figure out a way to neutral this tactic.  They cannot continue to rely on big plays and opponents' mistakes to overcome this. 
  • Mike Wallace: Get him the ball more!
  • Mike Wallace again: Ben, throw the ball earlier!  He's faster than you think. 

Musings concerning the upcoming game against Denver:

  • Denver's passing game so far this season has been a lower risk/lower reward type of system:  Shorter passes, passing underneath the safeties, not challenging the defense downfield.  What does this mean for the Steelers defense?  They will probably continue to play soft coverage with the defensive backs, keeping the ball in front of them. 

    How I hate that. 

    This is the same way that they played against Minnesota, and Favre dinked and dunked them for 300+ yards.  And also against Cincinnati, and we know how well that turned out.  Although Denver's offense isn't spectacular, expect them to be able to move the ball against the Steelers until the defense tightens up.
  • However, with less risk of big plays downfield, the defense should be able to blitz more often and with more people. James Harrison is probably drooling already. 
  • If Denver does use the shorter offensive game rather than try to make plays downfield, they could control the clock and keep the Steelers offense off the field. This would not bode well for the Steelers.  The "bend but don't break" defensive philosophy might have merit, but only if it leaves the offense enough time to be able to score enough points to take some pressure off of the defense later in the game. 
  • Denver's defense (especially the secondary) is better than Minnesota's (statistically, at least), so we should expect the offense to have more problems than against Minnesota. This makes consistent gains more important.  Arians likes to gain yards in big chunks, but he should not try to force this against Denver. The offense doesn't need 30-yard pass plays on 3rd-and-5.  They just need to get the first down and keep the ball moving. 
  • Whatever problems the kick coverage team has, they had better fix them quickly. Next up is Eddie Royals.  Yikes!
  • Should Ryan Clark play?  I'm thinking, no.  For two reasons: (1) It isn't worth risking losing Clark for the rest of the season, or for an extended period of time, just for the sake of one game, if he should experience physical problems because of his condition, (2) With Denver's shorter passing game, the defense won't be all that more vulnerable with Tyrone Carter or Ryan Mundy at safety.

The Judge has spoken.  Court is dismissed. 

And now I must crawl off to my hovel and recover from my bye week withdrawal symptoms.