Mike Tomlin Is Missing His Opportunity to Restore Order in Pittsburgh
After a disappointing season, diehard Steeler fans all over the globe were expecting a change in the coaching staff.
After all, Tomlin himself promised to "shake things up." The Steelers lost most of the close games this season that they were used to winning last season.
A missed field goal (or two) here. A dropped interception there. A lost fumble or a missed tackle later, and the Steelers found themselves left out of the playoffs just one year after winning it all.
The Steelers' special teams coverage units were the worst in years. The secondary coverage was just as bad.
But the most frustrating part of the season was sitting and watching the offense's inability to score touchdowns in the red zone and put points on the board. Just as frustrating was the lack of third down conversions.
The special teams coverage played undisciplined and lacked passion. The defensive secondary lacked talent, minus Bryant McFadden and Troy Polamalu.
But the frustrating part of the offense is that the Steelers had the most talented skill position players they have had since the 70s, if not ever.
I know, I know. Some will say the Steelers offense did better than last year and put up better stats then ever. But what stats? Yards? It is true they had a 4,000 yard passer, 1,000 yard rusher, and two 1,000 yard receivers for the first time in Steelers history. So what?
The 2009 Steelers had their worst scoring offense since Bruce Arians became the offensive coordinator. As a matter of fact, the Steelers offensive scoring has gotten progressively worse each year Arians has called the offensive plays. The Steelers third-down conversion rate was in the bottom half of the NFL.
Some will argue that the Steelers defense let us down this year. I can respect that argument since they blew at least six fourth-quarter leads.
But the defense still finished fifth in the NFL in total defense and allowed 20.2 points per game which finished at 12th. Not what Steeler fans are used to seeing, but better than most teams. Most fans would love for their team to finish fifth in total defense.
Along with the abysmal special teams coverage, it was the offense that failed us. Not so much the player's offense, but the offensive coordinator's. If you haven't guessed already, this IS an anti-Bruce Arians article.
Look at the talent: Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Rashard Mendenhall, Heath Miller, Ben Rothlisberger, rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace, and even Willie Parker as a back up running back.
The offensive line was much better than last year's that was good enough to win a Super Bowl. With talent like that, any armchair quarterback with an NFL Madden 2010 playbook could have done a better job of play calling than Bruce "Air-it-out" Arians.
Too many times were we forced to watch Rashard Mendenhall run the ball successfully, only to see our team line up for an obvious pass play on second and short.
If the play didn't result in a sack, they would then line up with a five wide receiver set when third and short. Then an incomplete pass. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it is all too painfully familiar, and it seemed to happen week in and week out.
Last year the offense was successful at times because of the history of the Steelers and their running game. The other teams had to honor the running game based on reputation.
Not this year. Everyone knew the Steelers wouldn't run the ball. I noticed as the season went on, none of the opposing defenses were honoring the threat of a running game.
Play action pass plays were ignored, and opposing defenses just played the pass. This resulted in a lot of sacks. The opposing defenses would pin their ears back and line up to rush the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger finished the season tied for the most sacked quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) with 50.
I believe the Steelers offensive playbook has some good plays. I believe Arians excels at designing pass plays. But he is a horrible play caller and does not seem to game plan very well.
What is worse is his inability to make in-game adjustments. His stubborness to not utilize a full back shows he is as one-dimensional as the offense itself. In football, it is inevitable that there will be short yardage situations.
This is when you need to be able to line up in an I-formation and pound the ball across the first down mark. Arians would rather line up in a shotgun spread formation with five wide receivers.
Steelers nation flooded the internet blogs, radio call-in shows, and posted articles calling for Arians' head the last two seasons.
Arians continued to neglect the run. Roethlisberger continued to get his stats, get sacked, and the Steelers continued to lose. Tomlin continued to clap and encourage his players as they returned to the sideline after a three-and-out series.
The five-game losing streak seemed like an ideal time for Tomlin to step in and pull Arians aside, and tell him to commit to the run in order to bring balance back to the offense.
Mendenhall's yards-per-carry were rising, but his carries were decreasing. The Steelers, who were once known for their physical toughness, became known for their finesse offense.
Then came Tomlin's promise of off-season changes that would include personnel and the coaching staff. Special teams coach Bob Ligashesky was a no brainer.
Steelers nation began preparing for block parties all across the land for the announcement of Bruce Arians getting fired, or at least demoted. Ken Anderson retired, leading to speculation that Arians would be offered a demotion to fill the vacant quarterback coaching position.
Offensive line coach Larry Zierlein was fired. Steelers fans everywhere were collectively holding their breath for the announcement of Bruce Arians' fate.
Then it was reported that Arians, after a "long" meeting with Coach Tomlin, would be retained for the final year on his contract. Confetti was put away, and the block parties were cancelled.
Another year of screaming at television sets is in the future for Steeler fans who are tired of Arians' play calling.
When Tomlin was hired to be the head man in Pittsburgh, he came with a professional, no-nonsense, "I'm in charge" aura. It was hard to not be impressed with him after listening to him talk.
Everyone was worried he would scrap the 3-4 defense, along with Dick Labeau, for the 4-3 Tampa-2 that he believed in and ran in Minnesota.
But he retained most of the Steelers staff who wanted to stay, including former wide receivers coach, Bruce Arians.
Tomlin would have looked foolish, and would have been foolish, to dismantle a team and coaching staff that won a Super Bowl just a year earlier under Bill Cowher.
Tomlin retained all of Cowher's old staff except for those who left on their own, either to join Ken Whisenhunt as he put together his staff in Arizona, or retired.
Tomlin stated early on that he believed football games were a war of attrition. That they were won in the trenches. That you had to be able to run the ball, and stop the run. Everything he said sounded like Steeler football.
Arians was promoted to offensive coordinator, and Ben Roethlisberger was happy as he was finally going to be able to pass the ball more often and have more control of the offense.
The first year under Tomlin, the Steelers ran the ball efectively and often. Willie Parker led the league in rushing until he was injured.
The Steelers lost their first playoff game, or rather gave it away, when Arians and Tomlin decided to have Ben run on third down out of the shotgun only to be stuffed by the Jaguars defense.
The following year, the defense was legendary and got the Steelers to the Superbowl. Roethlisberger was spectacular in the Super Bowl, and Tomlin looked like a genius.
Arians still called bad plays at the worst possible times but the Steelers' talented players won in spite of the play calling. This season, the Steelers were inconsistent and Arians never ceased to amaze with his predictability.
It was time for Tomlin to make changes and finally put his stamp on a team that he is in charge of. It was time for Tomlin to bring that physical style of play that would back up his belief that "the most violent team" will win in the NFL.
Time to win the war of attrition by winning the war in the trenches. Time to cut ties with Arians, and focus on winning rather than posting offensive yardage stats.
Time to bring in his own coaching staff that share the same football philosophy he has and shape and mold the Steelers in his image.
But instead he made O-line coach Zierlein the offensive scapegoat and retained Arians. I dont care who the O-line coach is, when you have five offensive linemen who are not built for pass-blocking, attempting to block for a quarterback who throws 70 percent of the time, it will result in sacks.
Throw in the fact that Roethlisberger tends to hold onto the ball as long as he can, looking for the big play, it's amazing that he didn't get sacked more often.
The lack of success on offensive scoring and third down conversions was due to the play calling.
Tomlin had his chance, and in a way he still does, to make the necessary changes on this team. But apparently he would rather appease Big Ben by retaining a coordinator set on getting his quarterback stats than he is winning games.
Tomlin is loyal to Arians to a fault. Tomlin promised change, talked tough, but didn't deliver. The Rooneys will allow Tomlin to do his job, which is to run this team the way he sees fit.
The Rooneys never were ones to micro-manage, unlike many owners in the league these days. Their philosophy has been to put the right man in charge and give him the necessary support he needs.
But so far this off-season, Tomlin's bark is worse than his bite. He created a two- headed monster by giving Arians total control of the offense, who lets Ben pass as much as he wants.
No player is above being coached or reined in. Sometimes even Ben needs to be reined in. Perhaps Ken Anderson retired when he did for a reason.
If the Steelers experience another year of frustrating offensive shortcomings despite their talent, hopefully no coach is above being fired for not getting the job done. Even if that includes Tomlin.
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