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The Pittsburgh Steelers Offense and Einstein's Apprentice

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The Pittsburgh Steelers Offense and Einstein's Apprentice

There is a quote that is attributed to Albert Einstein (although he probably was not the originator) that is paraphrased as follows: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results each time."

Well, if that expression is true, then Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians must be absolutely, unequivocally, certifiably insane.  There is no other way to explain the strategy and tactics devised and implemented by Arians.

Like the sorcerer's apprentice who saw the master work miracles yet ignored wisdom and followed his own whims to near disaster, Arians sees NFL offensive masters school the Steelers and everyone else, yet ignores their success and stubbornly follows his own whims rather than wisely incorporate their ideas into his own offensive thinking.

How many times has the Steelers offense worked its metaphorical tail off to achieve a 1st-and-goal situation, only to have Arians call the same plays, in the same sequence, from the same formation, using the same personnel, game after game, season after season?

And fail in exactly the same way, game after game, season after season.

Exhibit A: 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line.  Is there anybody out there who DOESN'T know that Arians will bunch the offense (and thereby the opposing defense) into a five-yard spread, and call a line plunge by the No. 1 running back just inside the right tackle?  If so, please stand on your head, because you need more blood in your brain.

And after that play fails miserably, losing a yard or two, call the exact same play with the No. 2 running back?  And after that play fails miserably...

And what game am I referring to?  Pick one, any one.  The most recent game against Baltimore, for instance, or this season's game against Buffalo maybe, or the 2008 Super Bowl (forgot about that four-yard loss by Mewelde Moore and no gain by Willie Parker on successive plays on their first goal-line possession, didn't you?  But at least they set the record for the shortest field goal in Super Bowl history).

Or how about the first game against Baltimore this season, with three minutes left in the game, when all the offense needed was ONE first down to win the game.  What did The Apprentice do?  He calls two useless line plunges for no gain, handicapping the offense on third down, essentially ensuring that Baltimore would get the ball back.  Which they did.  And we know the rest of that story.

Or how about third down, four yards or less to go?  Your No. 1 running back is averaging about 4.4 yards per carry, and your No. 2 running back is averaging about 4.2 yards per carry.  Do you put both running backs on the field along with your two best receivers, have the quarterback take the snap from under center, maybe causing the defense to misread the impending play?

Do you use play-action to cause the defense to hesitate in its attack?  Do you use any kind of misdirection or deception, or a different formation that you don't often use, to give the defense as many possibilities to account for, thereby increasing your chance of success?

Well, you and I would call for all of those things, but would Bruce Arians?  Of course not.

So what does Arians call?  Shotgun formation, one player in the backfield (a blocking tight end for pass protection), a deep quarterback drop, a long-developing pass play targeting 15 yards or more downfield, often resulting in an incompletion or a sack.

The Steelers third-down conversion percentage this season is 39.75 percent, which ranks a pedestrian 14th in the NFL. Their red-zone scoring percentage is 48.48 percent, which ranks a woeful 22nd in the league.  Only three playoff contenders have a worse red-zone scoring percentage (and not surprisingly, two of those teams score fewer points per game than the Steelers).

Even near-hapless Detroit has a 69.7 percent red-zone scoring percentage.  Detroit?!?  How is it possible that Detroit can score 50 percent more often than that oh-so-mighty Pittsburgh Steelers offense directed by The Genius himself (he said with tongue surgically attached to cheek)?

I never played the game, but in consecutive games (New England, Oakland and Buffalo), at a point when the Steelers took possession of the ball in the middle of the field, I called (very facetiously, I thought at the time) the first three plays before even the first play was run.  And the offense ran exactly those plays!

How is that possible?!?  Is it any wonder that the third-down and red-zone conversion numbers are so bad when an idiot like me can do that?  And what do you think guys like Belichick, Sean Payton and John Harbaugh can do?

George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  Dick LeBeau and the defense seem to have taken that principle to heart.  They've avoided that colossal collapse of last season, and they're starting to look like that wonderfully ferocious defense of years past.

Unfortunately, Bruce Arians hasn't gotten the message.  He's built a Ferrari of an offense, but he drives it like his grandmother's Model A.  Yes, it will get you to the finish line, but it probably won't win the race.

Can the Steelers seriously contend for another Super Bowl championship, or even get to the Super Bowl, with Arians at the helm?  To be honest, I have no confidence that they can.  I would rather see the team run the no-huddle for 60 minutes with Ben calling every play at the line than leave the decisions to Arians.  Ben makes plays, makes things happen.  Arians makes every opposing defense look like the '85 Bears.

In an article this week in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, it was revealed that in the second half against Baltimore, James Farrior and the other defensive leaders suggested to Dick LeBeau that he unleash the hounds, press the attack and live or die by the sword, and LeBeau listened and did just that.

Here's hoping that Ben, Hines and the other offensive leaders do the same with Arians.  If Arians isn't too stubborn to listen, there might just be another Lombardi Trophy sitting at Steelers headquarters come next February.

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