Truly Offensive: Fixing the Pittsburgh Steelers' Offense, Part One
Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan and they'll tell you something is wrong with the Steelers' offense. Some claim they've lost their identity by abandoning a power run game, others think injuries have plagued the team. Some still will insist it's Bruce Arians' fault, and others want to bench Ben Roethlisberger.
But sometimes fixing a sputtering offense midseason is a Herculean task.
If it was an easy fix the Steelers coaching staff would have targeted the problem and fixed it. Thus far in the Mike Tomlin era he has been known to fix problems when he finds them.
He took one of the league's worst pass defenses for years and helped turn them into the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. He took an awful punt and kick coverage unit and turned it into a team strength. So why hasn't he been able to fix the sputtering offense?
Perhaps because the biggest problem can't be fixed in 16 weeks.
Opening the season any knowledgeable Steelers fan would tell you that the biggest problem with the Steelers team, their biggest weakness, would be their offensive line. Though Larry Zeirlein's zone-blocking scheme has been better received now that malcontent Alan Faneca is off in New York, one could argue that it's not the best scheme to fit not only the Steelers offensive line, but their offensive scheme.
The Steelers' offensive linemen are not smart, finesse guys. They are maulers. Put in place by Bill Cowher and Russ Grimm to do one thing well: line up and destroy people in the run game. Under Cowher's offensive philosophy this worked out well. The Steelers were a run-first team who lived and died by running the ball on offense.
Under Bruce Arians, the Steelers identity has began to shift. The offensive coordinator who once spoke of how much he loved to run the ball has seemed to abandon the run all too quickly at times. Though that could come down to personnel.
Steelers starting right tackle Willie Colon has been nothing short of awful in his stint as a starter. Colon may show small flashes of brilliant play every once in a while but those flashes will be quickly forgotten when he is penalized three times on one drive for holding a defensive end half his size in order to keep from getting beat.
Former backup Darnell Stapleton has played well since being given the opportunity after the appropriately nicknamed Kendall "Ken doll" Simmons was lost for the year with an Achilles injury. Stapleton doesn't win many battles but draws enough stalemates to be effective.
Center Justin Hartwig has been perhaps the lone bright spot of the Steelers' O-line in 2008. Though he still has problems executing a shotgun snap, he is such an improvement over last year's center Sean Mahan that his poor snaps can be forgotten. Hartwig doesn't have the pedigree to live up to the Steelers tremendous tradition of elite centers, but he's good enough to get the job done.
Enigmatic left guard Chris Kemoeatu had the unenviable position of taking over for All-Pro Alan Faneca. Kemo has been a mystery for the Steelers this year. His play has been up and down all season. Sometimes he will look great, other times it looks like he doesn't even know the first thing about being a guard in the NFL.
At left tackle stood for the first part of the season the veteran of the Steelers offensive line. Oft-injured Marvel Smith, along with Kendall Simmons, was one of two remaining members of the 2005 Super Bowl winning offensive line. Though injuries have taken a toll on Smith's body over the years, he looked rejuvenated in 2008.
Playing for a contract after the season, and coming off back surgery it looked like Smith was set to have a career year. But once again injuries took their toll and he had to be replaced in the lineup by the Steelers $7 Million Man, Max Starks.
Starks hasn't been an upgrade over Smith this season, but with only a few games under his belt thus far this season Starks' grade is still incomplete. Though he will be likely signed in the off-season by the Steelers as they let Marvel Smith go into free agency, Starks has not had the time to prove that he is the Steelers left tackle of the future.
Then again, perhaps the biggest problem plaguing this Steelers team is that their offensive line has not yet had the time to truly gel. Injuries, new starters, a new blocking scheme, and youth combine to form a Steelers line that, like iron freshly removed from a blast furnace needs to be molded and made into something different: an offensive line more on par with the Steelers tradition, and one that will be more of a strength than a weakness.
Knowing what Mike Tomlin has done in just two seasons as Steelers head coach, it's a safe bet that the offensive line too will be fixed. It's just a matter of time.
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