Pittsburgh Steelers: Bruce Arians Must Tailor Offense to the Steelers' Talent
To this point in the season, the Steelers' defense doesn't look anything near being elite.
For the second time this season, the Steelers were dominated on the ground by an opposing running back. Arian Foster's 155 yards on the ground eclipsed the 107 yard performance on opening day by Ray Rice.
The Texans only managed to score 17 points against the Steelers, however, anyone that watched the game will realize that was more down to the Texans handicapping themselves rather than the Steelers preventing them from playing.
Should the Steelers' defense continue in this vane, it will put serious pressure on the team's offense.
The Steelers' offense has been even worse than the defense this year. The offensive line looks worse than ever, which is saying something, while Roethlisberger himself isn't playing well.
Rashard Mendenhall and the running game is non-existent, while only Mike Wallace is really exerting himself fully on the outside.
While it's easy to point to the team's offensive line, or simply state that Roethlisberger is not really elite, the reality is that neither is being put in the best position to perform.
Bruce Arians, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, is a much maligned coach in Pittsburgh despite nationally being well regarded. The reality with Arians is that he does not know how to get the best out of the talent afforded to him.
There is an abundance of playmakers on the Steelers' roster who are being limited by the system that the Steelers run.
Arians' play calling is often criticized, as it is too repetitive and predictable. Those that defend Arians, such as Mike Tomlin, will point to the fact the team has had plenty of offensive success with him at the helm.
However, this really isn't true. The Steelers have been succeeding in spite of Arians.
Winning the Super Bowl and repeatedly getting to the playoffs has been a result of dominant defensive play and miraculous improvisation at the quarterback position.
With neither of those things currently happening, Arians limitations are now being exposed.
Often NFL coaches are stubborn because they stick to what has gotten them to that level in the first place. However, the best NFL coaches will adapt and make the necessary adjustments to get the best out of their roster. Just look at Bill Belichick's managing of his defensive line and tight end positions.
Arians does not do that. He prefers to stick to the playbook that is set in stone and has obviously had some level of success for him in the past.
The Steelers' current playbook runs a lot of slow developing plays, complicated misdirection schemes and more movement than necessary.
One of the staples of the team's running game is the pulling guard.
If you watch any Steelers game, you will often see Chris Kemoeatu and Heath Miller pulling from the left side of the line to blow open a hole to the right hand side. This is a play that has had huge success for the Steelers in the past.
However, this play, like most of the Steelers' running plays, requires the offensive linemen to move their feet and pickup their assignments in space. This is fine for guys like Willie Colon or, at times, Chris Kemoeatu, because they are talented run blockers. However, it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the line.
If you compare the blocking scheme to that of the Houston Texans' running game, the difference is vast.
The Texans have one of the best run blocking offensive lines in the league. However, their line is not that talented. Only Duane Brown was a first-round draft choice. The Texans do, however, put their players in the best position to succeed and have the right guys for their system to work.
The zone blocking scheme does not require any pulling or complex movements from the guards or tackles. It is a simple enough scheme that gives the offensive linemen spots to be and in turn create cracks in the opposing defense.
With a system like that, there is a lot less thinking involved. While the Steelers' offensive linemen are thinking about the different assignments and situations, the Texans' counterparts are just acting and reacting.
Arians is putting a lot of pressure on his less-than-stellar group of blockers in the running game, but this is nothing compared to the dire situation of the passing attack.
Ben Roethlisberger is a quarterback that likes time in the pocket to scramble and make plays. However, he needs some level of protection to do that. Roethlisberger will never be a timing quarterback who shoots out passes from three step drops on every play.
However, running less diverse routes would take a huge amount of pressure off of both he and his offensive line.
The Steelers run a lot of two-cut routes and unnecessarily complex combinations. Roethlisberger often struggles to find his hot read against blitz packages because the Steelers' playbook exhibits very few one cut routes such as slants or out/in routes.
Offensively, if the Steelers simply put their talent against the defense's talent then they would have plenty of offensive success. Unfortunately, they do not do that, as Arians appears to look for the big play on every down.
When you consider a passing attack such as that run by Kyle Shanahan in Washington, Arians' playbook is put to shame. Shanahan is getting quality play from much less talent because he runs decisive routes and has a clear identity with Rex Grossman.
The Steelers, on the other hand, have an off-the-cuff approach that only serves to make their players spend more time thinking opposed to playing. This in turn puts more pressure on the pass protection to hold up for longer spells.
Most Steelers fans will already have noticed these issues, and it is true the team has been able to get by with them in recent years, however, sitting at 2-2, they have been found out so far this season.
Before things get much worse, it makes more sense for the Steelers to tailor their offense to the talent available.
Guys like Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace and Jerricho Cotchery do not need to run complex routes to get free. Their fast first steps should allow them to turn slants or quick passes into the flat, as occurred on too few occasions against the Texans, into big gains.
For years Bruce Arians' job security has been nothing close to safe. With the team's defense looking to suffer at least a slight drop off in production, Arians could be the one under the most pressure despite being on the opposite side of the ball.
Both Ben Roethlisberger's ability to be elite and Arians' play calling should be under severe scrutiny this season. Criticizing the defense for not being elite every single season is unrealistic.
If the offense doesn't pick up the slack, then Bruce Arians will be on the way out, everyone knows Roethlisberger is there for the long haul.
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