We’re all well aware of my feelings about Bruce Arians and his offensive play calling. I’m not a huge fan. We’ve gotten too far away from the punishing ground game that identifies Steelers football in my opinion. After Thursday night’s game against Tennessee it is obvious we’ve only drifted further from that identity. This begs several questions to be asked. The first is why is he so against the use of a fullback?
Arians has stated before that there will never be a fullback used in “his” offense. Obviously this is a falsehood since he does use them now and then when his running plays consistently garner negative yards. At those times he’ll dust off a fullback play and net the team a few yards before he puts it back on the shelf to collect dust again. Seems like a wasted effort if you’re not going to use a fullback consistently throughout the season. On top of that, the success of the fullback in those rare uses only proves the need for his regular use. On this subject I just don’t understand the thinking.
The Second question is why is Isaac Redman on the practice squad? He’s been so effective in short yardage situations and goal-line plays that he garnered the nickname of Redzone Redman. Conversely, Mendenhall, a first round pick two seasons ago, has proven to be a bust so far. This to me seems the easiest of the decisions. Cut Mendenhall and bring up Redman. Redman is much more capable of punching holes for short yardage gain. Now many people, or at least Arians, believe that Mendenhall is a tandem for Willie Parker. This isn’t so. Different styles, size, and desire. Mendenhall isn’t even as good a third down back as Moore. Which brings up yet more questions. Like; Why does Arians insist on running Parker through the middle without a fullback when his use around the outside would make more sense due to his speed and size? Why isn’t Moore used more through the middle where he seems to be productive rather than in short passing conditions? And why isn’t Moore used in Mendenhall’s place as a tandem to Parker since it makes so much more sense? I can’t speak as to what is going through Arian’s head, but I can easily make a case for changing the running backs around and the plays they run in order to fit Arian’s Offense. By keeping Parker in the number 1 spot and running him mostly around the edge, and by sharing time with Moore who would run through the middle, and then using Redzone Redman as the third down back, Arians could essentially keep his offense while increasing the production of the running game.
Third major question… Why is Arians so in love with the passing game? Simple one here. It’s so neat. A passing offense is always exciting because of the energy it consumes and exudes. Faster paced, instant gratification, and high scoring all add up to an exciting game for many people. The problem here, is that without a threat at running, opposing defenses can plan much more solid schemes against your passing. To answer this Arians includes the “no huddle” offense in his package. But again we encounter a problem here. While the no huddle is great for tiring defenses and not letting them bring in fresh bodies, it’s not used enough or properly in the Steelers offense to really bring it’s true beauty to fruition. Arians currently uses it only about 10% of the time as far as I can tell, and almost always in order for our beloved Steelers to try to catch up to the other team. That makes it a last ditch effort if you ask me. And probably the number one reason Big Ben has to engineer so many last minute wins.
Why doesn’t Arians just go with a West Coast Offense then? I wonder about this question some nights. If Arians is so in love with the passing game and disregards the running game so much so that he has basically made it useless, then why hasn’t he just went full on West Coast? To be honest here I’m sure he would gladly do away with some of his running backs and concentrate on the passing game entirely if the Rooney’s were of a different nature. But to successfully execute a West Coast Offense you need superstars. Jerry Rice caliber receivers and Dan Marino style Quarterbacks, and an O-Line filled with 40 million dollar men. In other words, you have to ignore depth and pray at the altar of free agency and hope to heaven that there are no injuries in key areas that would essentially end your season. The Rooneys, however, prefer to build a team through the draft with only a bit of free agency dabbling. This gives you incredible depth over time and players that are viable in their thirties, but unfortunately leaves very little room for superstars. The Rooney family has always preferred teamwork, hard work, and talent over high money players that may disrupt the atmosphere. And since that mentality has led to more Lombardy trophies than any other team in the NFL, who can really argue that? The main problem with a high caliber West Coast Offense is that it costs a ton of money and then after the players start to retire it takes a decade or more to rebuild.
As I see it, Arians has a few choices in order to salvage the offense. He either has to change around his running backs and the plays that would utilize them, bring back the fullback permanently, or institute a 50% No Huddle offense and basically turn the reins over to Big Ben on play calling ala Peyton Manning and the Colts. Otherwise I think we’ll see our offense fall to the 20th position overall in the NFL give or take a point. It’ll also be that much more difficult to return to the Super Bowl. While it wouldn’t hurt my feelings any to see him lose the OC job, I think with a bit more open mindedness and a bit more flexibility, Arians’ offense could possibly be successful to a point. However… I still believe a return to the power running game is their best bet at continued success and is key in keeping Big Ben healthier considering he is always going to hold on to the ball too long and our O-Line is still several drafts away from being superior again.