The mediocrity of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive scoring ability under the direction of Offensive Coordinator (OC) Bruce Arians has been well documented: 22.6 points-per-game (ppg.) average over the five seasons he has guided the offense. This in a NFL where top offenses are now consistently scoring 30-plus ppg.
For 2011, despite Ben Roethlisberger’s prodigious passing (4,077 yds. in 15 games), the Steelers ranked 21st in scoring @ 20.3 ppg. Red Zone production was equally dismal: 51% (touchdowns only) which ranked 18th.
In today’s NFL , defensive players are more constrained by restrictive rules than in the past, making it much tougher for defenses to dominate. Of the current eight remaining playoff teams all but one rank in the top twelve in scoring average. And two of the favorites: Green Bay and New England are ranked at the bottom in total defense.
Nevertheless, top defensive play has been a central focus of the Steelers’ winning tradition since the days of the Steel Curtain. No one wants that to change. But during that glorious Noll/Bradshaw era the Steelers also managed to rank in the top ten in scoring for ten straight years (1972-82). Moreover, their 1979 NFL top ranking @ 26 ppg. would likely be equal to 36 ppg. in today’s inflated scoring currency.
In more recent Steeler history, the offense cracked the league’s top ten in scoring in both 2001 (7th) and 2002 (8th). This was achieved with elite quarterbacks named Stewart and Maddox. Roethlisberger has led top-ten scoring offenses twice: in 2005 (firstname.lastname@example.org ppg.) and again in 2007 (email@example.com ppg.) Of course, Ken Wisenhunt was the OC for Ben’s first two years in the league. 2007 was Arians’ first year as OC, and the last time the Steelers cracked the top ten in scoring average. By the way, the Steelers scored exactly three more points per game in Ben’s rookie season that they did in 2011.
Now…let’s have a look at Mike Martz: the architect of the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf.” In 1999, he took over an offense that scored 17.8 ppg. in 1998, and with Kurt Warner at quarterback, created the most potent scoring machine of the era. In 1999, the Rams averaged 33 ppg. and went on to with the Super bowl. All in all, in Martz's five seasons in charge of the Rams offense, they averaged 29.5 ppg. From 1999 to 2001, they were the only team in the league that was averaging more than 30 ppg.
In 2011, four NFL teams averaged close to or more than 30 ppg. Clearly, the league is becoming more of a scoring league, as was the old AFL. The days of “three yards and a cloud of dust” are long gone. As are the days of three yards from a bubble screen. Sorry Bruce.
Last week Mike Martz resigned as the Chicago Bears OC, citing “philosophical” differences with Head Coach Lovie Smith, a suspected ground and pounder. At age 60, Martz can still coach if he wants to. One has to think he would find the prospect of working with Roethlisberger and his corp of speedy wide-outs an enticing proposition.
In Mike Tomlin’s Jan. 9, 2012, press conference, he was asked if he “anticipated” keeping his present coordinators. He gave the pat answer of a Head Coach who has not yet had the opportunity to explore other options. But by no means did he rule out change; in fact, he cited its virtual inevitability as part of the NFL scene.
Let’s hope the Steelers take a long look at the option of signing Martz, or somebody else who could design a more potent Steeler offense, rather than settling for the established scoring mediocrity of a Bruce Arians led unit.
UPDATE: MIKE MARTZ announced his retirement earlier this week, 1-17-2011.