New coordinator cuts playbook's size

Wednesday, February 07, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bruce Arians, the Steelers' new offensive coordinator, knows how to keep warm in his new office these frigid February days. He has thrown the thick, old, patchwork playbook on the fire.

He promises the new model to be sleek, trimmed down and easy to understand for his players, particularly quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Yet he will add some personal touches, such as playing four receivers on first and second downs without putting the quarterback in a shotgun formation.

The old playbook dates to 1992, when Ron Erhardt conceived it as Bill Cowher's first offensive coordinator. As coordinators changed, they did not scrap the original but added their own stuff until it grew to become almost unwieldy.

"Bill had six or seven coordinators; the playbook is six or seven languages hodge-podged together," said Arians, promoted by new coach Mike Tomlin from his previous post as wide receivers coach. "They just kept adding because Bill kept it that way. We're going to streamline it into one language, and I hope to simplify it for our players."

Fans won't necessarily see the adjustments he makes to the offense, Arians said, but they will notice one of them. Previous offenses under Cowher rarely used more than two or three wide receivers on first and second downs, preferring to use them mostly on obvious third-down passing situations with the quarterback dropping into the shotgun.

The new offense under Arians will sometimes start with four wide receivers on first-and-10 with the quarterback under center.

"The butt part of it won't change, as is the case with most generic NFL teams," Arians said. "But I love four wideouts. I like a better running game out of four wideouts where we can utilize them on first and second down, rather than just being in a shotgun and throwing it all the time. That will be an area we want to develop."

Arians took note of the offense of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. He was Peyton Manning's quarterbacks coach with the Colts his first three years.

"When you think of the Colts, you think of a finesse offense, but, when they came down the stretch in the playoffs, they had 100 to 150 yards rushing in every game. It's just a different style.

"You don't have to line up with two tight ends and two backs to run the football. Rushing yards are rushing yards."

Tomlin said he is a proponent of running the ball and stopping the run, and Arians acknowledged that he advocates that as well, back to when he was head coach at Temple in the 1980s.

"I think, to the naked eye, it will look very similar," Arians said of his offense compared to Ken Whisenhunt's. "You strive for balance. I'm not a guy who's going to beat my head against the wall to run it; I love to run the football.

"I think people who check my history when I was the head coach at Temple, I had a little running back who led the nation in rushing, Paul Palmer. He was runner-up for the Heisman, and that's hard to do at Temple.

"I love to run the football and I like the play-action passing game, and there are games that's not to your advantage."

Arians was the coordinator in Cleveland from 2001-03, including the Jan. 5, 2003 playoff game between the Browns and Steelers at Heinz Field. Cleveland scored 33 points through the first 50 minutes of the game and held a 12-point lead with a little more than three minutes left, but lost, 36-33.

Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns, but the Browns rushed for just 38 yards (the Steelers were held to 89 yards rushing).

"We knew coming down it was going to be really tough sledding running the ball," Arians said.

"But we had a good matchup in the passing game. It was a muddy field, our quarterback didn't mind the elements. That's to your advantage -- there's no pass rush on that field. He threw for 429, and we should have won the game."

It's a game of adjustments, and that's what Arians promises to adhere to as the Steelers' coordinator.

"You have to scratch where it itches," he said.

"When it's all said and done, you'd like to be balanced. One of the best stats I've ever seen was about Joe Gibbs, in his heyday. I think he called 20-some thousand plays -- 10 thousand, 50 something passes and 10 thousand runs."

And, most important of all, three Super Bowl victories.

NOTES -- When the Steelers hire a new quality control coach on offense, he will have other duties as well, Arians said. He also will serve as the assistant offensive line coach to new line coach Larry Zierlein. Arians said he believes in two offensive line coaches. The Steelers have an opening for a quality control coach after Matt Raich was permitted to resign to join Whisenhunt's staff as quality control coach of Arizona's defense and also assistant linebackers coach. Plum native Mike Miller, the Steelers' former quality control coach who was on the staff at Robert Morris after joining the Bills' staff under Mike Mularkey, might have been a candidate here, but Whisenhunt recently hired him for that job in Arizona.