Football Outsiders always have some fun and insightful comments about most of the games on a given weekend and publish them in a feature called "Audibles at the Line". In this week's edition, there's a bit of objective commentary on the Thursday game. Mike Tanier, who I think might actually be a Steelers fan (although he still does fine objective or even a little pessimistic commentary) wrote the following about the fact the no one ever seemed to get open:
Part of the "nobody getting open" was the play calls. The Steelers seemed to be running a bunch of little hook and stick routes, usually with Ward, Miller, and Wallace or somebody, with Holmes running deep. Against man coverage, the slower receivers got no separation on these routes, then had to turn and stop. Meanwhile, Big Ben was getting sacked while Holmes worked deep.
This happened a few times in the first and second quarter, and I kept wondering why they were calling these "zone-breaker" plays against a team running a lot of man. And why they were emptying the backfield against a team that likes to blitz from the outside. And why they always run from a single-back formation even though Mendenhall looks like an I-back based on his running style. And so on.
I've mentioned multiple times that the Steelers' offense seems to really struggle against teams that run man coverage, and while I don't have the football knowledge or time to dissect the film to figure out why that is or how to fix it, what Tanier says rings true to me.
There are other problems with the team, injuries, mental lapses, etc, and I don't know what the better alternatives are, but I am sure that Bruce Arians is bad at his job. I've been hesitant to cite specific things like, "we should run/pass more on all/1st/second" downs (although that 3rd and 1 empty set was pretty tough to watch). I've always felt the problem was more subtle. It's stuff like running "zone breaker" routes against man blitz schemes that make him a bad OC.
Subtle or no, a head coach should be able to figure this stuff out and find better options. Identifying and surrounding himself with capable personnel is his primary job.