FanPost

Why Bruce Arians Should be Replaced as Steelers Offensive Coordinator

Hey BTSC, here is my latest post over at Checking the Numbers. I hoped to give a better understanding why so many Steelers fans could want a new OC after having a 4000 yard passer, two 1000 yard WRs, and a 1000 yard rusher.

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About a week ago, the esteemed maryrose wrote an excellent post summarizing the Pittsburgh Steelers' issues from this season. Overall, I agree with his assessments, but there is one area where we don't see it the same. While he did point out the short yardage and goalline deficiencies in the Steelers offense, he is willing to give Arians credit for improving the offensive output this season by over 1000 and 21 points. Maryrose asks how Steelers fans can be so hard on Arians after a season with a 4000 yard passer, two 1000 yard receivers, and a 1000 yard rusher. At the same time, we seem to be willing to give Lebeau a pass for the defensive struggles. He has a good point there, but I think there are very legitimate reasons for that.

First, let's quickly address Lebeau and the defensive issues. Why give him a pass? I believe that his history of great defenses, including the top defense in the league each of the last two years, gives him credibility. The defensive problems this year can be largely explained by all of the injuries as well as the loss of a couple starters from last years defense. The bottom line, though, is that Lebeau's track record gives him the benefit of the doubt. He's proven himself time and time again. This season looks more like an aberration. Not to mention that the defense still finished 5th in the league in yards allowed. So, I'm fully confident that with another year of experience for some of the younger guys, this defense will improve under Lebeau.

With that said, let's turn our attention to Arians. He has a track record of inconsistency. Some games (or some drives), his offenses have looked unstoppable. There have been plays and drives that were just beautiful to watch. Then, there have been the wasted redzone opportunities. How many times have we seen quick passes from about the 4 yard line that were thrown into the middle of the field? In that situation, there are always many defenders in the area. I can't remember a single time when that play resulted in a TD, but it often looked like the Steelers were lucky that it wasn't an interception. As many Steelers fans have stated, the reason Arians should go is that he hasn't shown a good feel for play calling. He calls too many empty sets in 3rd and short, for example. He wastes good drives with poor redzone play calling. This year, there were several games where the 4th quarter collapses were as much the offense's fault as the defenses. Whether they didn't bury the team when they were clearly dominating earlier in the game, or they didn't score any points (or in some cases, even gain a first down) in the 4th quarter, the offense clearly contributed to many of the losses.

With that lengthy introduction, my purpose in this post is to review all of the NFL teams in history who had a 4000 yard passer and see where this Steelers team ranked in terms of points scored. In fact, I looked at a few other things as well, but I will get into those very soon. I actually first looked at teams with a QB of over 4300 yards passing since Ben had just over 4300 yards this season. As usual, I pulled my data from Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Using their Player Season Finder, I pulled the individual seasons that a QB had over 4300 yards and 4000 yards respectively. Both were sorted by passing TDs scored. Of players who have passed for 4300 yards, Ben ranked tied for 31st (with 4 other players) out of 41, with 26 TD passes. So, of course, a 4300 yard passing season is nothing to sneeze at, but this season ranked in bottom 25% of such seasons in terms of passing TDs. I then looked at his season against 4000 yard passers. He tied for 55th (with 8 other players) out of 84. Again, in the bottom 3rd of that group. Again, a 4300+ yard passing season is a great accomplishment, but among such seasons, this one was well below average.

That leads me to the next point. The real issue is not so much how many TD passes Ben threw. The issue how many points this "explosive" offense scored. For each season represented, I looked up and recorded how many points they scored for the season. Among teams with a 4300 yard passer, this offense ranked 35th out of 41 in points scored. When we include all 4000 yard passers, the team ranks 67th out of 84 teams. 

In addition to points scored, I recorded team ranks in points scored and yards gained. The reason I did this is that I believe that the Steelers offense wasted too many opportunities, which I believe is reflected in the fact that their offensive ranking in points is 5 places lower than their yardage ranking. For each team, I calculated the difference in their respective offensive rankings by subtracting the points ranking from the yards ranking. The resulting difference is, I believe, an indicator of wasted offensive opportunities to score points. The two tables below show the results.

4300 Yard Passers

Rk Player Year Age Tm Yds Rk-Pts Rk Pts Rk Yds Rk
1 Aaron Rodgers 2009 26 GNB 3 3 6
2 Peyton Manning 2009 33 IND 2 7 9
3 Steve Beuerlein 1999 34 CAR 2 4 6
4 Jim Everett 1989 26 RAM 2 2 4
5 Dan Marino* 1986 25 MIA 1 1 2
6 Peyton Manning 2006 30 IND 1 2 3
7 Kurt Warner 2008 37 ARI 1 3 4
8 Bill Kenney 1983 28 KAN 1 8 9
9 Brett Favre 1995 26 GNB 1 6 7
10 Peyton Manning 2004 28 IND 1 1 2
11 Drew Bledsoe 2002 30 BUF 0 11 11
12 Drew Brees 2009 30 NOR 0 1 1
13 Kurt Warner 2001 30 STL 0 1 1
14 Dan Fouts* 1981 30 SDG 0 1 1
15 Tom Brady 2007 30 NWE 0 1 1
16 Kurt Warner 1999 28 STL 0 1 1
17 Dan Marino* 1984 23 MIA 0 1 1
18 Drew Brees 2008 29 NOR 0 1 1
19 Rich Gannon 2002 37 OAK -1 2 1
20 Peyton Manning 2000 24 IND -1 4 3
21 Warren Moon* 1990 34 HOU -1 2 1
22 Scott Mitchell 1995 27 DET -1 2 1
23 Trent Green 2004 34 KAN -1 2 1
24 Neil Lomax 1984 25 STL -1 4 3
25 Warren Moon* 1991 35 HOU -2 4 2
26 Don Majkowski 1989 25 GNB -2 8 6
27 Dan Marino* 1994 33 MIA -2 3 1
28 Daunte Culpepper 2004 27 MIN -2 6 4
29 Lynn Dickey 1983 34 GNB -3 5 2
30 Tom Brady 2009 32 NWE -3 6 3
31 Dan Fouts* 1980 29 SDG -3 4 1
32 Marc Bulger 2006 29 STL -4 10 6
33 Drew Bledsoe 1994 22 NWE -4 8 4
34 Drew Brees 2006 27 NOR -4 5 1
35 Ben Roethlisberger 2009 27 PIT -5 12 7
36 Matt Schaub 2009 28 HOU -6 10 4
37 Drew Brees 2007 28 NOR -8 12 4
38 Mark Brunell 1996 26 JAX -12 14 2
39 Dan Marino* 1988 27 MIA -12 17 5
40 Tony Romo 2009 29 DAL -12 14 2
41 Jay Cutler 2008 25 DEN -14 16 2

4000 Yard Passers

Rk Player Year Age Tm Yds Rk-Pts Rk Pts Rk Yds Rk
1 Philip Rivers 2008 27 SDG 9 2 11
2 Philip Rivers 2009 28 SDG 6 4 10
3 Drew Bledsoe 1996 24 NWE 5 2 7
4 Brett Favre 2009 40 MIN 3 2 5
5 Aaron Rodgers 2008 25 GNB 3 5 8
6 Aaron Rodgers 2009 26 GNB 3 3 6
7 Jon Kitna 2007 35 DET 3 16 19
8 Peyton Manning 2007 31 IND 2 3 5
9 Steve Beuerlein 1999 34 CAR 2 4 6
10 Jim Everett 1989 26 RAM 2 2 4
11 John Elway* 1993 33 DEN 2 3 5
12 Peyton Manning 2008 32 IND 2 13 15
13 Dan Fouts* 1979 28 SDG 2 2 4
14 Peyton Manning 2009 33 IND 2 7 9
15 Dan Marino* 1986 25 MIA 1 1 2
16 Dan Marino* 1985 24 MIA 1 4 5
17 Kurt Warner 2008 37 ARI 1 3 4
18 Peyton Manning 2006 30 IND 1 2 3
19 Jon Kitna 2006 34 DET 1 21 22
20 Bill Kenney 1983 28 KAN 1 8 9
21 Peyton Manning 1999 23 IND 1 3 4
22 Brett Favre 1995 26 GNB 1 6 7
23 Peyton Manning 2004 28 IND 1 1 2
24 Peyton Manning 2003 27 IND 1 2 3
25 Tony Romo 2007 27 DAL 1 2 3
26 Trent Green 2003 33 KAN 1 1 2
27 Peyton Manning 2001 25 IND 0 2 2
28 Eli Manning 2009 28 NYG 0 8 8
29 Warren Moon* 1995 39 MIN 0 4 4
30 Kurt Warner 2001 30 STL 0 1 1
31 Carson Palmer 2006 27 CIN 0 8 8
32 Kurt Warner 1999 28 STL 0 1 1
33 Tom Brady 2007 30 NWE 0 1 1
34 Drew Brees 2009 30 NOR 0 1 1
35 Drew Bledsoe 2002 30 BUF 0 11 11
36 Dan Marino* 1984 23 MIA 0 1 1
37 Dan Fouts* 1981 30 SDG 0 1 1
38 Steve Young* 1993 32 SFO 0 1 1
39 Drew Brees 2008 29 NOR 0 1 1
40 Brad Johnson 1999 31 WAS 0 2 2
41 Rich Gannon 2002 37 OAK -1 2 1
42 Brett Favre 1999 30 GNB -1 10 9
43 Carson Palmer 2007 28 CIN -1 11 10
44 Peyton Manning 2000 24 IND -1 4 3
45 Jeff George 1995 28 ATL -1 11 10
46 Neil Lomax 1984 25 STL -1 4 3
47 Trent Green 2004 34 KAN -1 2 1
48 Scott Mitchell 1995 27 DET -1 2 1
49 Brett Favre 1998 29 GNB -1 6 5
50 Warren Moon* 1990 34 HOU -1 2 1
51 Elvis Grbac 2000 30 KAN -1 9 8
52 Joe Namath* 1967 24 NYJ -2 3 1
53 Brett Favre 2007 38 GNB -2 4 2
54 Don Majkowski 1989 25 GNB -2 8 6
55 Steve Young* 1998 37 SFO -2 3 1
56 Dan Marino* 1994 33 MIA -2 3 1
57 Jeff Garcia 2000 30 SFO -2 6 4
58 Daunte Culpepper 2004 27 MIN -2 6 4
59 Brett Favre 2004 35 GNB -2 5 3
60 Warren Moon* 1991 35 HOU -2 4 2
61 Brian Sipe 1980 31 CLE -3 8 5
62 Dan Fouts* 1980 29 SDG -3 4 1
63 Dan Marino* 1992 31 MIA -3 8 5
64 Tom Brady 2009 32 NWE -3 6 3
65 Lynn Dickey 1983 34 GNB -3 5 2
66 Tom Brady 2005 28 NWE -3 10 7
67 Vinny Testaverde 1996 33 BAL -3 6 3
68 Drew Bledsoe 1994 22 NWE -4 8 4
69 Warren Moon* 1994 38 MIN -4 7 3
70 Drew Brees 2006 27 NOR -4 5 1
71 Jake Plummer 2004 30 DEN -4 9 5
72 Jay Schroeder 1986 25 WAS -4 9 5
73 Marc Bulger 2006 29 STL -4 10 6
74 Trent Green 2005 35 KAN -5 6 1
75 Ben Roethlisberger 2009 27 PIT -5 12 7
76 Phil Simms 1984 30 NYG -6 19 13
77 Matt Schaub 2009 28 HOU -6 10 4
78 Peyton Manning 2002 26 IND -8 17 9
79 Drew Brees 2007 28 NOR -8 12 4
80 Tony Romo 2009 29 DAL -12 14 2
81 Dan Marino* 1988 27 MIA -12 17 5
82 Mark Brunell 1996 26 JAX -12 14 2
83 Jay Cutler 2008 25 DEN -14 16 2
84 Kerry Collins 2002 30 NYG -16 22 6

In both cases, we see that the Steelers offense ranked among the bottom in terms of points ranking not living up to the yardage ranking.

I am sure that some will again question how you can complain about an offense with a 4000 yard passer, two 1000 yard WRs, and a 1000 yard rusher. But, to me, these numbers make it clear that this offense had the potential to score a lot more points, and the main reason that they didn't was Bruce Arians' inability to develop a solid redzone strategy. Referring back to the discussion of track record above, this fits Arians' track record. I see no real reason for hope that he will fix his own shortcomings next year because he hasn't yet. Obviously, this is a moot point now, as Arians has been retained, but I wanted to show that there is some legitimate basis for making a change at this time. This offense is loaded with talent, and the lack of coherent play-calling appears to be the main thing holding them back from being a truly explosive offense.

Footnote: I know I did not include the table for the data wrt to the offensive points scored data. If you just have to see it, click here: QBs With 4000+, 4300+ passing yards.

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