Alright, Bruce Arians. Yeah, I said it, did the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, like nails were being run across a chalkboard? No? Well, maybe this isn't your post.
I have most likely come across as an Arians supporter. I am. Why? Because, regardless of what you think about his philosophy, under his cooridinating, our record is 33-17. We have won one Superbowl, we have finished first, first, second, and are currently (extremely early, but still) first in our division. Please, read this last paragraph aloud, especially the last two lines. It's true.
I will never claim Bruce Arians is solely, or even majorly, responsible for that record. It would be a lie. I'm not a liar. Some guys named Dick LeBeau, Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, oh and these guys too, all had something to do with it. That could be my main point there, but I'll drag it on, if for nothing else, excitement for the reader. (You're welcome.)
Look at this little jewel I found. Thanks www.jhuccp.org.
Bruce Arians offense has finished (in yards and points rank of 32 teams) 17th in yards, 19th in points (2007); 22nd in yards, 20th in points (2008); 7th in yards, 12 in points (2009). This season, we are far from those numbers, and there are reasons why. We know most of them, we've seen it ourselves these last two weeks.
For a guy implementing a new offense, as Bruce did in 2007, for his team to finish near middle of the pack, isn't really that bad. We won our division, and, perhaps if it weren't for some devastating injuries (Willie Parker, Aaron Smith, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark) that team could have made a deep playoff run. If it weren't for a bad angle of pursuit on David Garrard from the tiniest of predator men, we could have at least won a playoff game.
Side note, this game was especially painful for me, as I quit a job I had for about 6 years to watch this game when they wouldn't give me one night off. I mean, my God... One. Night. ... I digress.
That season, we threw the ball 442 times. We ran the ball 511 times. In contrast, our opponents threw the ball 536 times, and ran it 361. You can say that's because we were in the lead, and teams were trying to catch up, thus the difference. You're right.
But his numbers slumped in his second year? Indeed they did.
In an attempt, one could only assume, to bolster the running attack (Not our offense, a run ning attack?), the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. Willie Parker, who just the December prior had suffered a broken leg to end his season late in our campaign, still was thought to be the starter, although questions loomed about his leg injury and how he'd bounce back. Rashard Mendenhall, an insurance policy brought in to help run the ball, suffered a shoulder injury that would end his season just four weeks in. Willie Parker, despite fewer touches early preseason, did bounce back, having a "What broken leg?" game to start the season against Houston, but he too was lost in the fourth week that year and Mewelde Moore came in. Mewelde rushed for 588 yards that season on four starts while also appearing in most games. As a team, the Steelers rushed for 1690 yards, 500 yards less than the year before. That was, of course sans a healthy Parker, with out the young spell back who was expected to aid the running game, and with a runningback, who, with all due respect to Mewelde who played great for us that season, is a far less dynamic runner than Rashard (now... possibly then) or Willie (prior to the leg).
So, if a
good (no, not good, I don't want to anger the anti-Arians people) competent coach coaches to his team's strengths, I would say looking at the runningback situation (with no Rashard, a tentative Willie, and featuring Mewelde Moore as the lead act... yikes) I hope you've got a good quarterback. Oh... wait, we do have a good quarterback?! Well, let him throw it... right?
Ben had thrown for 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions the year prior. This season (2008), the team's passing numbers jumped to 506 attempts, up from the 442 the year before. We ran the ball 460 times, down from the 511 the year before. Again, for reference sake, our opponents threw the ball 533 times and ran it 390 times.
This could rationally be explained by the team's runningback issues, and of course the fact we have a premier talent passing the rock. I mean... it could, right?
Oh yeah. And we won the Superbowl. Niiice.
Last seaon was rough. Hopes were high. Really high. Repeat high. But, objectively, despite the Superbowl win, some questions could have been asked.
What of our runningback situation? The season before should have raised that question, but when your looking at Tiffany in February, it's easy to overlook those things. Rashard was a question mark, some fans had already written him off as a bust. Injured, from reports somewhat lazy, benched for a game for lack of preparedness the week leading up to it... not good news. Willie Parker looked rough at times the year before. The Willie burst seemed gone, he had seemingly lost the ability to hit the holes. He was another question mark. Mewelde was everyone's darling that offseason, his fill in performences had helped up get to the promise land, but Mewelde was never a great runner. He was good, well rounded, and a veteran. A great player to have, but not a foundation for your ground game. Isaac Redman Fever was sweeping Steeler Nation, much like the British Invasion swept the US years before. I caught Steelchamps!!! singing "I Want to Hold Isaac's Hand", at one point, I hummed a long, but just a little. He was an unproven, asthmatic, out of NFL shape D-II player who was "lucky"; to be in the NFL according to some. Lots of ???'s, very few !!!'s, in there, right?
But we still had Ben. And a great group of wide receivers. Some said our best ever, although I think that was a little overboard myself. Hines, Santonio, some guy from 60 minutes (not him... him), Heath, Spaeth (haha), I think Limas was still a factor... somewhat maybe... but, you follow?
Going into the season, if you looked at the roster, a case could be made that more passing was called for. In fact, with as many question marks at the HB spot, and as many playmakers in receiver roles, and a quarterback that had won 2 Superbowls heading in to the prime of his career... you could make the case that not getting them the ball though the air was not in the team's best interest. Ol' Juicy Brucey thought just that.
So we did. Be threw the ball 506 times (536 as a team). By far the most in Ben's career, twice as many as the year he won his first championship. His second most passes attempted? I'm glad I intimated at you asking. Well, that was back when Whisenhunt and Co. still played "Steeler Football"; way back in ot six. That year, playing "Steeler Football" we ran the ball 469 times, and threw it 523.
Remember back when Whisenhuntused to just play "SteelerFootball"?Jeez I miss those days.
Also, by the by, Ben had his worst statistical season in 2006, in both completion percentage and interceptions. And the Steelers went 7-8, en route to no playoffs. Throwing it that many times under Arians three seasons later, Ben had his best career year in completion percentage and yards, he also established a career low in interception percentage (interceptions over attempts) Just saying, wasn't all that bad.
BUT WE DIDN'T MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?! You cry out in anger. No we did not. You got me there. But putting that squarely on Arians would be like me giving him full credit for his solid record with the Black and Gold. It wouldn't be fair, and it would be a lie.
But what about bad Bruce Arians? Oh... he exists. He exists in our nightmares, much like Freddie Kruger. Only, we don't have to sleep to be in his world or for him to come out into ours. He shows up every Sunday, or at least he has.
3rd and 1... Whatcha gonna do?
In the redzone... Who you gonna call?
Fill in the blank... ________________, you may as well have a legit gripe as well. I'm not going to deny the man has faults as a coordinator. But too much blame gets hurled his way, in my opinion.
Our esteemed historian, great wordsmith, and by the way, published author (cough "From Black to Gold belongs on every bookshelf in Steeler Nation" - Rocky Bleir cough), MaryRose put it much, much, much better than I could in this great piece from not too long ago.
1) On third down or fourth down, with one or two yards to gain, we must run the football. When we bring in that empty set and the defense knows we're passing, four things can happen and three of them are bad. An interception is the worst, a sack is almost as bad, and even an imcompletion means we have to either punt or turn the ball over. Rashard is a big boy. Give him the football. If we can't gain a stinking yard we don't deserve to win, but my guess is we will.
2) Give the defense a break. Slinging it too much, even when it works and especially when it doesn't, keeps putting the defense back on the field. They are a proud but aging unit that needs a 10-minute break now and then. Use some clock. Mix in some screen passes. Mendy might be great with those. Who knows, by the fourth quarter maybe our defense might not be so tired and might not keep collapsing. Tone and Hines and young Wallace won't mind. Ask them if they would rather have another Lombardi or better statistics? They'll give you the right answer.
3) We play in the AFC North. We have no domes. The weather is often bad, the wind is often blowing, precipitation is often falling and the field is often a mess. Take note of that. Design your game plan around an offense that can least be affected by the elements. We have to run the ball when we have to run the ball, if that makes sense. Make sure both your personnel and game plan are prepared to do that.
4) Ben cannot be sacked another 50 times. He is a walking time bomb ready to implode on any play. There are a hundred million reasons why he needs to be protected. Ever notice how Peyton's jersey doesn't need washed after playing in a mud bowl? We need to treat our guy with the same respect. Yes, he needs to make plays, and yes, part of his total effectiveness is improvising and making plays. We need to allow for some of that, but not to the extent we currently allow. You can't give a BB gun to your son and then let him run wild in the back yard without giving him some restrictions. We need organized mayhem, if you'll pardon the oxymoron. There's a fine line between letting Ben be Ben and letting Ben be General Custer. Find it.
Perhaps it was this open letter, or The Rooney's swift and decisive public kick in the ass that helped spur this change. Much like Wayne Brady, The Rooney's, um, escort-broker (?) hand is strong. And Bruce needed a smack, just a light one, to let him know who the boss was, and how the boss wanted things done.
Two of these four fatal flaws have (so far) been improved on, two cannot be proven either way as of yet. It is very early, but Bruce has gotten better this year. Perhaps the emergence of a quality runner in Rashard helped get his chakras aligned again. Maybe the short yardage confidence that lacked in years past is brought back by Isaac Redman. Everytime you say, write, or even think Redman, thank Arians by the way. With out Bruce, we have no Isaac. Fact.
So please, just try and gain a touch or perspective when we talk about Bruce. Complaints are justified only by those who levy them, so if you feel the need to scream "WHAT THE bleep, YOU bleeping MORON!!!" at your TV from time to time on Sunday, just like I do, know who you're blaming.
For every Bruce Arians out there, there is a, well, Browns OC, Raiders OC, Rams OC, Bills OC, Lions OC, and several others who do, actually, finish at or near the bottom of the rankings year in and year out (no disrespect guys). Bruce deserves some, if not a lot, of the heat he has gotten in the past, but give the guy a break, we haven't been that bad with him at the helm. That's all I'm really saying.
(Can someone please put up that picture of Ben and Charlie, where Bruce pops up like a creeper from behind the two... Johnny? I love that thing.)