Steelers 2013: Weathering the NFL's offensive climate change

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The read option was put on grand display by Chip Kelly and the Eagles Monday Night, if you didn't blink. It seems to be all anyone can talk about. Can the Steelers really "eliminate" it?

I wouldn't bet against Dick Lebeau. He isn't startled by the read option. According to the New York Times, Lebeau doesn't really worry about anything. You could probably give the offense jetpacks and laser guns and Lebeau wouldn't bat an eye. Hell, he'd probably still find a way to stop you.

Or as Casey Hampton puts it in that article: "...hotdog..."

Philly came out at a frenetic pace and Washington couldn't do anything to slow it down -- except get "injured." In what began to look like a World Cup football match, Chip Kelly's offense simply outran the 'skins. So, the defense flopped. It wasn't as demonstrative as Neymar's interpretation of the craft or Gareth Bale's phantom antagonist method, but Washington's dive strategy served a similar purpose -- time to breathe. Like soccer, the NFL is handcuffed by the principal importance of player safety when attempting to police faked injuries. It seems like a tactic that will be seen more and more during this "flavor of the month," as Mike Tomlin calls it.

But is that all it is? It kind of looked that way in the second half, when Washington's defensive coordinator Jim Haslett made some adjustments to swamp the box, cutting the Eagles' production in half (53 plays for 322 yards in the 1st half against 24 plays for 121 yards in the 2nd). Though Kelly said he was managing the game at that point, fatigue and a defensive recalibration may have played a role as well. And I don't remember him "working the clock" too much in those 50 point wins at Oregon.

Haslett is clearly not on the same level as Lebeau. And that was just the first thirty minutes of Chip Kelly's NFL career. As time and film accumulate, preparation will be more of an ongoing and delineated process. But that doesn't necessarily mean it'll be easy to snuff out. Though, if you had to pick one guy to go to task with it -- again, it'd be Dick Lebeau.

Last season, the Steelers defense had some pretty significant success against a lightspeed-tempo offense when they held Peyton Manning and the Broncos to 240 net passing yards and just 24 points before Tracy Porter pick-sixed Ben to win the game. They also muffled some of the read option hysteria of RGIII's rookie season, limiting him to 8 yards rushing and 177 through the air. Dropped passes by Washington receivers and an unactualized offensive gameplan certainly aided Lebeau in that game. Nevertheless, there's good reason to trust in his stoicism. Even if teams around the league begin to shake up a slightly watered-down cocktail of the offenses run by Manning and Griffin, which is sort of what Kelly's onslaught looked like on Monday.

Pittsburgh isn't set to face many read option teams in 2013. The Raiders, Jets and possibly the Bills will attempt to run this collegiate darling against the Steelers, barring any unforeseen injuries or X-Men-style mutations. Most read option success to date has been had in the NFC. So, should the Steelers make the playoffs it wouldn't pose a major threat until perhaps the Super Bowl. But Week One didn't exactly conjure up doe-eyed daydreams of Bruno Mars stomping out another classic in the Meadowlands. But defense was not the problem. The Titans actually finished the game with fewer yards per play than Pittsburgh, but the offensive and special teams units consistently put the Lebeau's against the wall -- and his crew still only gave up one touchdown and 16 points in all. The offense's completely neutered attack allowed the Titans to use the Steeler's "Control the Clock" strategy against them and grind out the win.

There's at least one distinct schematic difference between Chip Kelly's offense and whatever you want to call those Kandinskian scribbles on Todd Haley's dry erase board.

A breakneck tempo. And that's one thing the Steelers may not want to completely dismiss as a fad.

Roethlisberger and Haley may not have clicked like Keanu and Sandra, but something fell into place during at least one drive on Sunday. Naturally, there was a huge difference in pace toward the end of the game, but what's to say that kind of acceleration wouldn't work in other phases of the game? That 75 yard drive culminated with Jerricho Cotchery's 4 yard touchdown and took all of 2 and-a-half minutes. It was easily their most effective series of the day. Of course, time of possession has been a huge part of what has made the Steelers successful in the past, and it should continue to be just that. But at times, a brisk pace -- circa the 2011 gameplan against New England -- can be just what is needed to maintain that precious possession. It's a lot more effective than a 2 and-a-half minute 3 and-out. And there's a really neat corollary that sometimes follows -- points.

A lot of people are talking about the read option, and it may last at least as long as dual-threat savants like RGIII and Kaepernick have operational knee ligaments. But the most impactful trend in the game right now may be the fastbreak-style offense that Chip Kelly and Peyton Manning emasculated defenses with in Week One.

The Steelers can probably slow that down too. But maybe they should consider occasionally making their opponents do the same.

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