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Follow-Up Thoughts on Bruce Arians

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A post was written earlier today by cgolden about the play calling of Bruce Arians. It was a good piece with many good thoughts. The comments by you guys were worthwhile too. Allow me to jump in on this one:

Before going on, let me start with this: Bruce Arians, will, and should, remain the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008.

This is a serious dilemma for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, perhaps not this year, but maybe after next if some of the same inconsistencies resurface. The problem is this: you want to hire the best man for the job, yet you have to reward improvements and success. Arians may not be the best guy for the job - that's yet to be determined - but it would certainly be hard justifying his dismissal after such a dramatic improvement in the play of our offense from 2006.

On the one hand, Arians undeniably has made certain decisions that have been hard to figure out, and that have frankly jeopardized our success. On the other hand though, how in God's name could you possibly fire a man who helped Big Ben have by far his most productive season as a pro? How can you sack a coach whose RB was on pace to win a rushing crown? Santonio Holmes didn't just magically become a fringe Pro Bowl player. Nate Washington didn't all of a sudden figure out a way to contribute. Our offensive coordinator has to be given some of the credit for these pleasant developments. Developments, mind you, that should allow us to return to the playoffs for the next 5 years provided our defense gets a bit younger and our offensive line gets stabilized.

Although it's not all that worthwile to compare this year's team with offenses of yesteryear, it should be noted that this year's offense was far more explosive and productive (in terms of points scored) than just about every one of Cowher's offenses. Again, that's comparing apples and oranges, but the bottom line is Arians has taken what was given to him personnel wise and molded an offense that really only struggled for short periods of time within games this year. And most of those problems had to do with the offensive line.

However there is plenty to be desired from Arians. His mixing and matching of play calls leaves me scratching my head at times. We'll come out of the gates like we did in Denver or against Jacksonville Saturday and look absolutely unstoppable. Our redzone offense to start the year was unbelievably effective. Yet at times, it seems as if his thoughts are somewhat disjointed. Too often it seemed we'd abandon an effective game-plan for no other reason than to just simply mix things up. Well, yes, you do need to react before defenses do so, but you can also overthink yourself. Earlier in the year it was a propensity to want to throw deep. Other times it was an insistence on running the ball. And at still others, it was suspect play-calling in the redzone, especially during the 2nd half of the year.

Back to Saturday's game: I was appalled by how frequently we ran the ball on Saturday. 26 carries for 43 yards! 7 of those carries went for negative yardage! I know you need balance over the course of the season, but it was crystal clear we weren't going anywhere running against that Jags D with Najeh Davenport.

On our first drive of the game, we marched the ball 80 yards down the field in 10 plays for a TD. We ran the ball just once before making it down to the 1 yard line, where we then proceeded to run the ball twice - the second being for a TD. I was so happy to see this aggressive mentality from Arians early, and I thought we would win handily if we were similarly aggressive for the remainder of the game.

So what do we do on our next drive? We run the ball on 1st and 2nd down and are then forced to punt after an incompletion on third down. Yes you need balance, but you also must stick to what's working in a win-or-go-home situation like we were in on Saturday.  

On our first drive of the 4th quarter, down by 11, we had a 10 play 69 yard scoring drive that resulted in a TD. We ran the ball once that drive. We mixed and matched Heath and Hines brilliantly on short routes and really had no problems marching down the field. The short 3 step drops by Ben allowed him to get rid of it quickly, and really Hines only needs a half step of separation to haul in Ben's usually pin-point accurate passes.

So after an entire 2nd half of successfully throwing the ball, I was disappointed to see us shell up on our final drive of the game when we had a chance to ice it. There were 3:43 seconds left in the game when we got the ball back from Jacksonville following a HUGE LaMarr Woodley sack on third down. You've just got to know your personnel and strenghts in that situation. You play conservatively, you get burned, almost every time in the NFL. We just don't have the team to run out the clock this year. We haven't been able to all year. Why would that suddenly be any different? You play to win the game, and I was disappointed that Arians called three straight conservative calls from deep inside our own territory. Ben was on a terror in the second half, why take the ball out of his hands? You better believe the Patriots don't employ that same strategy if they were faced with similar circumstances. After the three straight running plays, including a hard-to-comprehend rollout keeper on 3rd down, the Jags got the ball back with 2:38 seconds left around midfield. I might as well have turned the game off, as it was obvious we had missed our chance. Point is, 2:38 is a ridiculously large amount of time to go 80 yards, let alone 30, or in the Jags' case, 20-25 to get in reasonable FG range.

Arians had the chance to continue calling an incredible second half of offensive plays and he tightened up. Disappointing, but hopefully a learning experience.

Here's the deal though guys: Arians isn't going anywhere. Period. And frankly, I don't think he should, mainly because I don't want Roethlisberger learning yet another offensive system. He clearly feels comfortable working with Arians and QB coach Ken Anderson. Let's give the three of them another year, AT LEAST, to work out some of the kinks and take it to the next level. Our problems rest with our offensive line and our defense, not our play calling. Play calling can always be improved upon from an outsiders' perpsective. And there is certainly validity to our complaints throughout the year. But at the end of the day, you've got to look at how well we ran it against shoddy defenses, as well as how well Big Ben developed this year under his system.

That said, I, personally, am not sure Arians will ever truly figure it all out and string together solid gameplans against the league's best teams, but the man definitely deserves another go-round with this Pittsburgh Steelers offense. I commend him for the work he did this year. I can only hope however that the high points of this year were just a small foretaste of an even greater feast to come in the near future.