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In Defense of Bruce Arians

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I know I am going against the grain here, but so be it.  Far too many times when the Steelers snap the ball there is a jailbreak penetration into their backfield.  I don't care if Vince Lombardi and Sid Gillman are coaching Johnny Unitas, this situation will lead to disaster.  That jailbreak penetration is the root of our evils.  Defenses know how to beat our deplorable offensive line, even mediocre ones.

Fans often make "arguments of convenience" to explain how something bad happened.  Arguments of convenience are finding things that someone didn't do to explain why something didn't work.  We don't run enough, we don't screen enough, we don't check down enough, we don't whatever enough.  Talk show callers were lamenting three running plays near the goal line instead of a rollout.  If we rollout and don't score those same callers are screaming that we didn't do what got us the first two touchdowns. On and on.

In the Steelers nine games, they have scored on the opening possession seven times (second posession against Jax after the pick-six), an exceptional number, even in the Philly fiasco.  Five of those seven have been touchdowns.  They have scored three touchdowns on the opening drive of second halves.  If you take out the monsoon in Cleveland, the Steelers have scored 10 times, including eight touchdowns, in 16 opening-half possessions.  Apparantly Arians is scripting something right.  When the defense adjusts, we do not have the talent nor the coaching on the line to re-adjust and continue the chess match.  We get out-schemed, out-manned and out-stunted in the trenches.  That's what my mind sees on too many plays.

Sunday the Steelers tried running the ball 26 times.  We averaged 2.1 yards per run and on 14 occasions, ran for two yards or less.  Our opponents know how to take away our run and because of the jailbreak, we make one long pass per game.  When we run screens we hope for incompletions so as not to lose yardage on them.  End arounds?  Forget it.  The offensive line that made Bill Cowher and Ken Whisenhunt so smart is nowhere in sight.  Nor is Jerome Bettis.  Fans talk about going back to Steeler football and the days of Cowher.  When we get eaten at the point of scrimmage, this is no remedy.

Arians is trying everything he can.  How many instant line passes did he throw Sunday?  How many times did we hit our back-up tight end?  Ben completed 30 passes, not a bad day.  He made some killer decisions, without Arians whispering in his ear.  The hand that was dealt to Arians Sunday was missing his running back, back-up running back, tight end, two starting linemen and a battered and shellshocked quarterback .

Arians was the OC for a dysfunctional Cleveland team.  In 2002 Tim Couch was replaced by Kelly Holcolmb midway through the season.  Still, the Browns made the playoffs, where Arians' offense took a huge lead against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.  A remarkable Tommy Maddox comeback against the Browns defense put the Steelers back in the game, and then a Dennis Northcutt drop of a beautiful pass sealed the deal.  Arians can lead the horse to water but can't make him drink.  With Pittsburgh up 17-7 Sunday and a third and two to end the half, Ben decided to throw to a receiver he claimed he didn't see rather than scamper easily for two yards and fall down.

When Russ Grimm was line coach, Ben was sacked alot.  But he also played Houdini and made great plays.  He did so by holding on to the ball longer than he should, but the payoff was worth the sacks.  This year he is getting sacked, but there is no chance for Houdini.  Only once have we seen the Ben magic (Jax).  The line is so bad it is no longer a question of Ben beating one man for the magic or getting sacked.  He can only beat the jailbreak by taking two steps and unloading.  Last year, without Grimm, you could see and feel Alan Faneca holding things together as best he could, but signs of unraveling were imminent.

Who is Larry Zierlein?  In fairness, many assistant coaches are nomads at the mercy of a head coach (ala Arians-Butch Davis).  But Zierlein has had 14 jobs in his career - nine of then, that's nine, have been two-year stints or less.  Hello?  I think Tomlin has done much more good than bad, but this is the exception. And when he said we needed to get bigger, faster and younger in the trenches, all we got was Justin Hartwig and a fourth-round project.  True, all the good linemen went early and often, and I still think Mendenhall was the right pick, but the point is that Bruce Arians deserves better than two first-year starters, a new center, a $7 million mystery man and Willie Colon, all led by Larry "suitcase" Zierlein.

You Arians bashers might be right, but I am not there yet.  If we are this bad when I see another free agent, a rookie impact tackle and a new line coach, then I will raise the white flag and join you.  Until then, neither Bruce Arians nor Bruce Almighty can do any better with this configuration.  Our fate this year is almost entirely dependent on whether this offensive line can possibly improve and peak at crunch time.  The other pieces are all there, or will be when healthy.