It is the common theory of NFL evolution, that NFL offenses and NFL defenses are in a constant state of flux. Each side of the ball attempts to get the upper hand on the other and because of this entire philosophies have changed. In 2011 the new idea offenses began to show was the use of the quick passes to "dink and dunk" down the field. The top three offenses of the Saints, Patriots and Packers in the NFL in 2011 utilized this idea.
In 2012 the Steelers decided to incorporate this philosophy in order to protect the health of their QB Ben Roethisberger. The team brought in offensive coordinator Todd Haley and used the philosophy of getting the ball out of Roethlisberger's hands quickly. In deciding on this philosophy, the team made some roster moves as well. The team drafted DeCastro a highly regarded OG in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft and moved OT Willie Colon to the LG position. This was based behind the philosophy that outside pressure is less effective than interior pressure at getting to the QB in a quick passing offense. The team already had the perfect combination of WR to run the offense, stacked with receivers who were quick in and out of their breaks.
For the first half of the season the Steelers offense look like it was expected to. It was efficient and utilized the quick pass to prevent Roethlisberger from getting hit. However as mentioned before defenses and offenses are in a constant battle and by the second half of the 2012 season defenses started to figure out the Steelers offense. In the 2013 off-season the Steelers continued roster moves to fit the quick passing offense, resigning OG Ramon Foster, letting WR Mike Wallace leave and drafting the quick WR Marcus Wheaton. The offense was expected to improve but thus far has only taken a step backwards. The have fail to meet expectation.
By now I am sure you are wondering how Dick LeBeau, the teams defensive coordinator, bears any responsibility for this success.?I will take you back to week 8 of the 2011 NFL season. The Patriots were playing at the Steelers. Prior to the game no one had ran the quick offense better than Brady and company. The Patriots offense had yet to get under 350 yards of offense, averaged 26.4 points per game and had only lost once. Dick LeBeau was challenged to stop the Patriots quick passing and effective running game.
His solution was to play eight men near the line of scrimmage, focusing on the run, while playing his corners in press coverage. Having that many men around the line of scrimmage nullified the Patriots run game and therefore the big plays, which had to be established off the play action. In the passing game, LeBeau sent pressure and utilized tight press coverage. The idea is that the cornerback's job was to prevent the WRs from getting open quickly so that the timing was disrupted on the plays and the pass rush could get to the QB. This idea worked well, the Patriots passed for only 170 yards with a season low 18 points. The NFL took note of the success the Steelers had against the Patriots.
In 2012 the big CB came in vogue because of their ability to press. The league began to perfect this game plan of Lebeau's. Teams like Seattle and Kansas City, with good corners and a good pass rush, caught on early with this success. Eventually teams started to slow down the quick passing game. As we fast forward to the 2013 season it is easy to see this is exactly what opposing defenses are doing to the Steelers. They are stacking eight men in the box, which has made the Steelers run offense almost nonexistent. Much like the Patriots of 2011, without a run game the Steelers lack their ability for explosive plays down field. The defenders begin to drop closer to the line without the fear of the big play. The opposing CBs continue to play tight press coverage on Pittsburgh's WRs. Due to their small frames, the WRs are unable to get off the press as the opposing defenses are all but daring Roethlisberger to throw the ball. The defenses are in essence saying to the Steelers that they know their pass rush will get to Roethlisberger before the Steelers WR can get off the press. Through eight weeks in 2013 the defenses have yet to be proven wrong.
How do the Steelers fix this issue?
Unfortunately this isn't as easy as play calling. This issue is deeply rooted in the personnel the Steelers have. The team need better protection to give their smaller WRs time to get off the press. This would mean a far better set of tackles. The other way to beat the press is by utilizing big bodied WRs. Knowing this it should come to no surprise that the leagues leading receivers are A.J. Green of the Bengals, Calvin Johnson of the Lions and DeMaryius Thomas of the Broncos (all three taller than 6-foot-3 and their average weight is 224 pounds).
The Steelers offense woes are much worse than just play calling. Pittsburgh had built its roster for the quick passing game however, (thanks to Dick LeBeau's game plan against the Patriots 2011 quick passing offense) NFL defenses have figured out how to beat the "dink and dunk" offense. With a roster suited to the "dink and dunk" the Steelers will likely struggle for most of the season to establish any sort of offensive consistency.
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