2008 Steelers Offense Struggles, As Bruce Arians Becomes Bull’s Eye

Last week Steel Curtain Rising focused on what ails the Steelers offense, looking at both Ben Roethlisberger’s play and the play calling of Bruce Arians. The Steelers offense again struggled last week, at least in the first half, against and it seems that both Ben and Bruce’s critics are starting to mount.

Before putting Bruce in the bulls eye, let’s first turn out attention to Ben Roethlisberger.

Ben Roethlisberger Beginning to Draw Criticism

The season did not start this way. Ben Roethlisberger started strong, and after the Jacksonville game people were hailing his resiliency, and declaring him to be on par with Manning and Brady. Yet, after two consecutive bad games against New York and Washington, some fans are calling for him to be benched.

What’s going on?

  • Is it his shoulder bothering him more than he lets on? Are the sacks taking their toll? Is Ben trying to do too much?

Ben Roethlisberger did not play well against the Redskins. Statistically he had his worst game as a pro, although numbers might be misleading in this case.

Against Washington, Ben was under a lot of pressure, but Byron Leftwich was sacked less. A friend of mine (a Redskins fan) at the game attributed this to better pass protection and shared that he did not think Leftwich was releasing any faster than Roethlisberger.

  • Tomlin of course is on the record as saying that Leftwich had a quicker release than Ben.

There’s also the fact that Ben suffered from several drops Monday night. The catchability of a few of those balls is debatable, but the receivers let several go that they should have caught.

Andre Fraizer’s blocked punt gave everyone a spark, including Roethlisberger. He turned around a series that started with a sack and a holding penalty into a touchdown, including a precision 14 yard strike to Hines Ward between two defenders.

Case Builds Against Bruce Arians

In assessing Ben’s performance Monday night it also needs to be pointed out that he got no help from Bruce Arian’s play calling.

  • Mewlede Moore disappeared from the both the rushing and passing game in the first half.
  • Roethlisberger’s difficulties became obvious early on yet Arian’s stubbornly stuck to his “throw first” philosophy, calling passes on four first downs.
  • He also called pass plays on two third and two situations. Both attempts failed. One ended in a sack.

Steel Curtain Rising has already admitted to an affinity for Smash Mouth football. But our critique of Arians goes far beyond a “way things ought to be” mind set.

No one is advocating return to Ron Erhardt’s run on first, run on second and, if its three yards or less, run on third approach, but a commitment to establishing the run would ease things for the passing game, even if the Steelers are not running on all cylinders. Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola puts things in perspective:

What if they [Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell] had combined for 30 carries [against the Giants]? Maybe it wouldn’t have resulted in an appreciable increase in rushing yards, but the extra running plays would have cut down on the number of times Ben Roethlisberger was exposed to the pass rush as well as the times he had the potential to turn over the ball over. Roethlisberger was sacked five times and threw four interceptions against the Giants in a game where the difference on the scoreboard never was more than seven points.

The flaws in Arian’s game plan go beyond failure establish the ground game. According to Jim Wexell, the Steelers have attempted six screen passes all season. This comment came in Wexell’s “Just My Opinion” column in Steelers Digest, so it may have been tongue and cheek, but his over all point is dead serious.

  • Screens, quick outs, and hot reads are ways in which the passing game can counter the blitz. All are in short supply in the Steelers offense.

The Steelers have talent on offense. The offensive line might be a liability, but unit as a whole has a corps of players who can, have, and will rise to the occasion when a game is on the line. What they lack, however is consistency, and it is the coaches’ job to ensure consistency.

It seems, as Wexell says at another point in the same column, that Bruce Arians is an “offensive coordinator who refuses to adjust to the problems surrounding him.”

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4 thoughts on “2008 Steelers Offense Struggles, As Bruce Arians Becomes Bull’s Eye

  1. i’ve said since arians was named cooridnator it was a mistake. he has no idea what he’s calling. cut our losses now and let someone else call plays rest of season.

  2. Anonymous, Well I don’t think your idea is likely regardless of its merit.

    To me there’s been a fundamental discord between Arian’s philosophy and Tomlin’s desire for “attrition football.”

    In all fairness to Arians, he does not have the talent to attrition football.

    How or when this is resolved? Who knows.

  3. Arians does the same things every week. He refuses to adjust to anything, the only time the offense seems to click is when Ben is running the no huddle, so why not do that? And I must thank you for noticing the screen play problem I myself have been screaming at the TV for weeks at him to call some screens to save Ben and exploit the blitz

  4. I am not an Arian’s fan, but he did adjust the game plan this week, although some of that might have been dictated by Ben’s injury.

    And, in Arians “defense” the Steelers do not have the personnel to field a power rushing offense. That said, I doubt Arians would employ one if they did.

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