Since his hiring in 2007, I rarely criticized Steelers' offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for his game planning and play calling. Even when the offense sputtered and the playcalling seemed questionable, you could always point to execution as a reason of fault. After Sunday night's game against the Colts, enough is enough.
The Steelers faced a rushing defense which had been terrible for the better part of the last two decades. Yet, Sunday night, Pittsburgh came out throwing and became one dimensional from start to finish. Consequently, the Colts teed off on a bad offensive line who was protecting a quarterback with a high tendency to hold onto the ball too long. While that offensive strategy worked in the first quarter, by the end of the first half, the Steelers had turned the ball over three times leading to 13 points for the Colts.
When the Steelers did try to run, they pulled guards, tight ends, wide receivers and just about anything else they could get their hands on. Why is this a bad idea?
1) If the Colts have a strength on defense, it's their speed and athleticism. Running a play that takes time to develop plays into that speed. Imagine how dumb a team would look if they tried to run wide on the Steelers every play.
2) You're putting your trust in a line with no chemistry. Even before Doug Legursky, Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert went down, this was only the second game where they all played together.
3) With a defense so fast and athletic, they are also extremely light. A power run game would tire out the defense, especially when you know their offense will be held in check.
While the bomb to Mike Wallace is an awesome play, it does nothing to wear down the defense. A solid running game would not only wear down the defense, it would set up playaction for Ben to throw deep to the fastest receiver in the league.
But the lack of rushing has been a problem since Arians took over the offense. Since 2008, the Steelers have not finished above 11th in the league in rushing. Since Arians refuses to implement a fullback, the offense has not only struggled to run, but struggled to score in the red zone. At one point, last season, the Steelers were ranked 27th in the league in red zone efficiency. Last week against Seattle, the Steelers were stuffed four straight times inside the five yard line. How many years are the Steelers going to struggle at the goal line before they finally make the adjustment?
While Roethlisberger and his electric wide receivers are among the best in the NFL, their usage in the offense mismatches their talent. The Steelers probably throw more wide receiver screens than any team in the league. But they throw the screens to Hines Ward and Heath Miller, the two slowest pass catchers on the team. Twice, against the Colts, Heath Miller caught the ball on a delay screen.
Both plays went for three yards.
As someone who has never played or coached in the NFL, it is hard for me to call for a coach's head. However, the offense has struggled for the last four years, in Pittsburgh. The offensive game plans are, well, offensive. With an elite level quarterback, running back and core of wide receivers, the offense should be further along by now. The goal should be to win the game and you win by attacking your opponents' weaknesses. The Steelers avoid adapting their game plan and they, at times, become too stubborn to switch things up when the offense is struggling. If you are facing a team that is tremendously undersized on defense and unmanned on offense, pound the football. If you are facing a team that has a strong front seven and weak secondary (like, the Texans?) then the game plan should focus on a balanced attack with quick passes to neutralize the threat of a pass rushing defensive lineman.
Unfortunately, Bruce Arians will probably try to fit a square peg into a round hole against the Houston Texans. The Steelers will most likely reshuffle their offensive line due to the injuries from Sunday's game. And, again, the Steelers will face a hostile crowd and a difficult pass rush. If the Pittsburgh Steelers start the game trying to stretch the field, Ben will get crushed.