Pittsburgh -11 at Indianapolis 40 -650 +475
Projected Win Pecentage: 84.64%
This might be the most disappointed I’ve seen the Steelers’ fan base following a victory in the Tomlin regime. And even I take little optimism following the national prime time performance last Sunday night.
It is frustrating as a fan to see the same modus operandi for how we struggle offensively over and over and over again since 2007. The anger clearly comes from the insanity of watching us do these same things repeatedly. And to a fan, we all know what these things are:
1. Dismal offensive line play to the point the plays calls and execution break down so quickly it is laughingstock.
2. Running plays so poorly designed vs. the opponent’s defensive methods you want to smack your head into a wall.
3. Unintelligent quarterback play (particularly on the road) resulting in turnovers, untimely sacks to take us out of field goal range and odd play calls/audibles.
4. A general lack of acknowledgement of these weaknesses from the entire organization both pre-game and post-game that leaves fans dumbfounded and angry.
We can all what-if the personnel decisions this team made over the summer to establish the offensive line players going into the season. And for some reason injuries are following the group (and Sean Kugler) like some unseen curse. But this is only part of the problem.
I have stated this since 2008 that the basic issue is the simple fact running the ball is not very high on the priority list for this organization. The fact remains the background of every major person responsible for our offense (Colbert, Tomlin, Arians, Roethlsiberger, Kugler) has no track record of success in the running game. Each person’s background is geared towards perimeter players (WR’s, QB’s, DB’s) and the passing game.
Do we forget Colbert’s history as part of both Miami’s organization (arriving the year after Dan Marino’s acquisition) and the Detroit Lions (arriving the year after Barry Sander’s acquisition)? That Miami never ran the ball effectively in the 1980’s and how the Lion’s of the 90’s ran the run-and-shoot (without a tight end on the roster)? Or that in each case, the year after Colbert left those organizations, both teams had such weaknesses at offensive line they both heavily drafted linemen the following seasons (Miami drafted Richmond Webb and Keith Sims in 1990, while the Lions drafted offensive tackles with 1st round picks in both 2000 and 2001).
Do we forget what Arians’ history tells us? That he was a quarterback at Virginia Tech (total record there, 12-20-1) and as a 1974 starter was 4-7. That as head coach of Temple he rode his prize 1983 recruit, Paul Palmer, into the ground (1035 touches), put Temple Football on the map only to follow up Palmer’s career with two dismal seasons averaging 16.4 ppg and going 7-15. That his 3-year stint with Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State (offensive coordinator) ended with a 14-18-2 record (Sherrill’s worst 3-year stretch in his first 10 years there). That during his one year as offensive coordinator at Alabama (1997) his claim to fame was putting sophomore Shaun Alexander (yes, that Shaun Alexander) third on the running back depth chart, leading a 69th ranked scoring offense (out of 112 teams) and being a part of Alabama’s worst team of the 1990’s (4-7 record).
When he became the Browns offensive coordinator in 2001 (hired by a career college coach in Butch Davis), his offense ranked 25th, 19th and 28th in scoring. That his attempt to help Tim Couch out of his 51-sack shell-shocked rookie season went nowhere. That the offense gave up 51, 35 and 40 sacks. That the offense ranked 21st, 26th and 27th in rushing attempts. That despite the failing offensive line, the team in 2001 drafted a WR in round 2 and RB in round 3 and followed that in 2002 by drafting a RB in round 1 and a WR in round 2? (this after the previous regime drafted a WR, RB, WR in the top 100 picks in 2000). Oh… and his record at Cleveland was 21-27.
We can add, even though I think it is minor, that Tomlin also lacks any/all knowledge of how effective running games work. His tenures at William & Mary, Tampa Bay and Minnesota certainly didn’t involve any run-game “gurus”. And to think he would override his offensive coaches to fix the problem isn’t likely based on his knowledge of the game.
History does not paint a pretty picture of Bruce Arians and never has. Nor does it favor Kevin Colbert’s track record with offensive line development.
The truth is the minute Ken Whisenhunt (former TE) and Russ Grimm (former offensive lineman) left this organization, the creativity, commitment and genius with respect to running the football went with them.
While this may be also a trend throughout the league (the run game guru coaches seem far and few between), it seems to have hit the Steelers hardest with how and when we struggle offensively. And I don’t really have any answer as to how and fix it.
The problem is deeper than adding a player to the o-line, or hoping an injury didn’t happen or changing game plans. It is systemic within the organization from top-to-bottom. It is a reality of the way the team is built and coached. We will live and die with a mediocre run game being the goal, not the worst case scenario and that in turns means we live and die on the health and ability of Ben Roethlisberger to make plays under chaotic circumstances.
As with previous seasons, we’ll see what happens for better or worse. In two of the past four seasons “better” has prevailed and in the other two, “worse” has prevailed. The arrow is pointing down at the moment, but the season is still early. The 2008 Eagles game proves we can bounce back from horrific offensive performances. Let’s hope 2011 is a similar type season.
But to not expect more of the same, either this year or next or as long as Tomlin, Arians and Roethlisberger are with the team is foolish. As the saying goes, "fool me once..."
The offensive issues, as defined above, will reappear at some point. It’s not a matter of if, but when. The only unknown is whether or not is costs us our season.
Thanks for reading and let’s hope for some fortune vs. Houston.