Alright, I don't care for Arians, but I like just about everything Wexell puts out in print...
Offense continues to evolve
By JIM WEXELL
It was almost like a commercial for Disney World. A reporter, who was way too excited, put forth the following question to Ben Roethlisberger: “Hey Ben, what’s new with the
offense? Can you give us a taste? Huh, Ben? Huh, Ben?”
But Ben didn’t play along.
“Nope,” said the quarterback. “If I did that, I’d have to kill you.”
He should have anyway.
So the reporter went to Hines Ward with the same question: “What’s new with the offense?” “Look for the offense to just keep expanding,” Ward said. “Bruce Arians, he’s an evolver.”
Arians, of course, is the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. Last year he used three tight ends, he used a pass-catching fullback, he brought Roethlisberger into the thick of the
game-planning, and he even had his playmaking quarterback execute the ol’ scramble-and-heave attack so favored back at Virginia Tech where Arians quarterbacked in 1974.
Oh, Tech finished 4-7 that year? And the scramble-and-heave isn’t so much a plan as it was an emergency exit strategy?
So what will Arians do about that offensive line?
“Oh, it’s not all on the offensive line,” Arians said of a Steelers offense that allowed 53 sacks in 17 games last season.
“No, the offensive line was responsible for probably 30 sacks, and I’m just throwing that out as a round number. There might have been 15 where the quarterback was trying to create plays, and I’m not going to stop that. But there were four or five by running backs, four or five by tight ends. It’s a blocking unit. It’s a receiver missing a hot or
a quarterback missing a hot.”
Little wonder that a blitz-pickup drill was the very first drill practiced during the first walk-through on the first day of training camp. In fact, blitz pickup has become a recurring theme. “Anytime we play against our defense, it’s all blitz pickup” Arians said. “But the first play of camp was a great read by Ben and Hines and we got a first down on, really, a
complicated blitz, so they obviously have been doing their homework.”
Roethlisberger calls it “just another year under BA.” And that the progression now is just “learning what everybody else is doing.” In other words, they’re doing their
homework. But that all revolves around protection.
“Really, it’s the all-around whole package,” Arians said. “Every individual has to get better as a pass protector, the unit has to get better at recognizing, because it’s becoming very modern for defenses to run around on defense. They don’t just line up and tell you we’re going to kick your (rear end); it’s confusion, so it’s very difficult in that sense.
Luckily we’re one of the teams that do it, so we get to see it a lot.” Arians won’t call more three-step drops because he considers them too risky. What he will do is “couple”
plays. If he calls a running play, and the defense is overloaded against the run and in single coverage, Roethlisberger can opt for the other play that’s “coupled” with the
run play. “You throw the ball quick,” Arians said. “Just don’t get it picked.”
Roethlisberger actually threw more “picks” this past spring than ever, because Arians was experimenting with new plays. Suffering that type of “short-term misery” for the benefit of the long haul is how he’s become known as “The Evolver.”
“You have to,” Arians said. “If you’re not evolving, you’re not getting better. You have to keep pressing the envelope to see what’s available for each guy. You fit the pieces, and if one guy can’t do it, it doesn’t work. If they can all do it, let’s keep moving, let’s keep evolving. The more we can show a defense, the better we’re going to be.” And the current evolution? “It started in the spring with some different packages and obviously
different players and we’ve continued to grow.”
“I don’t think we can do any more than we did last year,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll be when we want to, not out of necessity when we’re down by 12.
“We want to be able to control the game with speed or a slow pace. By slow pace, we’ve got to be able to run the ball like we did in September and October at the end of a game, and not like we did in December when we gave it back to the other team. You have to be able to be tough enough and good enough to slow the pace down with a lead, and also speed the pace up when necessary.”
Slowing down the pace a bit is the reason the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. The Steelers had trouble finishing games last year because the running game couldn’t move the sticks against eight- and nine-man fronts. Mendenhall might help in that area.
“That’s an obvious thing you’d think he’d be ready for,” Arians said. “And any time Willie (Parker) comes out of the game, we’re putting in a stud. So hopefully he doesn’t have to be thrown into the fire before he’s ready, because I think he’s going to be dynamite.”
And what about Ben? Rumor has it that he just threatened one of the geeky reporters.
But is he still evolving?
“Every day he grows.” Arians said. “We talk about plays, the new packages. He says he doesn’t like it, likes it, likes it only out of this formation, and then we as coaches respond. But Ben, he just keeps working.” The hope is he doesn’t have to work so hard this year. Or he might be the one who gets killed.