Rip Arians? It still boils down to execution
Friday, November 20, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bruce Arians, doesn't mind taking the heat
Some days, you walk into Giant Eagle and want to shout to the world: "I'm here!" Other days ...
"You wear a hat and sunglasses at night so no one recognizes you," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said, fairly giggling.
It was a hat-and-sunglasses week for Arians.
That's hardly surprising. The Steelers were beaten by the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday on a day when the Steelers' offense repeatedly got lost on its way to the end zone. Of course, it was Arians' fault, if you listen to the masses. Isn't it always?
A few people blamed Ben Roethlisberger, but it's pretty hard to hold a grudge against one of the NFL's great quarterbacks and a two-time Super Bowl winner, to boot. A few more blamed kicker Jeff Reed, which is ridiculous. His lame effort to tackle the Bengals' Bernard Scott on Scott's 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was pathetic, but he hardly was the reason the Steelers lost.
That left Arians as the easy target. The animosity toward him always amazes me. I love the myopic fools who insist the Steelers never will win with him calling the plays. What's frightening is they truly seem to believe it. It's as if Super Bowl XLIII never happened.
I know the argument to that. Please, hold the e-mails. The Steelers won despite Arians. They went 88 yards in the final 2 1/2 minutes to beat the Arizona Cardinals because Roethlisberger and the offense made great plays. That's how the Steelers always win, right? Yet, when the offense struggles in a loss, it's because of Arians' lousy play-calling. I must be really obtuse because I'll never figure that one out.
"I'd rather have it that way," Arians said. "I'd rather have it on me than on our guys. I know Ben feels the same way. He's got big shoulders, too."
Roethlisberger said again yesterday that he deserves much of the blame for the loss Sunday. I agree. Usually, he plays lights out, and his performance always has a lot more to do with the wins than Arians' play-calling. But Roethlisberger had an off day Sunday. It wasn't bad plays. It was bad execution. Big Ben and his offense were especially poor on third down and in the red zone. They were 3 for 15 on third downs, 0 for 7 in the second half. They had to settle for field goals on four drives despite having first downs on the Bengals' 15, 5, 8 and 11.
"That was the frustrating part," Arians said. "The red-zone offense was a major point of emphasis all week. That's where we lost the first game in Cincinnati."
Arians talked about at least three Roethlisberger passes that skipped off fingertips. "Probably the biggest one was to Santonio [Holmes]," Arians said.
Late in the first half, Arians called the same play that won the Super Bowl. "Their guy got just enough of the ball to knock it out of whack," he said.
Arians admitted the Steelers' pass-run ratio -- 41 pass plays (counting one Roethlisberger scramble) to 17 runs -- wasn't quite what he wanted. He blamed the third-down failures. "We didn't snap it enough. We should have easily been able to convert 50 percent of those third downs. Now, you're talking about maybe another 18 or 20 snaps. Instead of running the ball 18 times for a 4.4 [-yard] average, maybe you run it 28 times for 4.4."
The Steelers tried their no-huddle offense three different times to get Roethlisberger into a rhythm. "It didn't work this time," Arians said. "It's not always the cure-all that everyone thinks."
Roethlisberger calls the plays in the no-huddle, but Arians called the final four after the Steelers, trailing by 18-12, took over at their 33 with one timeout and 1:50 to play. Arians was widely criticized for having Roethlisberger throw deep on each down. Arians said there were plays there.
Wide receiver Hines Ward was open over the middle near the 50 on first down, but Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson fought through running back Mewelde Moore's block and pulled on Roethlisberger's jersey as he threw, forcing an incompletion.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace got behind the secondary on second down but was so far down the field that Roethlisberger couldn't heave the ball to him.
The Bengals brought heavy pressure and made great plays to force incompletions on third and fourth down.
"Very seldom," Arians said when asked if he second-guesses his play calls.
"You always evaluate what you do. 'Was the game plan bad?' But if you put in the time and the preparation and you like the matchups, you don't look back. If you start thinking you should have called another play every time a play doesn't work, you might as well put a gun to your head."
The good news for Roethlisberger and the offense is there's another game -- Sunday at Kansas City. "Ben bounces back," Arians said. "He takes it personally, like we all do. He can't wait to play the next one."
Arians is the same way.
"Man, I love calling the plays," he said.
I'm thinking Roethlisberger is going to make Arians look pretty smart Sunday. Not that Arians' critics will give him any credit. Not that he cares.
A win is enough for the man.
That and being able to go to his Giant Eagle without his hat and sunglasses.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More articles by this author
First published on November 20, 2009 at 12:00 am
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