The Deep End
Each week, thanks to play-by-play game dissection by ProFootballFocus.com, I'll look at one important matchup or individual performance metric from one of the Sunday games. PFF czar Neil Horsnby's take on Bruce Arians taking over the Arizona Cardinals --and leaving Indianapolis:"How quickly things change in the NFL. Slightly over a year ago the Pittsburgh Steelers were replacing Bruce Arians as their offensive coordinator with Todd Haley and now, on the back of a remarkable season with Indianapolis, he is Arizona's new coach."Without Arians as his mentor, this was probably Ben Roethlisberger's best year; at PFF we gave him his highest grade by some margin, seeing his percentage of poor throws drop from 16.4 percent in 2011 to 10.5 this year. The truth is the offense wasn't at the heart of the Steelers' problems this year, but the defense, while still good, slipped from its suffocating best and allowed 5.4 points more per game."There was only one significant difference between the Arians- and Haley-coached Steelers offense: Pittsburgh didn't throw deep nearly as much this year. In 2011 Roethlisberger threw deep (over 20 yards) on 13.6 percent of his drop-backs (good for ninth among ranked quarterbacks) while in 2012 that number dropped to 10.5 percent (26th). He threw far fewer posts and corners and compensated with more hitches to his wideouts and passes to the backs."In Indianapolis, Arians brought the deep ball with him. He had Andrew Luck air it out (going over 20 yards) on 15.9 percent of his throws. And while the rookie may have been inconsistent, he was also remarkably resilient. He was knocked to the ground 148 times during the season, an unbelievable 32 percent more than any other player, and never missed a snap. In fact, it could have been considerably worse but for Luck proving to be a skilled scrambler as well, actually rushing for more yards than Cam Newton when forced out of the pocket."What does it mean for Arizona quarterbacks, whoever they may be in 2013? Based on the evidence from Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, implementing a long-ball passing game requires a number of things. First, an accurate quarterback. Roethlisberger in 2011 wasn't great, with a 34 percent completion rate over 20 yards, while Luck was very good in 2012 at 43 percent. Second, without a great offensive line, you need to accept your QB will be hit regularly and needs to be able to take his knocks. Even the incredibly tough Roethlisberger suffered in this regard."As a group, the Cardinals' current passer threw deep on only 8.6 percent of 2012 dropbacks and had a 22 percent accuracy rate when doing so. The offensive line, while improving, is still poor and the fragility of the guys behind them is well known. Kevin Kolb made strides this year and it would be wrong to write him off as an option, but it seems unlikely he'll fit the bill as another Andrew Luck. So who else could fit the bill? In 2011 Matt Moore threw deep on 17 percent of throws, with an accuracy rate of 48 percent in the Dolphins late-season resurgence. Matt Flynn has a much sturdier frame, although his body of work is limited before you even consider trade value ... and who knows if Seattle would trade him within the division?"Arians faced the same difficult task turning around the Indianapolis offense in 2012 as he will with the Cardinals in 2013. One slight difference in the two places: He won't have Luck to work with in Arizona."
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