After getting over the shell-shock that was our running game last year, I'm starting to wonder if the Steelers are truly shifting to a pass-friendly offensive scheme. I just have fathomable understanding why they would be doing this.
So...I pose a question: How many times last year did we blow a lead in the fourth quarter because we had 2-3 three-n'-outs in a row? Sure, our defense saved us more times than not, but its very disheartening looking forward to 2009.
In 07, we were a run-first team, and it opened up passing lanes effectively, allowing Roethlisberger to pass for 32 TDs. In 08, something happened that I can't explain. Our offensive scheme consisted of 1) have Willie Parker attempt a run on 1st, 2nd downs right between the tackles when the defenders had stacked the box. Usually this resulted in a -2 to 2 yd pickup/loss. 2) on third down, Mewelde Moore came in as a backfield option, but more often then not, we attempted a long 15-25+ yd pass to Nate Washington/Santonio Holmes/Limas Sweed. What happened to the short-intermediate passes that were so effective in 07? 3) Heath Miller DISAPPEARED from the scoring mechanism. I don't know if it was Ariens gameplan, or if Ben simply didn't have enough time for Miller to get open, but where the heck did he go last year? If you're facing a tough defenses (which we did all year long in 07), your safety valve should be your 3rd down back or your #1 TE, not a sprinting sub-200 lbs WR that has a 50/50 droprate.
While many of you can claim this was the offensive line's fault (and some of it was), I say it was more of a play calling problem. Roeth seemed like he wanted to push the ball to a certain receiver more-so than take the intermediate pass. In any sense, I will address each point.
1. Willie Parker: FWP has been, and always will be at his best when he's sprinting around the left/right tackles, not between them. He's not as physical a runner as he wants to believe he is...as any of us want to believe he is. He's a speedster, the perfect compliment to a power back. A POWER BACK. Gone are the days of the 'featured' back. While I understand that injuries played a large part in our inability to pick up any measurable yardage on 1st and 2nd downs, it cannot excuse the offenses' refusal to change the gameplan. Instead of taking advantage of Willie's speed, the played him right into his biggest disadgantage...the physical game. I can't count the times I saw Parker get stuffed behind the line on first contact from a blitzing defender. Hopefully, a healthy Rashard Mendenhall or the human bowling ball Frank Summers can help out with that this year. I can guarantee you one thing though: They alone will not make our running game improve...better play calling will.
2. Mewelde Moore: Peyton Manning is a master of many things, but one thing in particular. Even his brother Eli has worked into his game. Dumpoffs and checks. A defense stacks the box? BURN them for it. Less defenders in the backfield means it opens up things outside the hashmarks. Demarcus Ware closing down on you? Toss the rock out to Moore in the flat and let him pick up a 2nd and 5 to save the drive. Going for the deep ball is fine, but do it when its unexpected. Run-run-pass...punt, run-run-pass...punt, run-run-run-punt. Now, I'm no defensive mastermind, but Dick Lebeau had to be laughing hysterically on the sidelines last year.
3. Heath Miller (the invisible man): When you have a guy that is a jack of all trades, master of all, he should never disappear from a gameplan. He blocked more (and better) than our entire offensive line did last year (sarcasm, but you get my drift). That's really all I ahve to say about that.
My last point is taking a look at the physical size of our offensive line. No one, is below 300 lbs. No one. This to me does not scream "athleticism!" or "pass protection". This says "pound the rock!" or "run it down the Iggles throats", at least to me. They are not athletic enough to be consistent pass protectors, don't have hand techique to block out bull rushers, and to be honest, too damn big to be quick footed enough to block out speed rushers. They're maulers. Plain and simple. And that is what best helps out a running game. You can look at it either way, the running game helps out the passing game or visa versa. The bottom line is that we need to use our running backs to each backs' advantages and punish them with short-intermediate throws when they stack the box like they did last year.
I love the Steelers and don't want to rag on Tomlin's coaching ability. He coached those kids up BIG TIME last year. I am, however, suggesting that perhaps he should step back and take a look at how his offense is being run. Many times last year, fans were screaming for no-huddle calls to take advantage of the opposing defense being single-minded in getting to our franchise QB. It didn't happen. And Roeth got a spinal concusion, stretch ligament in his shoulder, and more bumps and bruises than fist fight with Iron Mike. Get that running game going, stop trying to be that spread offense, and take advantage of your players abilities, not play to their disabilities.