With the entire coaching staff returning and 19 of 22 starters in place to begin the year, the Steelers were expected to make a serious run at accomplishing the thing that the Steelers of the 1970s did twice — win back-to-back Super Bowls.
A 6-2 start to the season only reinforced the belief that the Steelers would be right in the thick of things come January, and possibly February.
Though a return to the postseason is still not impossible, it’s highly unlikely at this point.
So what’s wrong with this team? We devoted Friday’s PFT Daily exclusively to the subject, and there surely will be much discussion and debate in and beyond Pittsburgh regarding the things that need to be done to get the franchise back on track.
But here’s the most obvious fix — bid farewell to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
Arians has lived by the pass and, particularly on Thursday night in Cleveland, died by it. As John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out, the Steelers’ first two drives of the game ended with sacks of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who lined up in shotgun formation on third and short.
“You figure that is a run down,” tackle Willie Colon said, per Harris. “[T]hat’s usually a down for our running backs.”
But not with Bruce Arians, who has turned the notion of Steeler football on its head by throwing the ball in such circumstances. Or, more accurately, by not throwing the ball because Roethlisberger again held the ball way too long.
Big Ben isn’t blameless here. On third and short from shotgun formation, there’s no excuse to not get rid of the ball quickly. Standing five yards back from the line, he’s in great position to check the coverages, adjust a route or two if needed, and put a guy in position to have the ball in his hands before Colon or any other member of the offensive line is getting another green stain on the seat of his yellow pants.
By Week 14, however, Arians needs to factor his quarterback’s tendencies into the plays that are called. And with the running game working (as it was early Thursday night), there’s no reason to pass — from shotgun — on two straight third downs to start the game.
Coach Mike Tomlin has the ultimately responsibility for the offense and defense, but that Super Bowl trophy and a strong aversion by the franchise to changing coaches guarantees that Tomlin and “hot seat” won’t be used in the same sentence until he is well into his 40s, at the earliest.
But Tomlin can, and should, hold members of his staff accountable — especially those members of his staff that he inherited.
In order to get back to Steeler football, Arians needs to go.