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Bruce Arians -- Identity Unknown

September 23, 2008 by Still Mill

Arians - Identity Uknknown

Bruce Arians -- Identity Unknown


By now, the beating at the hands of the Philly Eagles has been digested and brow-beaten rather thoroughly. For those living in a cave or under a rock, the Eagle defense, by mid 2nd quarter, threw every bit of caution to the wind and went with jailhouse blitzes on nearly every play the rest of the game. The Stillers, led by the brilliant mind of Off. Coordinator Bruce Arians, did nothing more than pound their heads against the brick wall. The result was as bloody and disastrous as Custer�s last stand at Little Big Horn.��


This begs the question�.several, actually.Exactly what is Arians� offensive philosophy? What is this offense�s identity? What are the key tenants of an Arians offense? What are the linked strategic and tactical underpinnings of this offense?


To begin to answer any of these, it makes sense to examine the doctrine behind offensive operations.Whether it be for military purposes in combat, or on the football gridiron, the very objective of any offense is two-fold:


1.To seize the initiative and attack an opponent�s weaknesses


�� 2.Overwhelm any strong points with superior force, agility, or maneuver.


Note the verbs used here.SEIZE.ATTACK. OVERWHELM.An offense that doesn�t attack, assault, seize, or destroy, isn�t an offense at all and isn�t worth a tinker�s dam.An offense plodding into a bloody stalemate has lost the initiative and has literally lost the battle.


Now, let�s examine The Arians Offense.Upon Whisenhunt�s departure to Arizona, Arians was promoted from WR Coach to assume the reign of the offense.His first -- and to date, only -- significant change was to reduce the role of the FB and implement the use of more 2-TE sets.At the time, this removed the 2nd-best blocking FB in the entire NFL from the Stiller offense (Dan Kreider) and replaced him with a raw rookie TE of average blocking skills (Matt Speath).At the time, this was deemed acceptable (to the media and general fan base) because, supposedly, the 2TE sets would enable the offense to use big, tall, rangy TEs in the passing game in mismatches against slow-footed LBs or diminutive DBs.


Let�s review the impact of the 2TE sets.Last season, Speath, a rookie, played in 14 games and caught 5 passes for 34 yards and 3 TDs.This season, Speath has 1 grab for 6 yards.At this pace, Speath will finish with about 5 catches for 30 yards.Miller is typically thrown a pass on the 1st or 2nd play of each game, and then, with the �block checked� on Arians� �to do list�, Miller is rarely heard from again.��


Other than reducing the FB�s role and going with the 2TE set, there isn�t a single, significant, meaningful scheme that Arians has implemented in what was, and is, a watered-down version of the Whisenhunt Offense.�� Other than the 2TEs, no one can firmly put a finger on the identity or mantra for the foundation of this offense.

Not knowing the identity, we can at least proffer the key aspects that we do know of regarding The Arians Offense:


- 2TE sets.�� In theory, this should create some run-blocking mismatches and the ability to overwhelm a defense at the point of attack.�� Problem is, neither TE is an above-average run blocker by any stretch.�� In theory, this set should also, as noted above, create some mismatches in the passing game.Speath has been, and is, virtually non-existent in the passing game.This being the case, why not simply use a backup tackle, such as Max Starks, as the 2nd TE?


- Short yardage.I�d annotated this after both the 1st and 2nd games of the season.The Stillers were in 3rd & short situations (meaning, 3rd & 2 yards or less), yet were using a SG formation.In both games, the opposing defenses simply sent the jailhouse blitz and ransacked Roethlisberger back in the pocket.For a supposed �power running� team to totally eschew the play-action pass makes no sense whatsoever.Of course, when you have an offense with no identity and no foundation, any ol� play will do because there is no synchronized plan of attack.


- #3 & #4 WR production.There was zero production in the 1st 2 weeks combined, and Nate Wash broke that drought with 5 grabs vs. Philly.Still, some of this was in garbage time, and there remains zero catches from the #4 man, Dallas Baker.


- Backup RB production.With Willie Parker coming off the broken leg and Mendy drafted with a premium pick (1st round) and Mewelde Moore signed as a FA, the stated intent was to share the burden in order to keep Parker fresh over the long haul of the season, plus getting fresh legs into the game.It hasn�t worked out anywhere near that plan.After 10 carries in the opener, Mendenhall hasn�t had a carry in the past 2 games.Moore has 1 rush.�� Parker now has a sprained knee and is questionable for the MNF game vs. Balt.All the while, Carey Davis, the blocking FB and essentially the �4th RB�, has 1 carry in each of the past 2 games.Because we have no idea what the identity is of the Arians offense, we can only guess as to what the purpose was for Davis� carries.


- Reverses, end arounds, etc. These were a staple of the Whisenhunt offense, with the intent of using athletic players that could take advantage of tired, over-eager, over-pursuing defenders.Perhaps this truly is the 2nd major change that Arians has made, as he has almost entirely written out these kinds of plays from the Stillers� playbook.Holmes has the lone end around in 3 games.It produced 10 yards, which apparently was deemed too paltry for an offense looking for bigger fish to fry.


- Testing the opponent�s weaknesses.�� In Philly, on the rare occasions when the Stillers went deep, they went at Philly�s best CB, Asante Samuel.The result was an INT and a busted-up pass in the EZ.As noted early in this article, the objective of an offense is to attack an opponent�s weakness.You don�t attack the alligator by trying to punch it in its teeth.Again, though, an offense that has no identity is left settling for whatever happens to be stumbled upon, even if it is an ambush.


- Using the RBs in the passing game.This has been, to me at least, the most severe shortcoming of The Arians Offense.Granted, if an OC is given limited resources, such as an older Jerome Bettis, it is difficult to perform magic and get anything more than pedestrian production in the passing game.Clearly, that�s not been the case for Arians.Parker, blessed with speed, agility, and toughness, has the tools to be a major factor in the passing game.Yet in 14 games last season, he caught (hold your laughter) 23 passes.Clearly, Parker has been used, albeit minimally, in 2 ways in the passing game:


��� a.Whalehsit screens, which, in the Arians� version, take about 5 seconds to develop and quickly become obvious enough for the beer vendor on the 4th level to spot with rapid ease.


��� b.Desperation valve dumps when Ben is being harassed or dragged down by an opposing defender


Very rarely, if ever, have the Stillers intentionally cleared room and hit Parker on a designed �long handoff� (flare pass), in isolation out in space, where his speed and quickness can pick up 8, 10, even 60 yards in a flash.We know with absolute certainty that it has not happened yet this season.Mendenhall ain�t chopped liver as the backup RB; his foot speed rivals Parker and he has the instincts to go along with it.He grabbed 34 passes during his final season at Illinois, so catching a football is not a foreign concept for this man.


Throughout the Philly beatdown, when LBs were totally disregarding anything a RB might do outside the tackles, a quick flare to the RB was not attempted until late in the 4Q, which is reprehensible.�� ��


Bunch formation.This certainly is something Arians loves, and loves a lot.�� Whisenhunt used this as well, but Arians has taken it to the extreme.The advantage of the bunch is that it can create confusion for the defense on coverage assignments.�� The disadvantage of the bunch is that it makes it as easy as pie for CBs and LBs to line up opposite the bunch, and then blitz pell-mell with an extremely short distance to the QB.If you want to pull blitzers out of the box, 1 of the easiest things to do is to align receivers out wide so that defenders have little choice but to go out wide and line up on them.




What is puzzling in all of this is that few OCs in the NFL have been provided a better slate of skilled talent to work with.Just look at the arsenal Arians has to work with.BenRoth is as experienced and capable as any QB in the NFL.�� Parker and Mendy give the offense a tremendous 1-2 punch, with speed, size, and power.The 2 starting WRs are superb, and the #3 WR is a decent option.And the team invested its #2 pick in a tall, rangy, talented WR from a big-time college program.There are 2 big, tall, rangy TEs, with the starting TE having superb hands to go along with good quickness, route-running, and savvy.Yet, despite all this firepower, Arians is essentially running this offense as though a broken-down Jerome Bettis was at RB, Mark Breuner at TE, and Courtney Hawkins and Andre Hastings at the starting WR spots.


Lest anyone think that I�m jumping on an anti-Arians bandwagon, please think again.I�d previously written very specifically, last season, about the overt shortcomings of Arians and his dearth of offensive synchronization.The Arians Nation rose up in loud voices and clamored that he was being evaluated too harshly.All�s we can ask these yinzers now, quite simply, is this: Exactly what is Arians� identity?


Still Mill and -- �When it comes to the analysis of the Pittsburgh Stillers, no one else comes close�.�


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