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Old 01-08-2009, 01:52 PM   #1
mesaSteeler
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Default Analyzing the Playoffs: Steelers Are a Passing Team By Necessity

Analyzing the Playoffs: Steelers Are a Passing Team By Necessity
http://nfl.fanhouse.com/2009/01/08/s...ty-not-choice/
JJ CooperPosted Jan 8th 2009 11:08AM by JJ Cooper (author feed)


If you're a Steelers fan, you're probably wishing that the Steelers would run the ball more. If you're a Steelers fan who is happy with Pittsburgh's run-pass mix, I want to meet you, because you're part of a rare breed.

It's part of the Steelers identity: Pittsburgh wins by running the ball and playing tough defense, and any other approach is left to less physical and less worthy teams. We want Jerome Bettis bowling over Brian Urlacher in the snow for the game-winning touchdown, with an occasional trick play thrown in there just to keep defense's honest.

But there have (obviously) been no Bettis bowling games, and very few long Willie Parker runs this year. The Steelers have even gotten rid of the trick plays. So it's not surprise that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is considered the axis of evil in Pittsburgh. This year's Steelers have thrown the ball more than they've run, they've struggled to run the ball at all. Oh and Ben Roethlisberger has gotten sacked way too often.Now this isn't a defense of Arians, but if you want to criticize the Steelers offensive coordinator, criticize him for the Steelers lack of offensive production this year, not because he hasn't run the ball enough. Right now, Arians is thought of as the heretic who calls way too many passes. But the last year previous offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was in Pittsburgh, he called runs on only 45.05 percent of the Steelers' offensive snaps. This year, Arians has called runs on 45.32 percent of Pittsburgh's offensive plays.

TOUGH RUNNING
Category Att Yards Avg
Wins 328 1255 3.83
Losses 93 260 2.80
Playoff Teams 176 544 3.09
Bad Defenses 105 476 4.53
Avg Defenses 135 514 3.81
Good Defenses 192 576 3.00

Crappy defined as a defense that allowed 4.5 yards per carry or worse. Average defense are teams that allowed 4.0-4.5 yards per carry, while good defenses allowed 3.9 yards per carry or less

The Steelers have made the Super Bowl twice in the past 25 years. In 2005, the Steelers ran the ball on 57 percent of its offensive plays, which is just like how Steelers fans like it. In 1995, the Steelers ran the ball 44.5 percent of the time, which was a pass-happier offense than this year's Steelers.

But even in 2005, the Steelers got pass happy when it counted. In the first half of their four playoff games, Pittsburgh ran the ball on only 40.6 percent of their snaps--although they did run the ball much more in the second half of those games as they took the air out of the ball.

So while everyone may complain about the Steelers' tendency to air the ball out, it's not particularly out of character. That 45-55 run-pass ratio for 2008 is low by Pittsburgh standards, but it's only the third lowest run percentage since 2000, behind 2006 and 2003 (when the Steelers offensive line fell apart).

What is different is how bad the Steelers are when they do try to run the ball. Pittsburgh's average of 3.7 yards per carry is 29th in the league this year. It's the only the fourth time in the past 20 years that the Steelers have rushed for less than 4.0 yards per carry. So where the previous Steelers have used defense's fear of their running attack to catch them off guard, this year the Steelers don't have the running game for opponents to worry about.

The Steelers' rushing troubles are actually worse than what I've explained. In their seven games against playoff teams, Pittsburgh rushed for 544 yards on 176 carries, an average of only 3.1 yards per carry. The Steelers did rush for 124 yards against the Chargers (with a 4.4 average per carry), but that's the only time the Steelers have rushed for 100 yards or more against a playoff team. It's safe to say that if you average 3.1 yards per carry, you're not going to win by calling for more running plays.

So Arians has done what had to be done, with a $100 million quarterback, three good wide receivers and a quality tight end, he has turned the offense over to Ben Roethlisberger and hoped for the best.

It's worked at times--like when Roethlisberger threw for 309 yards and no interceptions against the Chargers or when he threw for 308 yards, three touchdowns and one interception against the Jaguars. It's also failed terribly when he threw four interceptions against the Giants or three interceptions against the Colts (although one came on a final Hail Mary). And overall, it's resulted in one of the worst Steelers' offenses in recent memory.

THROUGH THE YEARS
This year's Steelers' offense ranks among the worst of the past 20 years, as judged by average yards per play.
Year Avg. Run Avg Pass Avg. Play Run Pct.
2006 4.2 7.7 5.5 45.05%
*2001 4.8 7.3 5.5 54.46%
*2002 4.1 7.3 5.4 46.67%
*2005 4.0 8.2 5.4 57.19%
*1995 3.7 6.9 5.2 44.50%
*1997 4.3 6.9 5.2 54.06%
*2007 4.2 7.7 5.2 51.10%
*1996 4.4 6.6 5.1 52.40%
*2004 4.0 8.3 5.1 61.07%
1990 4.1 7.1 5.0 50.84%
*1992 4.2 7.1 5.0 52.38%
1991 4.1 7.0 5.0 43.06%
*1994 4.0 7.0 4.9 52.10%
*1993 4.1 6.7 4.9 45.51%
*2008 3.7 7.1 4.9 45.32%
2003 3.3 6.7 4.7 43.73%
2000 4.3 6.2 4.7 52.23%
1999 4.0 5.8 4.6 46.39%
1998 4.2 5.7 4.5 48.32%
*1989 3.6 6.6 4.2 52.36%
*Made Playoffs

With the Chargers, Ravens/Titans and the best team left standing in the NFC sitting between Pittsburgh and a Super Bowl title, Pittsburgh doesn't have a whole lot of cupcake run defenses left on the potential schedule. Pittsburgh's offensive line is a colander in pass blocking, but it's also struggling to create holes in the running game.

Maybe a healthier Willie Parker or a newfound focus on the fullback will suddenly fix the running game, but it's probably a safer bet to count on more of the same and try to figure out how to win anyway.

Against playoff teams, Pittsburgh has had some success when it spreads out and airs the ball out. Against playoff teams, Pittsburgh's scoring drives have come when they run the ball 42.6 percent of the time, even less than

So as the Steelers begin their playoff run, they are struck with an awful lot of difficult decisions. Pittsburgh has maybe its best defense since the Steel Curtain, and we've all been told that defense wins championships. But to go with that, the Steelers have an offense that is not well suited to mesh with a dominant defense.

The 2000 Ravens are an example of how a defense (and special teams) can carry a poor offense to a title. The Ravens averaged only 4.7 yards per offensive play that year, but they did run the ball well with Jamal Lewis (1,364 yards and a 4.4 yards per carry). Baltimore basically asked its offense to not turn the ball over, burn some clock and take advantage of advantageous field position that an outstanding defense would give them. It didn't always work that way--quarterback Trent Dilfer threw an interception in all but one of his regular season starts. But when the playoffs rolled around, Dilfer threw only one interception in four postseason games.

The Steelers don't have a solid running game to burn the clock. And Ben Roethlisberger been prone to interceptions in addition to sacks. But we know that Roethlisberger can protect the ball--he threw one interception in a five-game stretch this season. But if he doesn't protect the ball this postseason, Pittsburgh will not be making his third trip to the Super Bowl since the 1970s.

If he can run a mistake-free offense, maybe they can. And if they do, it may be because the running game pulled off an amazing resurgence, but it's just as likely that the Steelers will pass their way there--because they have little choice.
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Old 01-08-2009, 03:52 PM   #2
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Default Re: Analyzing the Playoffs: Steelers Are a Passing Team By Necessity

Obviously the stats show the percentage of play calling for a run is similar to previous years (although on the low end of the long term average). However, there definitely is not the commitment to run the ball. This offense appears very similar to the Lions offense when they had Barry Sanders ... no lead blocker and a sputtering offense. Arians is using the pass to set up the run, then they try to gain the 1 yard needed on the goal line or short yardage and can't seem to do it. I say line up in the I formation and punch the opposition in the mouth. Otherwise, Big Ben will not see the end of his contract.
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Old 01-08-2009, 03:55 PM   #3
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Default Re: Analyzing the Playoffs: Steelers Are a Passing Team By Necessity

Quote:
Originally Posted by kirklandrules View Post
Obviously the stats show the percentage of play calling for a run is similar to previous years (although on the low end of the long term average). However, there definitely is not the commitment to run the ball. This offense appears very similar to the Lions offense when they had Barry Sanders ... no lead blocker and a sputtering offense. Arians is using the pass to set up the run, then they try to gain the 1 yard needed on the goal line or short yardage and can't seem to do it. I say line up in the I formation and punch the opposition in the mouth. Otherwise, Big Ben will not see the end of his contract.
Is Barry Sanders available?
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After reading the idiotic threads over the past couple of weeks, I ask the question - "Who is worse...Steeler fans or Eagles fans?" Keep in mind that Eagle fans do not know what it's like to win a SB much less 6 and 2 this decade.
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