Monday, January 23, 2012

Requiem for a Season: 2011 Steelers Coaches

What started as a frenetic end to the summer where a last-minute deal was reached on a collective bargaining agreement that enabled the 2012 NFL season to take place ended suddenly for Steelers fans on a cold Sunday night in Denver. Over the summer, we were told that the Steelers experience and depth would enable them to be successful in a season where there were no OTAs and an abbreviated training camp. As it was, the season started with us getting gashed on the ground by Baltimore and Houston, battling through injuries to our world class pass rushers, and ended with giving up 316 yards to Tim Tebow, of all people.

Head Coach

In his fifth season with the team, Mike Tomlin led the Steelers to another 12-4 record and playoff berth.  Coach Tomlin actually got better at throwing the challenge flag this year, but his clock management skills left something to be desired. He wasn't afraid to go for the win in situations where the Steelers faced a 3rd down with under 2 minutes to go and a first down would end the game. The problem with that was the play-calling (which we'll get to in a minute), which on more than one occasion resulted in an incomplete pass that gave the other team the ball back with a chance to win the game. Even though the Steelers were 5-3 on the road, they struggled in their 5 victories, beating a bad Indianapolis team by only 3, and mediocre Kansas City and Cleveland teams by 13-9 marks. On the whole, it was a decent season for Tomlin but there were times when the team looked totally unprepared for their opponents. The opener in Baltimore and the playoff game in Denver are two examples that come to mind.

Offensive Coordinator

For as bad as Bruce Arians was in his play-calling over the last five years, he did make some marginal improvements. Gone (finally!) were the 3rd and 1 pass calls. He did still utilize the empty set a bit much for our liking. While we're on the subject, let's set the record straight. We have no problem with passing. It's the way of the league right now. But if you look at the prolific offenses around the league, they're not running crazy 5-WR sets. New England runs a 2-TE offense. New Orleans and Green Bay both utilize their tight ends. But Arians, for better or worse, falls in love with spreading teams out and giving Ben limited protection. If you're going to go 5-wide, you have to throw a quick pass so your quarterback doesn't get killed, but Arians seems to love having receivers go 15 yards downfield before making a break, which means Ben has to stand in the pocket longer.

But now, Arians is gone and the Steelers will begin the search for a new offensive coordinator. We'll have more on this as the week goes on.

Defensive Coordinator

Once again, Dick LeBeau's unit finished as one of the top defenses in the league. The team struggled to defend the run early in the season, but really locked things down after they got gashed by the Texans in Week 4. They gave up 100 yards to Steven Jackson, but they shut the Rams out and he was literally their whole offense that day. LeBeau's crowning moment was the New England game where he shed the system that he normally played and adopted a press coverage scheme where he utilized cornerbacks against New England's tight ends rather than linebackers to match up with their speed. That game plan was fantastic, but it ultimately backfired against Baltimore the next week when Torrey Smith beat the press coverage over the top. Later in the year, LeBeau seemed to get locked in to his defense and fail to adjust to what teams were doing. This was particularly evident in the San Francisco game and the playoff game against Denver. The biggest addition to the staff was defensive backs coach Carnell Lake who added a tough, hard-nosed edge to the secondary and taught them to play straight-up man coverage and to be more aggressive. It certainly paid off this year.

Special Teams Coach

Even though Shaun Suisham had the worst field goal percentage in the league this year, you can hardly put that on the coach. The coverage units played well, and while there was a blocked field goal and a blocked punt early in the year, the blocking was solid for the second half of the season. Despite the slew of injuries that the team suffered, the special teams units continued to thrive. The Steelers didn't give up any kick returns for scores this year and had their first punt return to the house since Santonio Holmes broke one in the 2008 Divisional against San Diego. Special teams also came up with their first blocked field goal since 2009.

No comments: