There are times in our lives when we all want to be wrong. For me, this is one of them. I want the new offensive coordinator to come in and make things better. I want him to stay for three years until he is so good he gets a head job somewhere. I want to win more Super Bowls. But I also believe, looking back, that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took way too much of a beating in Steeler Nation. I believe the worst curse to be inflicted upon an OC is to have outstanding skill people, shiny toys to play with, but playing behind an awful offensive line. It’s like a ’65 Mustang sitting in your driveway with a beat up engine. It looks good from a distance, but get in and drive it and it putters down the road making noises and leaking fluids.
When I think about the offensive line of a football team, I am reminded of the joke about different body parts getting into an argument about which one is most important. The eyes claimed that without them, you couldn’t see to get around. The legs claimed that without them, you’d need a wheelchair to get around. The arms staked their claim, the ears, hands etc. Finally the rectum chimed in: “If I shut down, you all shut down.” The offensive line isn’t pretty. It doesn’t consist of those shiny toys that rack up statistics and make highlight films. It’s not on ESPN. It is not graceful or fluid to the average fan whose eyes look elsewhere on every play. But make no mistake, when it shuts down, everything shuts down.
The last two years have been absolute disaster for the Pittsburgh Steelers when it comes to the offensive line. Steeler Nation buys all of Mike Tomlin’s stock when he claims that “the standard is the standard.” It’s good stock to buy. It’s life in the NFL. To one extent or another, every NFL teams deals with adversity and injuries. Those (good teams) who deal the best usually end up the last man standing. But while slogans and mantras are good bars to set and live by, there is also another component of life in the NFL, and that is called reality. The reality in this case is that no team in the NFL, in my opinion, has had to deal with as much adversity, injury woes and calamity on the offensive line as the Steelers over the last two years. The standard can be the standard, but reality is reality and sometimes you reach a point when it crosses the line.
I won’t spend much time on 2010 (old news), other than point out that the Steelers lost both tackles early on and replaced them with a guy from the scrap heap and another from the geriatric home. They drafted a really good center, but one who was unavailable for the biggest game of the year. Add pedestrian guards to the mix and you have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Both Sports Illustrated and ESPN declared the 2010 Steelers line as one of the league’s worst. They ranked 32nd, in a 32-team league, in offensive hog index by Cold, Hard Football Facts. Same with the Prudential Protection Index and anyone else who paid attention to various aspects of offensive line play. They did lead the league in one thing – penalties.
Just when it didn’t seem possible for matters to get worse in 2011, they somehow did. The rent-a-tackle went back to the nursing home. Colon came back, only to go down in the first game, again lost for the season. They force-fed a rookie who showed promise, but really wasn’t ready and was inconsistent at best all season. The left tackle from the scrap heap went down and back came Starks after back surgery. Four different left guards started in the first five games, simply unheard of. Legursky gets replaced by Foster on the right side. Scrap-heap Scott goes over to right tackle when the rookie gets banged up or sleeps during meetings and gets benched. The only bright spot, Pouncey, goes down again and misses the two most important games down the stretch, San Francisco and Denver. When all the musical chairs finally came to an end, the Steelers used 10 different starting offensive lines in 17 games, again, simply unheard of.
I am not making excuses here. Excuses are like the rectum I referred to earlier, everyone’s got one. I am stating facts. If Bruce Arians was still around, I wouldn’t even be writing this. We lost, we lost. Life in the NFL is cruel. But ask anyone who knows anything about offensive line play and they will tell you that the two most important components are cohesion and consistency. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the antithesis of cohesion and consistency. I used to joke at banquets about my basketball skills saying “I lacked size, but made up for it by lacking speed also.” The Steelers offensive line lacked talent, but made up for it by also lacking cohesion and consistency.
To those who say that “the offensive line has not been that bad,” I beg to disagree. Watch a playoff-caliber team on a passing play and count…”one…two…three,…four” before the quarterback needs to unload or scramble. Then watch the Steelers…”one…two…maybe three and less maybe four.” That is night and day in the NFL. All it takes is one blown assignment, one missed block, one missed blitz pickup or stunt and a play that might have been a critical gain has turned into a critical failure. That has happened too many times in the last couple years. Same thing on running plays. I don’t care what play is called or what scheme is devised. if the offensive line doesn’t do its job, the play shuts down. Fortunately, Ben can shake off tacklers and improvise on the fly when he has two good feet, or we would really be in trouble.
Three things need to happen in 2012 with respect to the offensive line. One, a couple new parts must be brought in, hopefully earlier in the draft than later. Second, the parts that are incumbent must stay at least relatively healthy. I am not asking for perfect health – that is not normal in the NFL. I am asking for average health, something we haven’t seen in a while. Third, the parts need to play together, each improving a notch and achieving that cohesion and consistency that is so vital. If those things happen, the new OC will be given a much better engine than Bruce Arians has had the last two years. He might even get in the car and drive down the street with less noise and less fluid leaking. Let’s hope that happens, and let’s hope I am wrong about Bruce Arians.
One last thing, whether you agree or disagree, we should all thank the man for his contributions in helping the team to back-to-back 12-4 seasons, winning campaigns in all five of his seasons and two trips to the Super Bowl with one ending with a Lombardi Trophy.
Ian Rapoport was smart enough to retweet one of Carter’s comments earlier today:
Things just got real… Real fast. But [I've] been waiting for this day. I promise you twitter fam #hardworkpaysoff
One can only assume that when a practice squad player (who turned down an opportunity to sign with another team) says that he’s been “waiting for this day”, that it means he’s being pulled up to the big leagues. Jermaine Cunningham was placed “Doubtful” on this week’s injury report with a hamstring injury- and the hammy is never a good injury in New England. It’s the equivalent of the mid-season Foxborough Flu.
Carter’s been receiving numerous accolades as practice player of the week and has bulked up to NFL-size and strength over the course of the season. Don’t be surprised if he gets the call.