By MARK MADDEN
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has been a leading scapegoat in the aftermath of the Steelers’ disheartening 18-12 loss to Cincinnati Sunday.
At first glance, I disagreed.
I thought the Steelers should have used the no-huddle more. But when they did use it, it sputtered, and the no-huddle depends on the passing game being in sync, which it decidedly wasn’t. So Arians gets a pass.
I also thought Arians mishandled the Steelers’ final possession by going deep twice. With 67 yards to cover, 1:49 left and a time out to work with, QB Ben Roethlisberger should have taken what the Bengals were giving for a few plays and made the field shorter. But when you look for a miracle and don’t get one, blame Jesus, not Arians.
But I do blame Arians for abandoning the run too quick.
The Steelers ran 62 offensive plays. Forty-four were passes. Just 18 were runs. That’s a 71/29 pass/run ratio. When play-calling favors the pass so dramatically, the team in question usually trailed by at least two scores much of the game and went to the skies trying to catch up.
But against the Bengals, the Steelers never trailed by more than six.
There was no reason for Arians to ditch the run so fast and so decisively. Rashard Mendenhall only got 13 carries. He never had a chance to get going. The Steelers never established the run, or even the threat of running. The Steelers made it clear very early – TOO early – that they were not going to run the football.
That’s bad play-calling. You have to make the defense take away the threat. Don’t do it yourself, not until the score dictates.
The absurdly lopsided pass/run ratio didn’t kill the Steelers’ aerial attack. Hara-kiri was the order of the day with the passing game. But the predictability of the Steelers’ offense certainly didn’t help.
I point to the abortion that is the Steelers’ special teams as being primarily responsible for the loss. If you don’t allow the kick-six, you could steal that game despite the offense. Three kickoff return touchdowns allowed in one season is inexcusable, let alone three in four games.
But these things can be arbitrary. Many want to get out the long knives for special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, but he ran the show last year, too, and the Steelers didn’t allow any KO returns for TDs.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).