Under offensive coordinator Arians, Steelers' offense underachieved

Ralph N. Paulk
| Friday, Jan. 20, 2012

Questions about Bruce Arians' future as Steelers offensive coordinator ignited after team president Art Rooney II said this week that "senior-type" assistant coaches could be retiring.

Arians, 59, has more than 35 years of coaching experience and reportedly contemplated retirement last offseason before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talked him into returning.

With 74-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau — who guided the NFL's top-rated defense this season — saying he will return in 2012, speculation has shifted to Arians.

Arians told the Tribune-Review last week that he was returning, and coach Mike Tomlin offered a vote of confidence for both of his coordinators.

"We are going to try to maintain continuity like we always do," Tomlin said. "We believe that's a benefit to us, but we understand things can happen, and we will deal with those as they arrive."

Rooney indicated Tomlin would have the say in which assistants are retained.

"I know Mike is going through the process of having those conversations as we speak," Rooney said.

Asked specifically if Arians and LeBeau are returning, Rooney said, "At this point, yeah."

Arians' play-calling during his five seasons in that role has largely come under fan scrutiny.

In 2011, the Steelers averaged 20.3 points per game, the team's lowest production since 2003. Since 2007, Arians' first season calling plays, the Steelers have never ranked in the Top 10 in points scored.

Arians seemingly had all of the tools to craft an explosive NFL offense.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continuously raved about a talented receiving corps — Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Also, running back Rashard Mendenhall was coming off his best season in helping the Steelers advance to Super Bowl XLV.

But the offense underachieved this season, in part, because of injuries to an offensive line already thin on talent and depth. With Roethlisberger limping toward the finish with a high-ankle sprain, the offense sputtered to finish 21st in scoring, 14th in rushing and 10th in passing.

The Steelers were nearly flawless in hammering Tennessee, 38-17, and their most impressive victory was a 25-17 win over New England. They had four receivers with at least five catches, as Roethlisberger carved up New England's secondary for 365 yards. Mendenhall complemented the passing game with 70 yards rushing -- an imperfect but effective blend of run and pass that showcased how Arians envisioned the offense.

Yet, during the second half of the regular season, the offense couldn't duplicate its success — save a 35-7 win against Cincinnati. In all, an offense supposedly buoyed with speed at the flanks scored fewer than 20 points seven times and only three times did it score 30 or more points.

Note: Former Penn State receiver Derrick Williams, cut by the Detroit Lions in September, said on his Twitter account that he has signed with the Steelers.

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