Thursday, January 10, 2008

Richard LeBeau Comes Back for Year 50 in the NFL

Richard LeBeau and Bruce Arians are coming back. Despite my whining about The Call, I'm glad Arians is coming back. First, he and Ben have a swell relationship, which should count for something. That didn't save Mark Whipple's job, but generally, I'm all for giving the franchise quarterback more responsibility. For all the concerns about Roethlisberger being babied early in his career, taking the training wheels off this season -- and going forward -- seems like a no-brainer.

Second, I re-watched some of the Jags wild-card game. (No way in hell I'm sitting through the special teams blunders, interceptions, and other random, head-bangingly awful football I was subjected to live.) The first drive was stellar. We know that. And Arians did a nice job of mixing quick drops with the more traditional five-steppers we've come to know and, well, shudder at seeing. Things went south from there for about an hour, and then, suddenly, Big Ben was back.

I suspect some of the falloff had to do with the play-calling, but it's hard to know what to do when Roethlisberger can't go consecutive series without a turnover. I haven't replayed the first two interceptions, but someone mentioned that the play-call was fine, it was the fact that Ben tried to force the ball to Hines/Dump truck instead of finding a wide open Heath/Holmes. Eh, shit happens. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, a lot of it happened on Saturday night.

But like some of you mentioned in previous threads, there's no way in hell the Steelers sneak out of New England with a win. Look, I'm as optimistic as they come, but this team is way too banged up -- and perhaps more importantly, way too inconsistent along the offensive line -- to have a realistic chance at hanging with the Pats for 60 minutes. Nothing would thrill me more, but I just can't envision a scenario where that happens unless Kimo makes an early-game cameo.

To the point: everybody screws up at their job. Some more than others. I've gone back and forth on Arians this season, and part of it, I think, is frustrations spilling over from other areas of ineptitude. It's hard to complain too much about the offense's skill positions, and we should probably give Arians some of the credit for its' success.

Plus, unlike, say, Hudson Houck, I can't name one person currently available who would be an improvement on Arians. Martz, Cameron, Hostler, Gailey, Billick? Uh, no. Making changes also upsets the continuity. It's one thing if the team won six games, but it's something entirely different when you're coming off a division title, and two years removed from the Super Bowl.

Long story short: Arians good (erases quarterback sweep from memory.)

If keeping Arians around is a good thing, the return of Richard LeBeau is spectacular. I never get those people who question if the game has passed him by. All his players -- past and present -- have nothing but good things to say about LeBeau. And not in a "ah, yeah, he's a sweet old man who's slowly losing his mind" sorta way. But in a "the guy has hundreds of blitzes he hasn't even installed in a game plan yet" type awe.

Here's all you need to know: LaMarr Woodley, in limited action, had six sacks. And on just about every sack, he went unblocked. That means one of two things: either he's invisible to opposing offenses, or LeBeau is putting him in position to make plays. I'd love to go with the former -- it could make the Pats game competitive -- but I'm pretty sure it's the latter.

Maybe one less obvious reason to be super pumped about LeBeau's return is that I can't wait to see how he uses Woodley and lil' LT when both see more playing time. Remember after the draft how LeBeau talked up both players, and how he should be able to find ways to make them productive. Well, hopefully that show's coming in '08.

This kind of leads to a draft discussion -- at this point, everything kinda leads to a draft discussion. I don't want to go into painstaking detail, but I'll just put this out there: there were some comments in the previous thread about best player available strategies, and how it's okay to sometimes trade up for "your guy" (see Polamalu, 2003; Holmes 2006). I don't disagree. In fact, slapping on the hindsight goggles, anybody wish we had traded up for Adam Carriker now? Given how shitty the defensive line played after Aaron Smith went down? I think I know the answer to that question, and I'm a Juan fan now, but just something to think about.

Also worth thinking about: the d-line is old with no depth. Short of re-signing Faneca and Starks, and Marvel returning 100 percent healthy, I can't imagine the Steelers wouldn't take an offensive linemen in the first round. But assuming the stars align and everybody re-signs. Then what? Is the d-line a legit first-round option? Or the coveted big-play cornerback (read: corner who can catch)? I think both options aren't completely ridiculous, but only given the no-way-in-hell-that's happening situation I described above. At this point, it's just speculation. I mean, it's freaking January 10; the Jags haven't even gotten smoked in the AFC divisional game yet.

Count me among those people who didn't give two shits about the 2-point conversion from midfield. In the scheme of things, it's at the very bottom of the list of why the Steelers lost. I think GlennW mentioned this a few days ago, but the bigger issue is this: does Tomlin have Herm Edwardsitis when it comes to crunch-time decision making? I don't think so, but I don't have a lot to go on, either. (Or, more accurately, I sure as hell hope not.)

I do know this, though: when Ward's unbelievable over-the-shoulder grab for what should've been two was called back, I didn't even flinch when the offense stayed on the field. Now that probably says more about me than fundamental football, but like I said. That play had zero effect on the final score (although I'm sure a lot of you would disagree).

In conclusion: yay, Arians; double-yay, LeBeau.