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Labriola on Arrowhead, coordinators, TV

Posted Oct 13, 2017

History shows that when the Steelers run the ball, they win in Arrowhead Stadium.

Ready or not, here it comes:

* It says so, painted on one of the walls in the part of Arrowhead Stadium that contains offices and meeting rooms, and so it must be true. “The Loudest Outdoor Stadium in the World.” The only thing that would legitimize the claim more was if you read it on the Internet. So I went to Google and typed in, “the loudest outdoor stadium in the world,” this is what popped up:

* “The loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium is 142.2 dbA and was achieved by fans of the Kansas City Chiefs (USA), at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, on 29 September 2014. The roar was recorded with 8 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Chiefs defeated the New England Patriots, 41-14.”

* So there you have it. But for the Steelers, just because it’s the loudest venue doesn’t necessarily make it the most difficult venue.

* Since Arrowhead Stadium opened in August 1972, the Steelers have played there 17 times, including twice in the playoffs, and their record there is 11-6, including 1-1 in the playoffs. Chuck Noll’s teams were 5-0 there; Bill Cowher’s teams were 4-4 there, including an overtime loss in an 1993 AFC Wild Card Round; and Mike Tomlin’s teams are 2-2 there so far, including an AFC Divisional Round win there last season.

* Starting with the 1992 season, which was Cowher’s first as the coach here, there is one constant when it comes to determining the outcome of Steelers’ games at Arrowhead Stadium. If the Steelers run the ball well, and run it enough, they win. If they don’t run it well, or if they don’t stick with the run, they lose.

* The most recent example, and likely the one freshest in everyone’s mind, including Chiefs Coach Andy Reid, would be the AFC Divisional Round Game on Jan. 15. Le’Veon Bell carried 30 times for 170 yards, and the Steelers advanced to the AFC Championship Game with an 18-16 victory in which all of the team’s points came from Chris Boswell field goals.

* But going back to 1992, the Steelers upset the Chiefs with Barry Foster rushing for 105 of the team’s 154 yards on the ground that night; and then in 1993, the Steelers lost when Foster was injured and backup Leroy Thompson managed only 60 yards on 25 carries. In 1996 on a Monday night, Jerome Bettis rushed for 103 yards in a Steelers win, and then the following year, again on a Monday night, the Steelers lost because Kordell Stewart attempted more passes than Bettis had carries.

* The issue of rushing attempts vs. passing attempts is a hot-button issue again, what with those numbers being 15 vs. 55 last weekend against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Some of that disparity could be explained by the score of the game and the Steelers having to play catch-up through the fourth quarter vs. the Jaguars as opposed to milking the clock with a lead through the fourth quarter the previous Sunday in Baltimore. But only some of it.

* The situation from the Jaguars game that drew the most criticism came at the end of the opening possession of the second half. Trailing, 7-6, the Steelers took the second half kickoff and moved to a first-and-goal at the Jacksonville 5-yard line. To get there, Ben Roethlisberger completed 6-of-7 for 39 yards; Le’Veon Bell carried three times for 21 yards; and the Steelers got another 10 yards on a couple of penalties on the Jaguars.

* Then came three straight passes – two of which were incomplete sandwiched around a 3-yard pass to Bell – and the Steelers settled for a red zone field goal that gave them a 9-7 lead, instead of scoring a red zone touchdown that would have given them a 13-7 lead.

* Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was absolutely roasted for not calling for the offense to run the football even once against what had been the NFL’s No. 32 defense against the run. Sounds good, but just one thing: During that drive, the Steelers were in no-huddle, and when they’re in the no-huddle, it’s Roethlisberger who’s calling the plays. It seems reasonable to believe that since the offense had moved so smartly down the field to attain that first-and-goal at the 5-yard line with Roethlisberger calling the plays, nothing changed once it became first-and-goal at the 5-yard line.

* This is offered neither to absolve Haley nor to demonize Roethlisberger, but it’s offered as something to be considered. As is this: through the first five games of this season, Le’Veon Bell leads the NFL with 22 rushing attempts in the red zone. Second-place is a tie between Leonard Fournette and New England’s Mike Gillislee, both with 16 attempts.

* If the statistics are to be believed, it’s not so much that the Steelers don’t run the ball in the red zone, it’s that they don’t run the ball effectively in the red zone. Maybe you still choose to believe that’s the play-caller’s fault, but I would point to one of the factors being that the Steelers are not consistently getting what they need from their tight end in that area of the field. And I’m talking about blocking, not receiving.

* Tom Moore, Joe Walton, Ron Erhardt, Chan Gailey, Ray Sherman, Kevin Gilbride, Mike Mularkey, Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians, and Haley.

* That’s the list of offensive coordinators the Steelers have employed since 1988 when this job started for me, and each one has left me grinding my molars with their play-calling at some point. But I learned to accept that as part of the job – their job and mine – because the reality of it is that most fans and members of the media believe they could do as well, if not better, at the job of calling offensive plays.

* For me, though, another issue gradually surfaced and became a personal tipping point for forming an opinion on offensive coordinators. Are they using the job to help them get a head coaching job?

* Because if they are using the job to help them get a head coaching job, that’s when it becomes more about them than the team. That’s when they start trying to do things to draw attention to the creativity of the coordinator rather than simply doing the things to help the team win. That’s when a Super Bowl is lost with a last-minute interception at the goal line when even my wife knew the higher-percentage move would’ve been “to just give the ball to that guy they call Beast Mode.”

* A lot of Steelers fans hate Todd Haley right now, and his performance will be judged come the end of this season, which is the way the Steelers have operated their franchise for generations. But from what I can tell, Haley is not using the job he has now to get him a second shot at being an NFL head coach. In fact, the way Haley is doing the job he has now very likely is inhibiting his ability to get that second shot, because he hasn’t been willing to participate in any interviews until the Steelers’ season is over, and teams looking for head coaches rarely are that patient.

* Not that this career-related decision of his is going to stop the second-guessing of some of his play-calls, but at least there is some comfort in knowing that what he’s doing/calling isn’t designed to make himself look clever. He’s doing/calling what he thinks gives the team the best chance to win. At least I find that comforting. Admirable, even.

* The threats began almost immediately. Fans of all teams, even Steelers’ fans, vowed never to watch them play another game following the league-wide reaction to the president calling protesting players “sons of bitches.” In light of that, I offer the following data compiled by The Nielsen Company. The overnight rating for Steelers at Bears on Sept. 24 was a 33 rating and a 66 share; for Steelers at Ravens on Oct. 1 it was a 35.6 rating and a 67 share.

* Judge those numbers however you see fit, but when two-thirds of the televisions that are on in the Pittsburgh market are tuned to the Steelers game, that doesn’t reflect a boycott  from the fans/viewing public.