Labriola On

Labriola on O-line as a weapon, Golden

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • It happened in 2002, and then the pendulum swung back the other way in 2004. Once Ben Roethlisberger established himself and Jerome Bettis retired, things went back the other way again. And now, it seems as though the components are in place for yet another change.
  • The topic is the style of the Steelers offense, with the issue becoming how long it takes for the rest of the league to catch up to the style of the Steelers offense.
  • There was a long time when the style was easy to figure out. The Steelers wanted to run the football early, and then they wanted to run the football late. They wanted to run the football, because they believed in it, sure, but also because they lacked the components necessary to excel at throwing it, which they learned the hard way under the two-season mistake known as the Tommy Gun Offense.
  • The critical component to spur real change arrived in the first round of the 2004 draft, and as Roethlisberger became more accomplished the Steelers came to rely less and less on running the football, and it made sense. When Bettis was the offense's best player, it always seemed foolish not to put the ball in his hands most often, and so it came to be viewed with Roethlisberger.
  • When this season opened, coordinator Todd Haley's stated goal was 30 points a game, and with 38 in the win over the Redskins last Monday night the unit was 1-for-1. But an examination of the path to that particular 38 revealed that Steelers football – when it comes to offense – may be taking a step back, as in back in time.
  • That's back in time, as in going back to a time when the Steelers won games because they ran the football until the opponent got tired of trying to tackle them. Which is exactly what happened in the second half against the Redskins.
  • Can an offense playing without Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant, an offense with no Heath Miller at tight end for the first time in a dozen years, make up for the explosiveness of what it's having to do without with an offensive line that imposed its will as necessary during a second half that had the Steelers maintain and then extend their halftime lead?
  • You can rest assured that Haley has no intention of turning Roethlisberger into a mailman, not with Antonio Brown and a nice stable of weapons that's to include Bell again in a couple of weeks. But if upcoming opponents don't start recognizing that the Steelers offensive line is a weapon to be respected every bit as much as those missing receivers, those opponents can look forward to the same treatment the Redskins received.
  • It happened in a room on the first floor of Benedict Hall in August 2012. The Steelers were getting ready to open their preseason with a game in Philadelphia against the Eagles, and Coach Mike Tomlin was talking into a microphone about "finding out whether it's too big for them." He was referring to the process of weeding out the rookies/prospects who just don't belong in the NFL.
  • Not belonging can come down to being too small or too slow, or it can come down to things less measureable. But for an NFL coach, it really doesn't matter why a guy doesn't belong. It matters only that he be identified.
  • When that interview was over and the microphone was turned off, Tomlin was asked who among the lesser-known new guys would not find their first NFL experience "too big for them." One of the first guys Tomlin mentioned was Robert Golden.
  • Back in August 2012, Robert Golden was an undrafted rookie safety who had played his college football at the University of Arizona. He played in a lot of games and made a good number of tackles, but there wasn't much splash among his statistics. Golden ended up making the Steelers 53-man roster in 2012, and by the start of his third NFL season he was voted a special teams captain. Toward the end of his fourth season, Golden, still a special teams captain, became part of a personnel grouping the Steelers formed to do a better job in coverage without sacrificing as much in defending the run. Last Monday night, he was a starter at safety next to Mike Mitchell.
  • A starting safety who made a big play to tackle a Redskins receiver short of the yard marker on an early fourth-down situation that helped swing the momentum in the Steelers' favor. And still a special teams captain. Clearly, it's not too big for him.
  • The Steelers got a lot of publicity last year for being the team that attempted more two-point conversions than anyone else and were successful on two-point conversions attempts more often than anyone else. This season, they opened eyes in their opener when Roethlisberger attacked down the field on fourth-and-short and then on third-and-short.
  • In fact, both the propensity for two-point conversion attempts and the decision to go down the field on possession downs were highly predictable. Mike Tomlin is a big believer in preparation, and the Steelers work on those things a lot. Pretty much every day in every practice starting with OTAs back in late May.
  • Practice makes perfect, or in the case of the Steelers, the belief is that practice makes them proficient.
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