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Labriola On

Labriola on red zone, Jarvis, Troy, Ben's deal

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Red zone, red zone, red zone.
  • That's where we're starting off today, with the point being that the offense's performance in the red zone is an area of the 2015 Steelers in need of as much improvement as any area of their defense.
  • Seventh. Fifteenth. Tied-for-21st. Twenty-third. Eighteenth. Fourteenth. Seventeenth. Eighteenth.

Photos of rushing touchdowns from the 2014 season.

  • Those numbers represent where the Steelers offense has ranked in red zone efficiency in each of Mike Tomlin's eight seasons as coach. Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator for the first five of those eight; Todd Haley for the final three and counting.
  • To put those numbers in some perspective, in five of the eight seasons, the Steelers offense finished in the bottom half of the league in red zone efficiency, and this despite having Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
  • Unacceptable.
  • The thing about it is, though, is that the inefficiency in the red zone shouldn't be tied to Roethlisberger as much as it deserves to be tied to the Steelers' running attack not being good enough in that area of the field.
  • Marty Flaherty of did some detailed research on the red zone efficiency of the Steelers and compared it to the red zone efficiency of the Broncos, Patriots, Cowboys, and Packers. Those teams are quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, and Aaron Rodgers. Flaherty's numbers showed that in the red zone the Steelers scored fewer rushing touchdowns, ran the ball less often, and were less effective when they did than any of those other teams.
  • According to Flaherty, Roethlisberger passed 63 percent of the time in the red zone, compared to 49 percent for Brady. The Patriots had 17 rushing touchdowns in the red zone – the Steelers had eight – and New England was ninth in the NFL in red zone efficiency. Cracking the top 10 in red zone efficiency should be the Steelers' goal for 2015, and that should be doable if they can run the ball better down there.
  • Been reading about how the Steelers should sign James Harrison and do it now so that he can be around to mentor Jarvis Jones. Signing Harrison is something I would do, but not now. I would want Harrison getting his body in shape for an NFL season in his own way and at his own pace, and it's not like he's going to have to learn a completely new defense. Plus, the job of teaching Jarvis Jones belongs to Joey Porter, the actual outside linebackers coach and a guy who knows more than a little bit about playing right outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Let Porter have an entire offseason with Jones, and don't have Harrison around taking repetitions from guys such as Shawn Lemon, the refugee from the Canadian Football League who had 13 sacks in 18 games for the Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders in 2014, and Howard Jones, who spent a year on the Steelers' practice squad following a promising training camp after being signed as an undrafted rookie from Shepherd College.
  • I would pencil in an arrival date of Sept. 1 for Harrison. Stay in shape, James. See you then.
  • As fans are chafing during the early frenzy of this free agency period because their favorite teams aren't diving into the madness with both feet, remember this from the late George Young, the man who built the New York Giants Super Bowl teams of the late-1980s: "No player ever plays better because you pay him more."
  • Is there a difference for a player when it comes to retiring vs. getting cut? That has been a regular question attached to the discussion concerning Troy Polamalu, and there are two different answers. Yes, there can be a difference based on provisions in the CBA. No, there would be no difference for Troy Polamalu.
  • If a player retires before his contract expires, his team can seek to re-coup a percentage of the signing bonus from that contract. For example, if a player signed a five-year deal that included a $5 million signing bonus and retired after one season, his team could seek to re-coup up to $4 million of that signing bonus.
  • The Steelers wouldn't seek this path with Polamalu for a bunch of reasons. What he has meant to the team, the franchise, the community at large. The kind of player he was, the kind of human being he is. All of those things, plus there never was any effort by the player to deceive the team as to his intentions when signing the contract, and so the Steelers would have no interest in pursuing this course of action. It would not happen.
  • The post-signing analysis of Ben Roethlisberger's new five-year contract, in terms of which side "won the deal," is meaningless. If both sides are happy with the outcome, then that makes it fair to them. And they're the only ones who matter.
  • One of the criticisms is that Roethlisberger ended up with too big a piece of the pie, but I'm not so sure about that. He is a great player at the most critical position on a football team, and he's playing maybe his best right now. That's deserving of a healthy slice of pie.
  • Besides, there's really only one year when Roethlisberger's cap number seems high, and that's in 2016 when it will be $23.95 million. But that will be mitigated by the last $8 million of the LaMarr Woodley dead money being wiped off the books, so it shouldn't hurt too much.
  • Patrick Robinson, one of the free agent cornerbacks left on the market, signed yesterday with the San Diego Chargers. It's reported as a one-year contract for $2 million. Doesn't sound bad, but in my opinion, if a player like Robinson wants a one-year deal so he can be a free agent again next year, then I'm only paying him the veteran minimum.
  • Robinson is no different than Brice McCain, a guy the Steelers signed last April 1 to a one-year contract, but for the veteran minimum. Just because the Saints made Robinson a first-round pick in 2010 doesn't mean he has first-round talent, but since he was a first-round pick his agent sees that as a reason to ask for more money.
  • George Young was talking about the Patrick Robinsons, not the Ben Roethlisbergers.
  • Or as Dan Rooney, who was instrumental in the construction of the free-agency-tied-to-a-salary-cap model the NFL implemented back in 1993, once said about the system: Paying a lot of money to your star players isn't what gets you in trouble because they're star players, it's paying too much for mediocrity that will get you in trouble every time.
  • Reading the last part of that sentence over, I realize how lucky it is not to have a salary that falls under the cap.
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