Friday, August 17, 2012

Former Steelers Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians Returns to Pittsburgh - Behind the Steel Curtain

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23: Quarterbacks Charlie Batch #16, Byron Leftwich, and Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talk with offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians (C) during their game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

It's funny what writers are accused of sometimes.

Over the years, I've apparently been influenced by local townspeople in positions of power. Parents of certain kids. Bartenders. The political left. The political right. The political middle-of-the-road. Big Business. Small business. Religious zealots and of course, the combination of the religious zealots and big business at the same time.

We had a joke last year that went something like, "when in doubt, run something about Bruce Arians. That's good for traffic every time, all the time."

I never felt Arians was nearly the root problem with the Steelers. Or at least, I never felt he deserved the whipping boy reputation he had in Steeler Nation.

But I won't be leading the "Welcome Back, Uncle Bruce" parade before the Steelers' preseason game with Indianapolis Sunday. I felt then the same as I do now, it was time to move on. It just so happens his return this weekend is the compelling story of the Steelers second preseason game.

Star-divide

It isn't compelling because it drives traffic (amazingly, our traffic experiences a pretty nice uptick right around when the Steelers play games. I wonder why). It's compelling because, if you think about it, the best thing that could have happened for both Pittsburgh and Indianapolis was Arians being fired/not brought back/retiring for a week.

Whether we like it or not, Arians has a track record of mentoring young quarterbacks, and that was the main reason behind new Colts head coach Chuck Pagano's decision to bring Arians on board to school rookie Andrew Luck up on the quarterback position.

One could make the argument Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger's best season was in 2007, Arians' first year as offensive coordinator. His 104.1 rating and 32 touchdown passes are career bests. Arians' first NFL offensive coordinator stint came in Cleveland when he had to set aside oft-injured Tim Couch, and get Cleveland to the playoffs with Kelly Holcomb.

Steelers fans might remember Holcomb as the guy who did all he could to lead the Browns to a victory over Pittsburgh in the 2002 season playoffs. Holcomb threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns in the 33-30 loss.

Arians also had Peyton Manning his rookie year in Indianapolis as his quarterbacks coach.

Enter Luck, the first overall pick in this draft. Probably the most highly touted quarterback prospect since Manning. Arians being in charge of Pagano's offense with Luck at the helm seems too full-circle to ignore.

Meanwhile, the Steelers' aggressive aerial assault offense grew stale in Pittsburgh. The hits Roethlisberger took throughout the season added up, and a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder and an ankle injury damaged his ability to throw deep. It was time to bring someone in with experience in a more precision-based offense, if for no other reason than to protect the franchise player's body.

Seems like a win-win for both sides. The Steelers found their guy in Todd Haley, and the Colts have a leader experienced in working with talented passers.

The jury is still out on both Arians in Indianapolis and Haley in Pittsburgh, but the storyline just seems too rich to only occur in the preseason, or even the regular season. It's highly unlikely it would happen this year, but it just feels like a playoff showdown waiting to happen.

Why?

The same thing happened to the man Arians replaced - Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt. He led a plucky Cardinals team to a decent 9-7 record in the 2008 season, but his offense caught fire in the playoffs, and came THISCLOSE to stealing a win over his former team in Super Bowl XLIII.

Certainly, Colts fans love the idea of Arians being a part of that kind of a run. I have zero clue whether Andrew Luck will be as talented as QB Kurt Warner was, or if they have a Larry Fitzgerald in the making, but what I know is, preseason or not, Arians is where he should be, and I'm not going to hate on him for it.

At least not until the Steelers face the Colts in the playoffs.

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