Consistently Average: The OC Career Of Bruce Arians
By Jeremy Hritz
This weekend, many Pittsburgh Steelers fans are content, not because the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots are on the verge of a Super Bowl appearance, but because the oft-derided offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will not be returning for the 2012 season. There seems to be two camps regarding the Arians-as-offensive-coordinator issues: those that believe in his efficacy, and those that believe he is inept. The bottom line is that Arians is and has always been average.
The table below provides a detailed look at Arians’ performance as offensive coordinator not just from his time in Pittsburgh, but also from his time with the Browns, Alabama, and Mississippi State (I was unable to locate sack totals for his time as OC at Mississippi State).
A Look at the Numbers: Bruce Arians As Offensive Coordinator
*Asterisk indicates career high.
Points Per Game
Average Yards Per Rush
Sacks Given Up
3812 (336.3 points per NFL season; 280.2 per NCAA season)
22 points per game
3.96 rushing yards per attempt
381.5 total sacks (2.7 sacks per game)
Supporters of Arians will highlight the facts that he has helped to lead two Steelers’ teams to Super Bowls, including one victory. They will also point to two 4,000+ passing yard seasons for Ben Roethlisberger as indicators of success. Arians’ apologists will also make the argument that players have to execute better: Big Ben needs to get rid of the ball quicker, the line needs to do a better job at run and pass blocking, and the receivers need to hold on to the ball. These are all valid arguments. However, what cannot be denied is how offenses that Arians has led have performed over a period of time. Arians-led NFL offenses have averaged 336.3 points per NFL season, which does not even crack the top 19 in scoring from 2011. His 22 points per game career average would not even break into the top 15 in the NFL this past year.
An area of dissatisfaction of Pittsburgh fans has been the performance of the running game since Arians began his tenure as offensive coordinator in 2007, so much so that Art Rooney II publicly acknowledged it in the media after the 2009 season. While in 2011 the Steelers finished 9th overall in yards per rushing attempt, there was never any true rhythm in the running game during the season, except for the performances of Isaac Redman in consecutive games against the Browns and the Broncos. A lack of a consistent and effective running game has been a trademark of the Steelers offense over the last five years. The top five rushing attacks in 2011 averaged 4.9 or more yards per carry. Never in twelve stints as OC has Arians developed such an effective rushing attack. Over his career, his offenses have averaged 3.96 yards per rushing attempt, which is not compatible with the tradition of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lastly, when it comes to protecting the quarterback, there is an undeniable pattern in Arians’ history as OC. Quarterbacks are sacked on average 2.7 times per game, which over a sixteen game season amounts to 43.2 sacks. This was a trend that followed Arians to the Steelers from the Browns.
While there are many conclusions that can be drawn from the data, what cannot be ignored is that in three incredibly significant statistical offensive categories, points scored, yards per rush, and sacks allowed, throughout his career, the offenses of Arians have been average, if not somewhat less than average. While Steelers’ fans are grateful for his contributions to the success of the team over the last five years, including the Super Bowl win, a question that we all should asking is that with the strong defenses we have had during that time, with a more effective offensive coordinator, could we have won another Lombardi trophy or two?