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.

Year

Team

Points Scored

Points Per Game

Average Yards Per Rush

Sacks Given Up

1993

Miss. State

241

21.9

3.85

Not available

1994

Miss. State

373

*31

4.3

Not available

1995

Miss. State

261

23.7

3.6

Not available

1997

Alabama

246

22.3

3.9

24.5

2001

Cleveland Browns

285

17.8

3.2

*51

2002

Cleveland Browns

344

21.5

4

35

2003

Cleveland Browns

254

15.8

4.1

40

2007

Pittsburgh Steelers

*393

24.5

4.2

47

2008

Pittsburgh Steelers

347

21.6

3.7

49

2009

Pittsburgh Steelers

368

23

4.2

50

2010

Pittsburgh Steelers

375

23.4

4.1

43

2011

Pittsburgh Steelers

325

20.3

*4.4

42

TOTALS

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?

  • Scatter

    I agree entirely with your assessment. The most damning indictment of Arians is his consistent ability to generate truly pedestrian numbers no matter what level of talent he has at his disposal.

    Give him a power running game and a lack of explosive talent, and he’ll give you an average output. Give him explosive talent, and he’ll give you average output.

    Reminds me of when we had Earnest Jackson as our RB. Whenever we needed 3 yards, Earnest would give us 3. Whenever we needed 4 yards, Earnest would give us 3.

    There was just a glass ceiling of 3 yards we were working with when Earnest was here, and Arians has the same type of glass ceiling. Give him chicken shit, and he may manage to give you chicken salad. Give him Pate’ de foie gras…………and he’ll give you chicken salad.

    It’s time to move on.

  • Bradleyaoo7

    Long pass patterns without a rb out of the backfield and average offensive line= lots of sacks and a banged up qb

  • Bradleyaoo7

    How bout an F#$%ing slant. You have Mike Wallace and AB??? It made Jerry Rice and John Taylor Stars. Its not too difficult make’m pay if there gonna come after the qb. How about throwing it to the running back out of the backfield

  • Daveb1952

    In all fairness, BA had one good year at Rutgers that predated the chart above, but career wise, one out of 30? I got to agree BA was average at best. Heaven help us if the next one is worse…… What am I saying, heaven help the next one if he’s worse…..

  • Shannon Stephenson

    BA biggest failures were red zone and 3rd or 4th down short yardage plays…would like to see his career stats in that.

  • David D.

    I agree with you Shannon. He had Redman at his disposal yet constantly went empty set on third & two. The red zone offense was terrible.