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Arians era ends

January 21, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Arians era ends

It's become very fashionable for Pittsburgh media types to toe the "You'll miss Bruce Arians when he's gone" line in recent weeks in what we're guessing is that stupid media trick where they take the opposite side of what most fans think because they're smart and we're dumb and if we think "that" then the opposite of "that" must be true. We've got two words for them: Wanna bet? Our criticism of (and praise for, when merited) Arians has been well documented in this space and we won't rehash it all. We'll simply summarize by saying his offensive scheme was built to zoom between the 20s but fail miserably in the two most important areas: when starting deep in its own territory and when in the opponents' red zone. And the failings in those areas were not simply because of personnel, but because of scheme and play calling. If quarterback coach Randy Fichtner gets the job, he can do world's better in the same scheme simply by changing the team's approach in those two areas. The other likely potential candidate for the job is former Colts coach (and one-time Penn State assistant) Jim Caldwell. Many have linked the timing of Arians' sudden change of heart about retirement to the firing of Caldwell on Tuesday and noted Mike Tomlin and Caldwell have a history together. We thought Tomlin's former boss with the Vikings, Brad Childress, could potentially be a candidate, but it now appears he's going to get one of the head coach spots open, either Tampa or Indy. Caldwell's MO, even dating back to his Wake Forest days, of passing first and running as an afterthought certainly matched Pittsburgh's personnel. But as we noted several times with Arians (and with what they're trying to do offensively in Cleveland), we're not sure that philosophy matches up well with playing in the AFC North.

Steelers signings

The Steelers made a couple of very un-Steelerslike signings this week when they added former Big Ten stars/NFL washouts Derrick Williams and Troy Smith to their roster through futures contracts, which can only be extended to players who were not under contract to an NFL team in 2011. The vast majority of futures deals (the Steelers signed five others to them, as well) are extended to players who have never stuck with an NFL team. It's one of the ways teams fill out their training camp rosters and very few futures signees ever make the final cut. But Williams, once the nation's No. 1 high school recruit, and Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner, have seven years (albeit unassuming years) of NFL experience between them and it's conceivable they'll be competing for Pittsburgh's #3QB and #5WR positions. That's because the Steelers are $25 million over the 2012 salary cap and when you're that far over it's going to take more than two or three moves to get you under, meaning you need to have contingencies at nearly every position beforehand. In that light, Williams and Smith provide cheap, experienced, bottom-end alternatives at positions where there's a lot of uncertainty for the Steelers. Every Steelers QB not named Roethlisberger is an unrestricted free agent and at WR Jericho Cotchery is likely to leave for more money and the gut-wrenching decision on Hines Ward looms. If the Steelers bring Byron Leftwich as the backup, they'll likely need a lower-cost option as the third quarterback. Enter Smith. If Ward goes, Pittsburgh would likely sign a new #4 and might need to plug Williams in at #5 to save cap space. Of course, those decision might be influenced by what happens with Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton and James Farrior and... You get it. There are a lot of moving parts.

Baltimore at New England

Conventional wisdom says Patriots' tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will be the difference in this game. That might well be, but if the Ravens are going to win, we think it will be because of their under-the-radar tight end duo of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. The Patriots likely will concern themselves (and rightly so) with stopping Ray Rice. In the past, if you stopped Rice, Baltimore did not have enough speed to hurt you consistently elsewhere, but the emergence of Torrey Smith has changed that. Now, you're potentially talking about a big gap in the middle of the Patriots defense that Fu Man Flacco can exploit with his tight ends the way Pittsburgh did earlier this year with Heath Miller. The Steelers' scoring drives in that 25-17 win were 11, 16, 10, 14 and 11 plays. If the Ravens can put three of those 10+-play scoring drives on the board Sunday, they've got a great chance to win ... Baltimore 25-17.

New York Giants at San Francisco

The Giants are the media darlings, of course, and appear to be "that team" this year, you know, the team that gets hot at the right time and rides it all the way to the title. We're not sure about that. The 49ers defense is starting to remind us an awful lot of the Ravens 2000 unit and we think they can steal this game if San Francisco's offense can keep New York's defensive line at bay. If they do, that would mean "All Harbaugh All The Time" for two weeks. There was an easy way for a lot of teams, most notably the Steelers, to prevent such a fat: beat them. But that's proven to be a lot more difficult that it sounds ... San Francisco 20-19.

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