Steelers Chalk Talk: West Coast Style Offense Will Add To Struggles

The West Coast Offense, as perfected by the great Bill Walsh, can destroy teams early by establishing the passing game and tack on as much of a lead as possible.  By sheer definition, an offense that passes way more than it runs the ball can be considered running a ‘west coast style’ offense, even if it’s not a cookie cut replica of Walsh’s style or even Don Coryell’s.  The Steelers offense on Sunday against the Raiders threw the ball 49 times and ran the ball 20 – that’s 71% pass.  While this style is more ‘exciting’ to watch and is even ‘working’ for the Steelers by producing points, the West Coast style will have the Steelers win-loss record looking more like the west coast teams’ from the AFC by the time the season is over (oh snap San Diego).

One of the brilliant consequences from using the West Coast Offense (WCO) is wearing down the defense in having to continually chase down receivers.  But, that was back in the 80′s and 90′s.  Defenses are constructed in ways now that allow for coverage linebackers, and the development of the Tampa 2 defense keeps the middle of the field tight.  The WCO nowadays still calls for very accurate and quick throws from the quarterback, but defenses  that play their zones well are less apt to be worn down from pursuit.  I believe that the advantages of the WCO in today’s NFL is meant to speed up the game, spread the defense enough for a quarterback to find outlets, and give the offense a sense of rhythm.

So, why is the WCO actually a problem for the Steelers?  Well there’s one big reason that causes a domino effect throughout the rest of the offense – the offensive line pass blocking is terrible.  Quick outlets are great, and the Steelers do this very well.  Most of the Steelers’ receivers averaged less than 10 yards per catch on Sunday.  This short field passing game is meant to entice the defense to commit more defensemen forward, and then the offense blows them away a timely deep pass.  The problem with that is the offensive line rarely gives Ben Roethlisberger and the receivers enough time to launch a long bomb.  And, when he finally has the time to, Big Ben either falls short or overthrows his receiver (mainly Mike Wallace).  This keeps the secondary a bit fresh later in the game – they haven’t been running around chasing after receivers 25+ yards down the field.

The Raiders defensive line, despite being on the field for long periods of time had plenty of gas left in the tank to enforce their will on the Steelers offensive line late in the game.  A combination of poor blocking and sheer bull rushing from the defense overcame the offensive line, put pressure on Big Ben, and kept the Steelers from converting on 3rd down.  Would pounding the ball a bit more wear that defensive line down a bit more, even if that means longer 3rd downs?  I’d like to think so.

Currently, the Steelers defense is nowhere near the imposing force they were last year and certainly from years past.  The term ‘shell’ has been thrown around, and I don’t think many can deny that notion.  Even with Harrison’s and Polamalu’s return after the bye week in two weeks, will they really be able to mend the many chinks in this Steel Curtain?  My hopes aren’t high, and therefore, the Steelers will highly depend on the offense finishing out games.  The ten point collapse in the 4th quarter is mainly on the defense, but the offense and its inability to extend drives and shut the door will certainly add to the loss column this season.  I’m watching the Seahawks decimate the Packers high powered passing offense.  If they could only run the ball…..

Haley and the Steelers need to find a more balanced game.  Remember a time when the Steelers had a lead in the fourth quarter and held it?  Defense had something to do with that, but so did the Steelers’ ability to construct a long drive through running and pounding the ball, getting some more points on the board, and keeping the game out of reach.  Look, I’m over the idea of the Steelers ever getting back to being the run dominant team they once were.  I think those days are gone and they’ve submitted to the evolution of the league.  But, the Steelers desperately need to find more balance between the passing and running games.  Otherwise, this team will be hung out to dry each and every fourth quarter.

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  • Paul

    I completely disagree with you. Teams have gone to pass dominant offenses because rules have evolved to favor the passing game, And considering how bad the defense looks to be this year, the only way the Steelers will win games is to put up 30+ points a game, They need to pass to do that. And frankly, the pass/run mix we saw against the raiders is probably about ideal. The didn’t lose because they passed too much. They lost because the D let the raiders score on ALL FIVE of their last possessions.

    Despite passing so much, Pittsburgh is dominating time of possession, giving its defense plenty of time to rest, and putting up lots of points. They need to keep doing that, The best weapon the team has is Ben, They have 4 excellent receivers, plus Heath, and even their running backs have shown they can catch. They have the worst rushing game in the entire league, That isn’t a problem with the scheme, it is a problem with lack of talent on the offensive line and to a lesser extent, a lack of talent with the running backs. Mendenhall is clearly better than Redman and Co.,so I think the running game will improve slightly when he returns, but it will still not be good enough for them to count on.

    And I have to disagree with what you said about the short passing game resulting in the opposing secondary being rested late in the game. Ben was still easily moving the team down the field late in the game. Brown’s fumble stalled one drive, and a false start penalty stalled another. If they didn’t give up 2 fumbles, and have about 1,000 penalties, they would have likely scored at least another 10 points (and that’s ignoring the punt return TD called back due to a penalty). While the outcome of the game was disappointing, and I am VERY worried about the defense, the performance of the offense was the silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud. In Ben I trust.