Durkin’s Coaching Breakdown: Bruce Arians
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By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) This is the second in a series where I take a look at some of the top candidates’ background, strengths, scheme, and what skill position players the Bears would need to add to properly execute their system.
Next up, is Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
What is Arians’ NFL coaching experience?
Arians has 20 years of NFL coaching experience. He’s been a quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach, and an offensive coordinator, with eight years of experience as a play-caller.
Which head coaches Arians has worked for?
Mike Tomlin (5), Bill Cowher (3), Butch Davis (3), Jim Mora (3), Chuck Pagano (1).
While working as a quarterbacks coach on Jim Mora’s staff, Arians worked under legendary offensive coordinator Tom Moore, who always believed in simplicity, and that players are more important than systems.
Prior to becoming the offensive coordinator for Mike Tomlin, Arians was the wide receivers coach on Bill Cowher’s staff, working under offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. In his time in Pittsburgh, the Steelers made three Super Bowl appearances, winning two of them.
This season in Indianapolis, Arians was named the interim head coach while Pagano underwent leukemia treatment, leading the Colts to a 9-3 record, and catapulting the offense from 30th overall in 2011 to 10th overall in 2012.
Which notable quarterbacks has Arians worked with?
Ben Roethlisberger (8), Peyton Manning (3), Andrew Luck (1).
Arians has a very strong track record of developing young quarterbacks.
He was Manning’s quarterbacks coach for the first three years of his career, helping him improve in every major passing category from year one to year three.
He was the Steelers offensive coordinator for Roethlisberger’s two Pro-Bowl seasons.
This season, he was instrumental in the development of Luck, who led the Colts on eight game-winning drives, en route to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.
What makes Arians an attractive head coaching candidate?
Play-calling. Arians has eight years of play-calling experience under his belt, and is the only candidate to have called plays in a Super Bowl win.
What is Arians’ offensive philosophy?
Arians roots go back to Moore, whose philosophy was “do less, but do it better.” Arians followed this approach in Indianapolis this past season, which was most likely due to younger, new personnel, by running a limited set of personnel groupings out of primarily 2 by 2, and 3 by 1 formations. But a glimpse into his true offensive vision was on display in Pittsburgh.
After having a few years to work with Roethlisberger, Arians’ scheme evolved into a motion-based, spread-passing attack, deploying both quick throws from bunched sets, as well as deep throws predicated on Roethlisberger’s ability to keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes down-field. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is at his best on the move when things break down, and has the arm strength to make every throw, so there could be great synergy between he and Arians.
Arians likes to put pressure on single defenders by running routes at different depths, also known as “hi-lo” reads. One route concept he runs as well as anyone is the “snag”, which I diagram below.
The snag route is an extension of a popular Cover-2 beater, the “smash” route – hitch with outside receiver, corner with inside receiver – that adds a flat route with a third receiver.
Here the Colts line up in 3WR-1TE-1RB personnel, and the Dolphins counter with their nickel package (5 defensive backs), and run a Tampa-2 style Cover-2, dropping the Mike linebacker into the deep middle. This route requires a sight adjustment, meaning the receivers must adjust their routes to man or zone coverage. Since it’s zone, the receivers settle into the open areas of the zone.
Notice the triangle the snag route creates, with three receivers and only two defenders in the area. This play is read high to low, so since the defense defended the deep routes, Luck hits a wide open Dwayne Allen in the flat for an easy 20-yard completion.
Another appealing aspect of Arians offense – that would work well with Brandon Marshall – is how he moves his primary receiver around to get different matchups. This is something Arians did with Hines Ward in Pittsburgh, and Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis.
Look at this image below, which shows some of Wayne’s different alignments on their game-winning drive against the Packers.
To this point in the game, Wayne already had eight catches for 148 yards, yet he was able to catch another five for 64 and the game-winning touchdown on this drive, thanks in large part to Arians getting different matchups.
What type of skill position player would the Bears need to add for Arians?
Tight end. Arians’ base offense is a two tight end set that doesn’t utilize a fullback, so the Bears would need to upgrade the pass-catching abilities of their tight ends.
What are Arians’ chances to be among the finalists (Good / Fair / Poor)?
Good. Of all the candidates, Arians is the most successful play-caller, which is a specific area of weakness Cutler pointed out after the season.
Recall if you will, Arians “retired” from football on January 20, 2012, only to end his retirement eight days later, when he agreed to become the Colts offensive coordinator. As it turns out, Arians was ousted by team president Art Rooney II (much to the chagrin of Roethlisberger), after being informed he wouldn’t be given a contract extension.
So, does Arians want to become a head coach? It’s a legitimate question that will certainly be brought up during the interview process.
There’s a clear pattern among the candidates Phil Emery is bringing in, he’s looking for coaches who have worked with and developed quarterbacks. Arians has succeeded in this area, typically behind leaky offensive lines. Combine all of that with his play-calling prowess, and Arians is as strong a candidate you can find for the Bears opening.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.