Mike Tomlin stood firm and retained offensive coordinator Bruce Arians despite pressure from Pittsburgh's front office to fire him. Tomlin instead fired offensive line coach Larry Zierlein and will look for a new quarterbacks coach after Ken Anderson retired one month short of his 61st birthday.
The Steelers boasted the NFL's seventh-best offense in 2009, based on yardage, and had a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher. Roethlisberger set the team record with 4,328 yards passing.
However, they ranked just 19th in rushing and despite all those yards were only 12th in scoring. They ranked 30th in the NFL in sacks per pass play, and Roethlisberger's 50 sacks set a personal high and were the second most of a Steelers quarterback ever.
The Steelers want to protect their $100 million quarterback, who has been sacked 189 times, more than any other quarterback, over the past four seasons. Their inability to do that likely cost Zierlein his job. He is the first coach Tomlin has fired after keeping his entire staff intact for three seasons.
The attention paid to the offensive coaches was curious because it was the decline on defense that likely cost the Steelers a chance to defend their Super Bowl championship. That defense blew fourth-quarter leads in five of seven losses and a tie in a sixth loss. They allowed two passes over 40 yards in 2008 and nine in 2009. They slipped from the No. 1-ranked pass defense to 16th in 2009.
Tomlin, though, is not likely to make major changes on the roster, even though many fans and even players expect as much. Linebacker James Harrison, the team's MVP in 2007 and 2008, predicted there would be major changes. If what Tomlin did to "rearrange" his coaching staff is any indication, the changes won't be wholesale for 2010.
"I don't approach making major changes in response to our record or anything," Tomlin said. "I like to use the term 'appropriate change.' And those aren't knee-jerk reactions, those aren't quick decisions.
"It's built over time as you evaluate what it is that we put on tape. It's a process, starting (Jan. 4). We're at the infancy of that process, if you will. My mentality is and always will be to make appropriate changes, so big changes are not something that I necessarily buy into. Appropriate changes are."
He had a long meeting with Arians on Wednesday before it was reported that Arians would return. He likely wanted to feel out his offensive coordinator about possible philosophical changes, such as returning the fullback to his scheme and trying to develop a better running game. Tomlin acknowledged a few weeks ago that he was not satisfied with the short-yardage results.
The Steelers lost every one of their seven games by seven points or less, two in overtime.
"There's a fine line between being 12-4 and 9-7, or 7-9, for that matter," Tomlin said. "That's why you desire to be dominant. The more dominant you are, the more you keep yourself out of harm's way of a play here or a play there. That's what we desire to be first and foremost. I don't know that we were dominant enough in '09."
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