It's too bad there isn't an offensive coordinator's manual for how to call plays without the franchise quarterback, the backup quarterback, the team Most Valuable Player and 40 percent of the offensive line. Surely, the Steelers' Todd Haley would have called a better game last Sunday at Cleveland.
"What I really needed was a manual for what to call when the halfbacks were struggling a little bit and putting the ball on the ground," Haley said.
There was that, too.
The Steelers had one of their worst offensive performances in franchise history in a 20-14 loss to the Browns. Normally, the coordinator would take a fierce beating. Bruce Arians, anyone? But Haley escaped most of the wrath because of the perfect storm that devastated the Steelers. Third-stringer Charlie Batch played for injured quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. Wide receiver Antonio Brown -- the team MVP last season -- missed his third consecutive game. Guard Willie Colon was a late scratch and tackle Mike Adams went out in the third quarter. And there were those lost fumbles, one by each of the four running backs.
Batch threw three interceptions. The passing game wasn't the same without Brown, not just in Cleveland but in the previous two games, including the first half of the Kansas City game Nov. 12 before Roethlisberger was injured. The line produced holes for just 49 yards on 20 carries by the backs and was called for four holding penalties, including one on tight end Heath Miller. The fumbles were a big part of an eight-turnover day by the Steelers.
"I've never seen anything like it," Haley said.
The Steelers offense will be better today against the Baltimore Ravens if only because it can't be worse.
Batch will be better in his second start.
"Chuck knows what he has to do," Haley said. "He understands he has to get rid of the ball quicker."
Batch will benefit by having Brown.
"He's huge," Haley said of Brown. "He's hard to cover without the ball and he's hard to cover with the ball. He can get open and turn a short pass into a big play. He is a unique player. He has a chance to be a really great player in this league."
The line should be better even with rookie Kelvin Beachum making his first start at right tackle. Good luck to him handling Ravens rusher Paul Kruger. Haley is going to have to help Beachum out with Miller or one of the backs. Colon practiced Friday and could start at left guard. If he can't, Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey will take Colon's spot and be replaced by Doug Legursky, who started for Colon against the Browns. Legursky and the Steelers coaches agree he's a better center than guard.
"Watch out for Pouncey," Haley said. "He's a beast. Just watch all of the things he does at guard. He could be an All-Pro there, too, if we played him there."
The backs aren't going to lose four fumbles again, right? There's no way, right? The Steelers have settled on one man. Jonathan Dwyer will get the start against the Ravens and -- in coach Mike Tomlin's words -- "get the bulk of the carries." That didn't stop Haley from issuing a gentle public challenge to Dwyer.
"He's getting a great opportunity. I hope he goes in and takes this role seriously and doesn't let us take him off the field."
The Steelers need to run the ball well today to win. They ran for 134 yards against the Ravens in a 13-10 loss two weeks ago, although 31 came on an unlikely touchdown scramble by Leftwich. Haley was criticized after that game for not running the ball more. After Dwyer ran for gains of 7, 11 and 8 yards on a drive late in the third quarter, Haley called for a fade pattern to wide receiver Mike Wallace in the corner of the end zone on a third-and-2 play from the Baltimore 4. Wallace beat cornerback Corey Graham but failed to get his feet down inbounds. He has to make that catch. Big-time receivers do. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal and were shut out in the fourth quarter.
"I was more upset about the play before that," Haley said. "We had a touchdown play called, but we lined up wrong and had to call timeout. There are times I would call the same play again after the timeout, but that formation was so revealing that I went away from it. As it turned out, they came out with the exact same defense. It definitely would have worked. That's OK. We still should have scored. The play was there. We missed by 3 inches."
The Steelers had no such near-misses against the Browns.
"Last week, we definitely threw it more than we wanted to," Haley said. "They were playing cover-2 and we still weren't running the ball effectively. You get to the point in the second half when you have to realize you're not making hay and you have to start throwing it more. But the way they were leaving the middle of the field open, we should have been able to gash them for 5 yards a carry and Heath should have had 150 receiving yards."
Miller had six catches for 63 yards and had a 33-yard reception wiped out by a holding penalty on Beachum.
"We have a lot of work to do," Haley said. "We've got to get a lot better."
The players do, for sure. Haley will be fine. He doesn't need a manual to be better. He just needs Roethlisberger.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published December 2, 2012 5:00 AM