Ron Cook: Personnel is biggest problem for Steelers, not Haley
September 13, 2013 4:00 PM
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley argues for a pass interference call last Sunday against Titans cornerback Jason McCourty.
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Funny, isn't it? Bruce Arians never was this popular when he was calling plays for two Super Bowl teams. A lot of people couldn't wait for him to be out as Steelers offensive coordinator. He was too pass-happy. He was too close to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, too much his friend and not enough his coach. He let Roethlisberger do whatever he wanted. You remember that nonsense, right? It was total garbage. The Steelers made a horrible mistake when they fired Arians after the 2011 season.
But that's old news.
What's topical -- and comical -- is that many people already want new offensive coordinator Todd Haley replaced after just one season and one game and would be thrilled to see Arians come back. That's not because of a Deadspin.com report Wednesday that Haley was involved in an incident with a drunken, heckling fan Saturday night at the bar of an Upper St. Clair hotel where he and his family are staying while their home is being refurbished. Haley called it a "nonissue" after practice Thursday. "There were no words exchanged. There was no security involved. Nothing like that happened. Geez, I was out with my wife."
If Haley did anything wrong, it was that he put himself among a bunch of drunks late at night. Public figures have a right to live their life, but they can't be too careful, especially in this age of social media. Somebody always is watching them, waiting for them to take a misstep or hoping to capitalize on their fame. It's a sad commentary on our world.
Haley's position makes him a public figure in our town. There is no more scrutinized job here. Ask Arians.
It seems as if just about everyone thinks they can call plays better than Haley. That's especially true this week after the Steelers offense was lame in a 16-9 home loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans.
"I know this offense can work," Haley said.
The rest of us should know it, too. We watched it work last season when the Steelers started 5-3 with a three-game winning streak in which running back Jonathan Dwyer had two 100-yard rushing games and Isaac Redman had a third. Roethlisberger, who loved Arians and didn't take too eagerly to Haley's offense at first, was off to a fabulous start with 16 touchdown passes, just four interceptions and a passer rating of 101.1, nine points higher than his career average. He was the best third-down passer in the NFL. He was being mentioned as a candidate for league MVP.
But Roethlisberger injured a shoulder and rib in the third quarter of the ninth game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He never was the same quarterback after that. The offense wasn't the same.
It still isn't the same.
Another injury was crushing Sunday. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey went down on the eighth play and was lost for the season with a knee injury. Haley called it "the worst-case scenario." Pouncey's injury certainly caused chaos with the offense. Kelvin Beachum had to be the emergency center in a game when Haley had a big package for him as a blocking tight end. Guard David DeCastro also had a miserable game. He took out Pouncey's knee with an inadvertent chop block and didn't have the same focus afterward.
"I've seen guys get hurt like that before," Haley said. "The other guys feel like they have to do more to make up for it. I saw [Redman] try to do things that he hasn't done since he's been here. That's understandable. But he has to bounce back and play a better game this week. We all have to bounce back. We didn't coach our best game, either."
But can the Steelers bounce back Monday night at Cincinnati against the Bengals?
The Steelers couldn't run the ball against the Titans. Roethlisberger was sacked five times. The line, even with Pouncey in the exhibition season, wasn't very good. Newly signed Fernando Velasco is expected to start at center with Beachum moving back to tight end. We'll see how that goes, especially when the Steelers go to their no-huddle offense.
The running backs don't appear to be good enough. That's why the Steelers drafted Le'Veon Bell in the second round in the April draft and almost immediately gave him the starting job only to see him go down with a serious foot injury. Redman will get another chance against the Bengals. Felix Jones also should get carries, as will Dwyer, who was cut at the end of the preseason and re-signed when LaRod Stephens-Howling was lost for the season with a knee injury against the Titans.
Play-calling isn't the Steelers' biggest problem now.
Bell should help, but he might not be ready for weeks. It's hard to look at him as the savior. He still hasn't had an NFL carry.
Tight end Heath Miller will help when he comes back from his knee injury. He's not expected to play against the Bengals and might not play until the fifth game, after the Steelers' open date. He was their MVP last season. He usually delivers greatness.
But until Miller and Bell play?
"We've got a great quarterback," Haley said. "The bottom line is you can make the offense work when you have a great quarterback."
Haley pointed to the first drive against the Titans, before Pouncey's injury and after it. "That's what has me encouraged. That [Tennessee] bunch isn't easy to run against. We had four first downs. We moved the ball."
The problem was the drive didn't end with points for the Steelers. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders dropped a long pass on the first play. On a botched handoff to Redman, Roethlisberger was charged with a fumble into the end zone on the final play after the bench sent in the wrong personnel package. Haley and Roethlisberger have been criticized for not calling a timeout there, but both said it wasn't necessary.
"The personnel package had nothing to do with the fumble. We just didn't execute," Haley said.
"We can't turn the football over and expect to win. We have to be more efficient as an offense."
Haley predicted better results against the Bengals.
"We have to be better. I know we will be better. We have the guys to get it done."