Gene Collier: Steelers need Todd Haley to take a hike
October 12, 2014 9:14 PM
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talks with offensive coordinator Todd Haley as they face the Browns on Sunday in FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CLEVELAND -- Getting a nice jump on ghoul season, the Browns piped in part of the original score from “Halloween” every time the alleged Steelers offense faced a third-down situation Sunday, making No. 7 in white the focal point of a Creepshow no one will soon forget.
But don’t blame Ben Roethlisberger exclusively for this football spectacle from some funhouse mirror, for Ben was merely the werewolf in this epic, and if you thought you saw a werewolf with Todd Haley’s Chinese menu of a playlist in his hand, that’s because it was real.
Let’s go first to the direct testimony regarding Browns 31, Steelers 10, then we’ll come back for the closing arguments on why the Steelers won’t make anything that can be described as real progress again in this league until someone else is the offensive coordinator.
“I don’t know,” said Roethlisberger when asked if he thought his team’s offensive strategy is correct. “We can all look at the film. Coaches will look at it. We tried to run it in the red zone and when we got down there we just couldn’t quite get it all the way in. We’ll look at it and figure out what the execution, figure out what it is.”
The Steelers wanted to run Sunday, except on third-and-short, when they wanted to throw deep passes to inexperienced wideouts along the sideline. Also, they considered third-and-10 a good situation to hand the ball to Le’Veon Bell, running wide for a yard, maybe 2.
Criticized for failing to run in repeated red-zone failures a week ago at Jacksonville, they handed it to Bell on three consecutive plays from the Browns 7. They got to the 2.
Had it not been for a 24-yard pass interference penalty by Cleveland’s Buster Skrine on that possession and a late touchdown owed mostly to the defensive indifference endemic to a 31-3 lead, the Haley offense might not have scored at all Sunday.
As it is, it backfires along at a one-touchdown-per-week clip, at least for October. As for the way it’s trending, let’s just point out that the Steelers had five plays of 30 or more yards in the first half against these same Browns Sept. 7, and no plays of 30 yards in the entire 60 minutes Sunday.
In between, they’ve averaged 4.7 points per quarter.
“I am sure of it,” said coach Mike Tomlin when asked if his team is taking the right approach offensively. “But we are not executing. We’ve got to look at all areas. We missed some throws. We had people in position to make plays who didn’t. The bottom line is that we came up short in that area and we can’t.”
Tomlin had no problem with Sunday’s primary focus, a run-first attitude so obvious that a club experimenting with designs to get Dri Archer free in space since August started running him right up the middle, all 5 feet 8, 173 pounds of him. Useless so far in space, where he can easily be pawed to the ground by one tackler, Archer is an even bigger liability returning kickoffs. He did manage the game’s longest run from scrimmage, 15 yards. The Browns had allowed seven runs of 20 yards or more at kickoff, most in the NFL. The Steelers got none.
“I wish I could put a finger on it,” said Bell. “We just couldn’t finish.”
It’s one thing when you’re an underdog to a last-place team, but when you wind up losing by three touchdowns, the wounds are so fresh and so deep everybody’s usually afraid to put their finger on anyone.
But it’s not as complicated as this club and its coaching staff likes to make it.
Haley has been the offensive coordinator in 38 games since the “retirement” of Bruce Arians, much reviled in the same role in the previous five seasons. The Steelers are 19-19 in those 38.
In the 38 games before Arians “retired,” the Steelers were 27-11. In his five seasons with Tomlin, the Steelers were 55-25, winning 12 games three times.
It’s a little different now.
With a healthy and resourceful quarterback in the prime of his career, with one of the most dynamic receivers in the league, with a versatile stud running back flashing Franco Harris-type production credentials, with a decorated tight end and offensive line anchored by a three-time Pro Bowl center, the Steelers are averaging one or two touchdowns per game.
That’s without the inconvenience of facing a single defense ranked among the league’s top 15.
One touchdown at Jacksonville.
One at Cleveland.
A pedestrian total of 24 points at home against a Tampa Bay club that Sunday held Baltimore to 48.
It’s not exactly a stretch to conclude that it’s time to try someone else in that spot.
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