Todd Haley, Steelers used to dealing with a shuffled deck
January 15, 2016 12:00 AM
Steelers' WR Antonio Brown greets offensive coordinator Todd Haley during practice Wednesday on the South Side, as QB Ben Roethlisberger stands behind them.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talks with offensive coordinator Todd Haley saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley put together game plans this season for three starting quarterbacks with markedly different skill sets. Including the AFC wild-card victory Saturday night in Cincinnati, his starting quarterback could not finish six of those games because of an injury, and yet the Steelers posted a 5-1 record in them.
There has been much more than juggling quarterbacks for Haley to deal with this season. The injured-reserve list has as many All-Pros as the 53-man roster.
All-Pro center (2014) Maurkice Pouncey went down with a season-ending leg injury in the preseason and All-Pro running back (2014) Le’Veon Bell suffered the same fate in Week 8. Not to mention losing left tackle Kelvin Beachum in Week 6 and Bell’s backup, DeAngelo Williams, in the regular-season finale.
SportsNOW: Steelers/Broncos and who is playing this weekend
This week on 'SportsNOW,' Dan Gigler and Gene Collier talk about last weekends matchup with the Bengels and Steeler injuries and this weekends game vs. the Denver Broncos and who they think we play. (Video by Melissa Tkach)
The Steelers found a way to beat the Bengals with running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman, who spent more time being inactive than active on game days in the regular season.
Now here comes Haley’s biggest challenge — formulating a playoff game plan full of contingencies to use against the NFL’s No. 1 defense. Two days remain before the Steelers and Broncos kick off an AFC divisional-round game in Denver, and Haley doesn’t have a clear picture of who will be available.
His three most important skill players are dealing with injuries that threaten to keep them out of the game. Williams has almost no shot to play for a second consecutive week. All-Pro receiver (2015) Antonio Brown has a concussion and has yet to practice this week. (The Steelers other 2015 All-Pro, guard David DeCastro, is healthy.) And Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was limited in practice the past two days by a sprained throwing shoulder.
Roethlisberger did not throw Wednesday or Thursday, but he is expected to throw today. The Steelers must disclose this afternoon if those players will be out, doubtful, questionable or probable.
At the very least, the Steelers are used to dealing with such contingencies.
“I do think that if there is a positive that having gone through it and [having] to shuffle some parts in and out and guys being ready to go, that’s a positive,” Haley said. “But we’re preparing like we do every week. The guys that are ready to go will be out there fighting their butts off to figure out a way to win.”
The Steelers have recent experience with Roethlisberger practicing little during the week, then playing in a game.
In early November, after Roethlisberger left the 38-35 victory against Oakland with a foot injury, he did little until the following Friday. Even then, he was limited in what he could do. The Steelers started Landry Jones against the Cleveland Browns, but, when he went down with an injury, the Steelers were forced to play Roethlisberger the remainder of the game.
All Roethlisberger did was throw for 379 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-9 victory at Heinz Field. They’ll be hoping for similar results Sunday if Roethlisberger is able to play.
“It’s very comforting,” Haley said. “The Cleveland week he didn’t get a bunch of reps and was able to step in when Landry got hurt and got the job done. All those guys are fighting to get back.”
Haley indicated if Roethlisberger plays, there won’t be limitations with his play-calling. He would expect Roethlisberger to be able to make all the throws he usually makes.
“I would expect if he has a helmet, then we’re ready to go full-go,” Haley said.
But time is running out for Brown and Williams. If they don’t practice today, there is little chance they will play Sunday.
Winning a playoff game on the road without your top receiver and with an injured quarterback might seem like a steep hill to climb, but the Steelers have plenty of milestones to look back on this season when it comes to overcoming adversity. They started Mike Vick against Arizona, the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, and then had to beat the Cardinals with then third-stringer Landry Jones after Vick was injured.
Jones stepped in and threw two second-half touchdown passes to help the Steelers win, 25-13. Vick was able to help the Steelers come home with a 12-6 victory in St. Louis after Roethlisberger left with the knee injury that kept him out for the next four weeks. He also got them a win two weeks later in San Diego.
It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Steelers won’t lack confidence if some or all their stars can’t play against the Broncos. One of Haley’s best attributes, offensive lineman Ramon Foster said, is coming up with ways to take advantage of the varying skill sets of his players.
“The thing I’ve seen from him is the way he’s adjusted to having different guys in there,” Foster said. “He caters stuff to Vick. He caters stuff to Landry. It’s good that we have a guy as good as he is that he can adjust like that.”
Considering his potential roster, its limitations, the opponent and the venue, Sunday just might be Haley’s biggest challenge this season.
“They’re very good with what they do,” he said of the Broncos defense. “They don’t do a lot. They’re not a defense that’s going to trick you a whole bunch, give you a bunch of exotic looks. You pretty much know what you’re getting, but they’re very good at doing it. We need to be on our stuff and be ready to win our one-on-one battles whether that’s linemen with protection, backs on linebackers or receivers on defensive backs.”
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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