One of the big advantages of bringing in someone from the outside to run the Steelers offense is that they have no allegiance to any of the current players on the roster. Haley can look objectively at each position and decide who will best fit the philosophy he has for the team. He will be a breathe of fresh air for the offense and be able to evaluate each players performance and decide how to best utilize them, if at all, for next year.
Had the team promoted QB Coach Randy Fichtner as many had thought would be a logical option, including myself, they would run the risk of things not changing the way that President Art Rooney II made clear that he wants. Fichtner would have been a good choice and nobody could have really argued against it but in the end the Rooney’s wanted to get a new outlook on an offense that underachieved in the running game and in the redzone in 2011. The Steelers were a mediocre 17th overall in the NFL last season, scoring TD’s just 50.91% of the time while inside the 20 yard line.
As much as Head Coach Mike Tomlin seemed to be tied at the hip with Bruce Arians, he’s no dummy either when it comes to productivity of his offense. He knows that things must change and from what we saw in the press conference last week, Tomlin appears pretty excited about the hiring. Haley’s reputation for being able to adapt the offense to the players on the team is one of the things that had to really intrigue the Steelers. As we mentioned previously in this article, he’s no stranger to putting together a prolific offense. In 2008 the Cardinals were second in the league in passing, and in 2010 the Chiefs were first overall in rushing the ball.
Fortunately the Steelers don’t have much dead weight at the skill positions so that will make Haley’s job a bit easier in that regard. Every target that Roethlisberger has to throw to is a proven commodity capable of big plays when called upon. Both Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both had over 1,000 yds receiving last year and had Emmanuel Sanders been able to stay healthy he could have hit that mark as well. Heath Miller is still a reliable outlet for Roethlisberger; don’t be surprised if Haley’s offense uses Heath in a more prominent role in 2012.
The potential dead weight comes on the offensive line. How much longer will they go with the status quo of guys like Chris Kemoeatu & Trai Essex for example. Both have been serviceable at best but sooner or later you want to see what else is out there. The offensive line has been a problem for years, really since Super Bowl XL. That’s as good a place as any for Haley to start making his mark on this team. Sean Kugler has done a remarkable job with the players he’s been given to work with but he’s been handicapped by injuries and poor play far too long now. If Tomlin and Haley want to move this team forward, especially in the redzone, then you have to exhaust every possible option in fixing the line. They’ve started laying the foundation with draft picks like Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert but there is still work to be done. When push comes to shove, the big guys up front better be able to do both consistently in every phase of the game, in every situation. When is the last time you saw a Steelers O-Line be able to do that?
How will Haley determine who is the best ball carrier? If Rashard Mendenhall isn’t ready to go by training camp the decision will be more simplified. Isaac Redman would be the man but then you have to decide amongst a stable of young backs who is going to give you the best option for the future. Perhaps Mewelde Moore’s time has gone and rookie Baron Batch is ready to step in and assume that role. Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay will battle it out under the watchful eye of Haley; it would behoove both of them to have a very good training camp that’s for sure.
With Roethlisberger, Haley should be able to take the things that Ben does well and improve upon them. That’s what you want out of a coach. Even the best QB’s can improve their game as they get older. That doesn’t mean you limit Ben or try to pull him back, but rather find ways to do what he does and translate that into even more production and hopefully less sacks. Like we mentioned, getting a solid line of blockers will be a big step in the right direction of offensive production.
Having Haley run the offense now should make for some very interesting decisions not only coming up in the draft but also in offseason workouts and in Latrobe. Final roster cuts will be where we really see his mark on this team for the first time.