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Kovacevic: Haley's Chapter 1 not so bad

| Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, 12:06 a.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws complete to Mike Wallace during the first quarter against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws complete to Mike Wallace during the first quarter against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

DENVER — The impression left all through the Steelers' training camp and preseason was that Todd Haley's playbook — the No. 1 issue then, now and probably for weeks to come — would lean toward power running, would limit Ben Roethlisberger's punishment and would still leave room for Ben to be Ben.

And now that they've finally peeled open the first chapter?

Check, check and CHECK.

Look, I know the 31-19 loss to the Broncos on Sunday night won't play well back home. The outcome was ugly, the late pick-six Roethlisberger threw late was uglier, and the defensive secondary was ugliest of all in getting decimated by a good-as-new Peyton Manning.

But Haley's offense?

Ask me, and there were signs there of something solid, sustainable and maybe even career-saving for the $100 million franchise quarterback.

Ask others, and they'll agree.

“I thought we did pretty well,” Roethlisberger replied to my broad-picture query on the topic. “We were going against a great defense in a hostile environment. We did a lot of no-huddle, mixing things in. We used a lot of clock, worked down the field, made plays when we needed to. ... Overall, I was happy with the way the guys handled the offense.”

Without a doubt, the new offensive coordinator had his head-scratching sequences.

It's odd to see any NFL team run the ball all through midfield, only to turn to the pass inside the red zone.

It's odd to see Roethlisberger take his first deep shot of the game in the fourth quarter.

It's odd to see a roster that's legitimately four wide receivers deep go with a four wide-set just once in the first half.

It's odd to see, on first-and-15, Isaac Redman sweep to the left.

Actually, that last one was borderline bizarre.

But you know what?

For the most part, I'll share the sentiment of Mike Wallace: “We did OK.”

Set aside the numbers. Roethlisberger finished 22 of 40 for 245 yards with two touchdowns. That won't make anyone forget Tommy Maddox, let alone Tom Brady.

Set aside the pick, too, even if he can't.

“Throwing that pick ... that's on me,” Roethlisberger said. “I already told my coaches and teammates, it's my fault. That loss is squarely on my shoulders.”

If that's fair – and it isn't given how the defense bent and eventually broke — then it's also fair to examine some facets of the offense that might have gone overlooked while Western Pennsylvania was bowing anew before the altar of Bruce Arians:

• The Steelers dominated time of possession, 35:05 to 24:55. That limited Manning's time on the field, if not necessarily his efficiency. It was easy to forget at times he was in the building.

The four scores came on consecutive drives of 10, 14, 16 and 14 plays, consuming a total of 26:51 off the clock.

“The best thing we did in this game was keep them off the field,” Redman said.

• Roethlisberger ended up being sacked five times, but that's misleading. He hadn't even been touched until midway through the third quarter when 190-pound cornerback Chris Harris sneaked through. The rest came late, as the offense was going for broke.

The overall good protection happened even though Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert were lost early to injuries.

“I thought we showed we could move the ball and protect,” guard Willie Colon said.

This is no small issue. Roethlisberger is 30. He can't go on limping his whole career.

• The Steelers got it done on third down, often effortlessly, in converting 11 of 19. Almost always, it was a quick underneath route.

“We put together some long drives, made plays when they counted,” tight end Heath Miller said.

• I'll say it again: Ben was Ben when he wanted to be.

“There was a lot of work out of the no-huddle,” he said.

That's Rosetta Stone code for Roethlisberger having called a lot of his own shots. He seemed satisfied by that, and I'll have to assume Haley was, too, though he won't be available for interviews until later in the week.

It can get better, no question. More home run attempts. More Chris Rainey than two touches. More power near the goal line.

It didn't all go by the script, but the opening chapter of the new offense was much better than the cover might show.

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