Kovacevic: In Todd Steelers trust? Why?

| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

I could rip Todd Haley, and it wouldn't even be sport.

I could rip the Steelers' offensive coordinator for a display so sickly — 14 first downs, 195 yards — that it not only wrought a 16-9 loss to a terribly beatable Tennessee team Sunday at Heinz Field but also had fans fleeing for the exits.

Early in the fourth quarter!

Of the season opener!

I could rip Haley for a third-and-11 receiver screen to Emmanuel Sanders in which tight end David Paulson, who can't block, was sent out to block. Paulson whiffed, and Sanders was slammed for a 2-yard loss.

A loss!

I could rip Haley for having all of halftime to script the following sequence to open the second half: Dump to LaRod Stephens-Howling, run by Stephens-Howling, incomplete dump to Stephens-Howling.

And the first two plays of the next series plowed little LaRod right into the heart of the Titans' stout line.

Five LaRods in a row!

He didn't get featured like that in Pitt vs. The Citadel!

I could even rip Haley for the sequence that led to the lone touchdown, of all things: Counting every tick close to the two-minute warning and having first-and-goal at the Tennessee 4, the Steelers tried a pass shy of the goal line. Incomplete. Then another pass shy of the goal line. Incomplete. Then another pass shy of the goal line. Tackled short.

It wasn't until Jerricho Cotchery was found just across the goal line that the Steelers scored with 1:26 left.


I could rip Haley from now till next Monday, time he'll no doubt invest in drawing up more gems for LaRod, bum knee and all, to beat the Bengals all by his lonesome.

But no, I won't do that.

I'll let Mike Tomlin do it.

The coach was asked if there had been confusion leading to Isaac Redman's opening-drive fumble into the Tennessee end zone that should have staked the Steelers a 9-0 lead, and Tomlin replied: “There was. We had a miscommunication in terms of the personnel group.”

Redman clarified: There were supposed to be two tailbacks on that play, Felix Jones the other. The aim is to keep the defense guessing which way the ball will go. But the Steelers' players noticed upon breaking huddle that fullback David Johnson was out there instead, and only a few seconds were left on the play clock. Redman instructed D.J. to line up behind him in the unfamiliar tailback slot.

No way D.J. was getting the ball, of course, and it was probably all the Titans could do no to bust out laughing. Redman said they were all “pointing at me.”

Setting aside that the fumble resulted from a high handoff by Ben Roethlisberger, how does that happen?

Well, since Tomlin called it a “miscommunication,” and it didn't occur on the field, that's the coordinator's job.

But wait. Tomlin wasn't done doing my job in ripping Haley.

Asked why the running game wasn't there after Maurkice Pouncey's injury — a whole 28 yards on 14 carries by the backs — the coach's answer was crushing in its candor: “We didn't execute. They did. They had a nice plan. Our plan could have been better under the circumstances. Obviously, we had intended on using Kelvin Beachum some at tight end. When he had to go to center, that changed. We didn't adjust well enough. I take responsibility for that.”

Fine, but responsibility for the “plan” that Tomlin cites is that of the coordinator.

So, um, wow.

Look, there was blame to go around, not least of which was cruel fate for cutting down Pouncey and Larry Foote to potentially season-ending injuries. Blame Kevin Colbert and Tomlin, too, for the still-inexplicable release of Jonathan Dwyer. Blame Tomlin for not having his team ready and for sitting Jarvis Jones on the series after he went all Jadeveon Clowney on Chris Johnson. Blame Sanders for flat-out not showing up. Blame Danny Smith's special teams for two more dumb flags.

And by all means, blame the offensive line in full throat.

But sorry, I can't get past that Haley had all summer to prepare for the Titans, including a kumbaya with his QB and a clarification of all terminology and other happy stuff, and this was the result?

A botched goal-line setup and an endless array of silly screens and sideline routes?

Roethlisberger blamed himself — “Not good enough, point blank” — but his exasperation was visible on the field, and only he can say if that was for execution or the “plan.”

Tomlin's correct: The “plan” isn't good enough. Hasn't been good enough for a year and change now.

So who's still sticking up for the planner?

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