Kovacevic: Why Haley, LeBeau could be out
BOSTON — Tom Brady could throw for 10 touchdowns, Ben Roethlisberger could take 10 sacks behind 10 different linemen, Antonio Brown could catch 10 screens for 10 total yards, Ryan Clark could spend the first 10 defensive snaps still searching for Terrelle Pryor, and the Steelers on this Sunday ultimately could lose to the Patriots by a tenfold margin.
Moreover, it could set them on the way to losing the final 10 games.
And through it all, there would be nothing remotely tenuous about Mike Tomlin's job status.
Nor Kevin Colbert's.
Neither is going anywhere, and I'll happily lay down a 10-spot to back it up. The Rooneys trust these men. They'll stick by them.
But that shouldn't be taken to mean no change will happen.
Looking ahead, and assuming these Steelers keep plodding along with a couple wins here against a handful of losses there, I easily can lay out a 10-point case for why both coordinators, Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau, the next men down the ladder, won't be back in 2014:
10. Ben vs. Todd
Let's get this out of the way early because I don't believe it will be decisive. Not singularly, anyway.
Still, a QB and his coordinator must be on the same page, and it's clear these two aren't. Whether it's Ben deferring all questions about playcalling to Haley or describing how he's left out of scripting a game's opening 10 plays — both happened this week — it can't go on.
9. Philip Rivers?
Think such a relationship is overrated?
Tell it to the Chargers' QB, an exasperating underachiever for years under Norv Turner but now a big hit under first-year coordinator Ken Whisenhunt: Rivers' 111.1 passer rating is No. 2 in the NFL, sandwiched between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, and he leads the league in completion percentage at 73.9.
Rivers is 31. He didn't suddenly figure himself out without help.
8. Haley's messes
Whether it's the two local lawsuits against Haley from his house-builders and his dog-walkers — oh, go look that one up yourself — or being seen at a hotel bar in the wee hours before a 1 p.m. kickoff or even that playful ‘Chiefs suck' napkin scribble that went viral ... fair game or not, that's a whole lot more drama than all of the Rooneys, Tomlin and Colbert have combined to produce over the last decade.
The Rooneys, in particular, aren't drama fans.
7. The defense stinks
Might seem harsh given the No. 4 ranking in yards allowed, but the bottom line is that this defense doesn't get to the football. And sacks and takeaways rule in this game, as those awful 8-0 Chiefs can attest.
This is hardly all on LeBeau, of course. He's been more aggressive with blitzes to no avail, and injuries have forced him to use six defensive backs extensively. You'll see a ton more of the latter against the Patriots, in fact.
But it is LeBeau's defense, and it isn't frightening or fooling anyone anymore — not even Jake Locker, Matt Cassel, Geno Smith and Pryor.
6. The offense stinks more
You don't really need to read more about this, do you?
OK, good. Let's move on ...
5. A different game
When focusing on all the individual offensive shortcomings, it's easy to lose the forest: These Steelers are, to a large extent, playing a different game with the football than the rest of the league. Just flick through the channels on any Sunday, and you'll see teams relentlessly passing downfield. It's the way of the new NFL, in which rules protect the QB and receivers more than ever.
Haley's answer is to build an offense off screens, most of which work as well as a screen door on a submarine.
That has to change, no matter who is coordinator.
4. Wilson's turn
Had running backs coach Kirby Wilson not been badly burned in a house fire nearly two years ago, he'd surely have been coordinator all this time.
Well, Wilson never missed a practice or a game, recovering amazingly well. To boot, he's respected for his knowledge as well as his boundless energy — the man sprints during drills almost as much as his backs — and a human touch.
And if he was qualified for the job then ...
3. Butler's turn
It's been an even longer wait for linebackers coach Keith Butler, who has stayed with the Steelers primarily because of the transparent promise that he'll succeed LeBeau.
Butler is known and respected not just in Pittsburgh but throughout the industry. He won't wait forever.
2. A fond farewell
On that note, there are precious few figures in football more respected — as a Hall of Fame player, as a coach and, above all, as a person — than LeBeau. I cringe at even connecting him and Haley for this column. They've got next to nothing in common.
LeBeau and the Steelers have enjoyed an extraordinary ride. The man shouldn't be remembered as anything less than a total triumph.
But he'll be 77 next year, Butler 57, and the latter has earned a chance of his own.
1. Tomlin deserves it
No matter what all concerned insist, I'll never believe that anyone below Art Rooney II hired Haley. Too much from that time period points that way. And that wasn't fair to Tomlin, a richly successful head coach who deserves to pick his own coordinators. He was fortunate to inherit LeBeau, not so much Haley.
I've been tough on Tomlin this season. A lot of us have, and he's deserved most of the criticism coming from all over. But I still think a ton of him as a head coach and would welcome seeing if he can bounce back with fresh wingmen.
I'll give 10-to-1 odds.