Haley enhances offense in second season
It's the Steelers' offense, but last season, it was known mostly for Todd Haley, the man who was calling the plays.
There were questions aplenty when the season started how a coach known for his sideline intensity as both an offensive coordinator and a head coach would mesh with Ben Roethlisberger, who was close friends with Haley's predecessor, Bruce Arians.
Those questions didn't go away when the quarterback questioned the play-calling following a late-season loss in Dallas. And when a promising start by the offense in which Roethlisberger piled up impressive numbers and the running game sizzled with a string of 100-yard games turned into an injury-filled, late-season mishmash of turnovers, missed opportunities and injuries.
And when Arians, shoved out the door in Pittsburgh, was chosen as the NFL Coach of the Year after taking over the Colts in an interim role.
It wasn't much of a homecoming for Haley, a Pittsburgh native and the son of longtime team player personnel director Dick Haley.
“When you don't make the playoffs and you don't get to compete in the tournament, it's no fun,” Haley said Tuesday during his first interview since the Steelers' disappointing 8-8 season ended. “It's too much work and sacrifice to sit at home and watch some teams that you may have beat or felt you could beat continue to play.”
No wonder that, this season, Haley hopes this offense becomes known as Roethlisberger's offense, or Emmanuel Sanders' offense or Le'veon Bell's offense, not his offense.
“You want your marquee-type players, your big dogs, to have input because they're the ones out there facing the live bullets,” said Haley, who altered some aspects of the offense as a result of the input of both players and coaches. “Just getting to know people, guys are just naturally more comfortable coming to you as coaches and saying, ‘Hey what do you think about this? What do you think about that?' As a coach, from a very early stage in my career, I've been taught that if guys believe in something, they tend to take accountability in it and things work out in a good way.”
He added: “You want your guys out there, especially Ben, who's handling the football hopefully on an every-down basis, to really feel invested in what's going on.”
Roethlisberger thinks everyone on the offense is more comfortable than they were last year, when there were numerous changes made in the way they called plays and — the plays they called — from the Arians way.
“When Todd came in, it was the exact same play that we had the past couple of years but it was called something completely different,” Roethlisberger said. “It was just hard for us to make sense of something completely new. So we've gone back to what is familiar to a lot of guys.”
Now, Haley said, “We feel night and day ahead of where we were last year at this time and I think (Roethlisberger would) say the same thing.”
Still, new terminology and tweaked plays won't make up for losing deep-threat wide receiver Mike Wallace and two-time 1,000-yard running back Rashard Mendenhall to free agency, and tight end Heath Miller (knee) for what likely is to be the first part of the season.
And Haley must find a way for what was the Steelers' second-worst rushing offense in 34 years to become more efficient even as Bell, a rookie, and holdovers Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman compete to start.
“We didn't run the ball nearly efficiently enough, in my opinion, to be a great offense,” Haley said of what was the NFL's No. 21 offense. “If you're an efficient running offense, there are going to be productive runs that get you into the scoring zone. If we get in there, I think we'll be good and, once we get in there, we'll score some points.”
And if that happens, nobody will care what the offense is called. Least of all Todd Haley.