Steelers' offense lags behind times
Al Michaels knows what everyone in Pittsburgh is thinking: It's going to take a miracle to get the Steelers' offense turned around.
“I know they're going crazy,” Michaels said, referring to Steelers' fans reaction to the no-go offense. “It looks like a doomsday scenario.”
Michaels, the iconic announcer who will call the Bears-Steelers game Sunday night for NBC, has witnessed plenty of trends, gimmicks and supposedly unstoppable systems come and go during his nearly three decades of broadcasting NFL games.
The run and shoot. The wildcat. The shotgun. The no-huddle. The hurry-up. Last season it was the read option; this season it's the Eagles' frenzied don't-take-a-breath pace.
Then there are the supposedly behind-the-time Steelers, relegated to life in the slow lane by an unfashionable and antiquated offense. They're trying to win with a balanced blend of run and pass during a time when teams are piling up passing yardage faster than ever with myriad modernistic offenses.
Already this season the NFL set all-time highs for passing yards (8,143) and touchdowns (63) in Week 1. Through two games, the numbers are 16,355 passing yards and 111 touchdowns. There have been four times as many 100-yard receivers as 100-yard rushers.
The Steelers? They rank 31st in total offense, 31st in rushing and 27th in passing, all while playing a conservative, straight-out-of-the-'60s style that emphasizes running the ball to set up the pass.
Todd Haley, the offensive coordinator charged by upper management with restoring the run upon his hiring 18 months ago, insists that “balance is not something that's high on the priority list.”
“I don't care if we throw it 40 times and run it 10 times,” he said, “as long as we win.”
Haley's ball-control system is designed to keep the sticks moving with short to intermediate passes commingling with a mix of runs and the occasional deep ball. It worked well while the Steelers ran off four straight victories at midseason a year ago, with Roethlisberger putting up seven touchdown passes and two interceptions and Jonathan Dwyer (twice) and Isaac Redman combining for three 100-yard games.
But after Roethlisberger injured his shoulder and upper chest in a victory over the Chiefs that pushed the Steelers to 6-3, all has broken down. There hasn't been a 100-yard rusher since, and Roethlisberger's stats have diminished significantly: 66.1 completion percentage, 17 touchdown passes, four interceptions pre-injury; 57.1 completion percentage, 11 touchdown passes, six interceptions post-injury.
Other injuries (Heath Miller, Mike Adams, Le'Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert) also were depleting.
Still, if Miller returns and is healthy, Bell comes back from a mid-foot sprain with the speed and power he flashed during training camp and the offensive line stabilizes, the offense quickly could look better.
Since the start of last season, the Steelers are 16th in passing — ahead of Andy Dalton's Bengals, Robert Griffin III's Redskins, Philip Rivers' Chargers, Colin Kaepernick's 49ers, Jay Cutler's Bears and Russell Wilson's Seahawks.
The offense has been stalled by turnovers — the Steelers have had three costly ones already this season — and too many third-and-long situations brought on by a running game that ranks 28th since the start of last season.
“You can only get (a belief in the system) instilled by winning and having some success,” ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said. “If your running back is a stable back and your quarterback is stable, that's half the battle right there. That's their problem now: They've got no runner that is consistent.”
Haley said, “I think last year, throughout the offseason and into this year, there's been a natural evolution of guys developing that trust and confidence (in the offense). The problem is we aren't getting results. That's what needs to be fixed.”
If there is any team that can fix them, it's the Steelers, Michaels said.
“A year ago, any owner who is looking for a coach is basically saying, ‘I want to find the next Mike Tomlin,' ” Michaels said. “Now he's a bum? How does that happen? ... But that's life in the NFL.
“The difference between being 0-2 and being 2-0 is razor thin.”