Steelers film session: Coordinator Haley finds successful mix
In the months of offseason film work that led into organized team activities and into minicamp and then training camp, the Steelers envisioned their offense to operate a certain way this year.
But because of injuries and personnel changes, the offense quickly morphed into something they never would've envisioned four months ago: shotgun, quick throws, no-huddle and a lot of screen passes.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley needed to change his vision immediately.
In Sunday's 20-7 win over the Browns, Haley just might have given a glimpse into the future of how the Steelers offense could work next year: a power/no-huddle mix.
The Steelers used their no-huddle package to open up a 7-0 lead then followed that with a pounding power run attack that resulted in a 14-play drive that cumulated with Le'Veon Bell running over a couple Cleveland defenders for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
It started with the no-huddle.
The Steelers went no-huddle six times in the opening drive with Ben Roethlisberger picking apart the defense. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 54 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.
For the game, Roethlisberger was 8 of 12 for 102 yards, a touchdown and an interception out of the no-huddle. He also called three run plays that resulted in 18 yards. For the season, Roethlisberger was 102 of 163 for 1,221 yards and 10 touchdowns while in the no-huddle look. All but 26 of those attempts came in the final nine games when the Steelers went 6-3.
As for the power run game, the Steelers used that with their other touchdown drive. They used a two-tight end set six times and three tight ends once in the 14-play drive. If that wasn't enough, they used the Power O with either guard Ramon Foster or David DeCastro pulling three times.
In fact, the Steelers pulled DeCastro eight times (including one play wiped out because of a penalty) and Foster twice — almost 35 percent of the time the Steelers ran the ball.
It just might be a formula the Steelers go into this offseason wanting to use more in 2014.
• Troy Polamalu is at his best is when he is allowed to freelance around the field. It was evident Polamalu can create havoc even when he isn't involved in the play by what transpired late in the first quarter when Brett Keisel dropped Edwin Baker for no gain. With the Steelers in their base defense and Polamalu at the line of scrimmage, Browns quarterback Jason Campbell was going to throw the ball until he saw Polamalu drop back into deep coverage just before the snap. Campbell called off the pass and went to the run since there were only seven defenders in the box. Problem was that left tackle Joe Thomas apparently did get the call from Campbell as he kick-stepped back as if he was pass blocking while the rest of the line was run blocking. That miscommunication allowed Keisel to come free and make the tackle.
• Dick LeBeau went into the game wanting to use his base defense, and he did in the first half. The Steelers used their base 16 times in the first half compared to eight times they used the dime. That allowed Polamalu to stay away from playing linebacker. Polamalu lined up as the dime backer only three times in the first half. With the Steelers having a substantial lead in the second half, the philosophy changed. They used the base only eight times in the second half compared to 28 plays in the dime, forcing Polamalu into the inside linebacker position 16 times.
• Jerricho Cotchery has proven to be a reliable target in the red zone with his 10 touchdown catches, but the veteran receiver brings more to the table. Twice within a span of three plays midway through the third quarter, Cotchery ran interference on a horizontal route so that Antonio Brown could be targeted for first-down receptions. In both instances, Cotchery got in the way of a cornerback watching Brown just enough to re-route him before getting out of the way so there was no change of an illegal pick being called.
• Roethlisberger had his worst game against the Browns when it comes to passer rating (61.1), and a big reason for that was his trouble with passes down the field. Roethlisberger was 0 for 7 on passes thrown 20 yards down the field, including his first four incomplete passes. Roethlisberger completed of 19 of 31 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, both of which came on throws 20 yards or longer down the field. Roethlisberger finished the season completing 32 percent of his passes 20 yards down the field.
• LeBeau refused to let the Steelers allowed a big play in the pass game and did so by always keeping a deep safety. Ryan Clark rarely was within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and when he was, Polamalu was deep.