Steelers offensive coordinator Haley looks for red-zone upgrade
Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing; Antonio Brown led the league in receiving; and Le'Veon Bell led the AFC in rushing.
And the Steelers finished the season as the second-best offense in the NFL, making it quite the challenge for Todd Haley to identify flaws in the offseason.
Haley found one, which he's known about for a while — red-zone offense.
Talking to the media on Wednesday for the first time since leading up to the AFC wild-card game, the Steelers offensive coordinator identified red-zone scoring as the main concern from last years's record-setting offense.
“I think it is an area of emphasis for us,” Haley said. “We got in there a bunch. You always want to get in there. That will be a goal.”
The Steelers struggled scoring touchdowns once they got inside the opponents' 20-yard line, especially in the first half of the year when their ranking plummeted to the bottom of the league.
They rebounded in the second half of the season, led by a 5-for-5 performance against the Indianapolis Colts that sparked a three-week stretch (all wins) in which they converted 10 of 12 inside the 20.
That coincided with the Steelers changing their practice routine and starting team drills during practice by placing the ball at the 2. They've continued to do that throughout offseason practices as well and hope the improvement continues.
“We have to finish the ball in the end zone,” Haley said. “We did a good job of scoring touchdowns outside the red zone, and we were pretty explosive in that area. … But when we get down in there tight, where football gets tough, we have to get the ball in the end zone whether it is running it or throwing it.”
The Steelers scored touchdowns on 51.7 percent of their trips inside the red zone a year ago, which ranked 19th in the league. They also weren't good at goal-line offense, finishing 28th in scoring touchdowns at a 27-percent clip. However, they still finished seventh in points.
Haley knows where his offense can recoup some of those points — when the Steelers cross the 35-yard line.
Haley did an impromptu study last year after the Steelers fell to 3-3 with a loss to the Browns. He discovered that the offense left 37 points on the board because it failed to score once crossing the 35.
“What kept us from being really good was the fact that we had too many possessions where we had no points, whether we had an ill-timed sack that took us out of field-goal range and didn't let us kick the ball or a couple of turnovers,” Haley said. “When we get inside that 35, we have to get points, whether it is three or seven and those add up quick.”
Haley also addressed a number of other topics:
• Taking chances down field: “Each and every play we throw the football, there are opportunities to throw it down the field. Coverage will dictate whether you can or can't a lot of the time. What Ben did last year real well was make good decisions and make them real quick. Every play there is going to be those opportunities.”
• Roethlisberger scrambling: “I think what he did as well as anything last year was that he picked his spots. He knows that's something he can't do every single play. I thought he did a good job of picking those spots when to make Ben-like plays.”
• Running backs behind Bell: “I am a lot more confident than where I was last year. That's a good thing. We didn't have any warning (LeGarrette Blount's cut) was going to happen last year, and you are in the midst of a season and are practicing with the guys you are going to play with, so it was a little different of a situation.”
• DeAngelo Williams: “DeAngelo is an accomplished running back in this league. This is as a pass catcher also. You might not feature him, but I think he is going to be where he needs to be, and he will make plays afterwards.”
• Bell's suspension and how it affects camp: “I don't think it will play out a whole lot different just because in training camp we are splitting the reps, and we are trying to evaluate guys. We have to get everybody ready and make decisions on who the best guys are.”
• Landry Jones: “He's been a little up and down. That's a tough spot to be in, being the third guy.”