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New offensive coordinator Todd Haley should help point the Steelers’ attack in the right direction.
The installation of Todd Haley as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator has concerned some about the philosophical approach of coach Mike Tomlin’s squad. However, I believe Haley will make the offense more balanced and dangerous in 2012. Here are three reasons why:
The Steelers will re-establish a dominant running game.
One of the biggest motivating factors behind Tomlin’s decision to bring Haley aboard was a desire to get the Steelers back to their running roots. Although Haley’s offensive background is deeply based in the passing game (he was a wide receiver coach/passing game coordinator prior to serving as an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL), he is an adaptable offensive architect willing to build game plans around the strengths of his personnel. When he was with the Kansas City Chiefs, Haley built around a dynamic duo at running back (Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles) and a rugged offensive line. As a result, the Chiefs perennially ranked as one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks during his tenure, including leading the league in 2010.
In Pittsburgh, Haley inherits a unit built to pummel opponents behind a reconstructed offensive line. With Maurkice Pouncey manning the pivot and the recent additions of David DeCastro and Mike Adams, the Steelers’ front line features young, mobile blockers with the strength, agility and quickness to block inline or on the move. This allows Haley to incorporate a host of power runs that feature guards pulling from either side. The Steelers will have a numerical advantage at the point of attack, leading to bigger gains from runners on inside plays.
In addition to taking advantage of a rebuilt offensive line, Haley will have a talented, intriguing and underrated running back corps at his disposal. With Rashard Mendenhall still recovering from an torn ACL, Isaac Redman, John Clay and Jonathan Dwyer will pick up the slack, and all three have shown flashes in Mendenhall’s absence. Redman, in particular, is certainly capable of filling the role of lead back after showcasing his talents in two standout performances at the end of 2011, including a 17-carry, 121-yard outing in the AFC wild-card loss at Denver.
Measuring 6-foot and weighing 230 pounds, Redman is a hard-nosed runner with outstanding vision, quickness and burst. He excels at grinding between the tackles, but also possesses the speed to run away from defenders at the second level. His combination of physicality and elusiveness causes problems for opponents, and gives the Steelers’ running game an added dimension.
Given Haley’s history and commitment to the running game, the Steelers’ rush attack should return to prominence. And Redman could be the one to lead the way.
Big Ben will become more effective as a passer.
Ben Roethlisberger deserves a lot of credit for carrying the Steelers’ offense with his superb improvisational skills, but he will be a more effective quarterback in a structured scheme built on a diverse, play-action passing game. A clever utilization of run fakes will lure second-level defenders to the line of scrimmage, creating big-play opportunities for receivers on intermediate and deep throws.
During Roethlisberger’s most efficient season (2007), the Steelers had the NFL’s third-best rushing offense and featured a complementary passing game built on a series of play-action plays. That was no coincidence. Haley will emphasize a downhill running game with a lot of offensive line movement, and he will incorporate similar action up front to deceive linebackers keying on the guards. Haley will also instruct Roethlisberger to carry out his fakes and footwork to sell the run before redirecting his eyes down the field to his intended target.
In regard to routes, the Steelers will likely feature “989” (both outside receivers running go-routes with the tight end going to the post) and “568” (split end runs a comeback with the tight end on a square-in and flanker on a post). These will take advantage of the speed and explosiveness of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown on the outside, while capitalizing on the precise route-running of Heath Miller. The Steelers will also incorporate some bootleg and waggle passes to complement outside zone runs. Roethlisberger is athletic and mobile enough to work effectively on the perimeter, allowing the Steelers to manufacture more big plays in the passing game without having to risk throwing over the top of defenses.
Wallace and Brown will raise their respective games under Haley.
Haley has developed some of the finest receivers in the NFL with his tough-love approach. His list of pupils includes Pro Bowl players Keyshawn Johnson, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Dwayne Bowe. He has also transformed previously unheralded players like Steve Breaston into key contributors. In Pittsburgh, he inherits a pair of young stars in Wallace and Brown. Both topped the 1,000-yard mark a season ago and displayed the kind of explosiveness that puts fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators around the league.
Wallace, a fourth-year pro, has developed into one of the NFL’s finest deep threats. He has tallied 23 receptions of 40-plus yards, scoring 24 receiving touchdowns and averaging a whopping 18.7 yards per catch over three seasons. Wallace’s ability to run past defenders on vertical routes is astounding, and the Steelers routinely send him deep. Haley will push Wallace to become a better intermediate route runner, so that he can function as a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the passing game. He has made strides to improve on that aspect over the past two years, but further refining his route-running skills would help him deal with more physical defenders.
Brown, a third-year pro, has equally impressive speed, quickness and elusiveness. He is a dangerous playmaker with the ball in his hands, and the Steelers do a terrific job of giving it to him in space. Using crossing routes over the middle of the field and quick hitches on the perimeter, the Steelers frequently put Brown in the position to make catch-and-run plays. Haley will continue putting Brown in motion to generate big gains. When he was the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, Haley routinely used stack and bunch formations with an assortment of crossing routes to create mismatches for his receivers in space. By aligning Brown in various positions within the offensive formation, he can guarantee a free release for the slippery receiver, leading to more production.