During the 2009 season, shortly after the Steelers lost their third game in a row, head coach Mike Tomlin uttered this now infamous phrase: "We will unleash Hell here in December." Yeah, that didn't work out too well. The only Hell unleashed was by the other teams, and that three game losing streak eventually grew to five.
There is another more popular Tomlinism that has managed to stand the test of time: "Style points don't matter." It's a twist on Chuck Noll's old phrase: "Whatever it takes." In other words, it doesn't matter how you get the job done, just get it done.
However, while style points may not matter to Tomlin or the Steelers, most fans in the Nation sure do seem to like a certain kind of football. And when I say "a certain kind of football," I'm talking about the running game.
After struggling mightily on the ground under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley during Pittsburgh's 2-3 start, the offense has averaged 155 rushing yards a game during the three-game winning streak. When I talk to people about the team's rushing resurgence, you can see the excitement on their faces.
And when it comes to Haley vs. former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, there is no question who the fans prefer. "Haley's offense is more balanced, more efficient, and way more unpredictable than it was under Arians."
But are things really that much different with the Steelers' offense under Haley? Sure, the style is certainly different, but the results seem about the same.
Pittsburgh finished 12th in total offense a season ago (372 YPG). Heading into Week 10, the Steelers are 13th in total offense (367 YPG). In fact, Pittsburgh's current ranking matches the average finish for the offense under Arians during his five seasons as play-caller.
Right now, the Steelers offense ranks second in time of possession with 34:40 minutes per game. While that might be great news for fans who have long yearned for the offense to get back to "possession football," the fact is, Pittsburgh ranked in the top five in that category in each season of BA's run as offensive coordinator, and a season ago, the offense finished first in that category at 32:28 minutes per game.
As for the passing game, there is no question that, after years of using the long-ball to attack opposing defenses, the offense has been converted to more of a "dink and dunk" style under Haley--in Week 6, Isaac Redman became the first Steelers running back in over 40 years to eclipse 100 receiving yards in a game in the loss to the Titans. In years past, the offense would average five or six deep balls a game to wide receiver Mike Wallace (regarded by many to be the best deep threat in the NFL). In 2012, however, the offense is only taking one or two shots down field every week.
Is this a good thing? Some think it is, but I can't figure out why. If you have a weapon, why not use it? The Steelers receiving corps is regarded by many as the best in the league. If that's the case, why not maximize its fullest potential?
A quote from Wallace in a recent Tribune Review article:
"Last year, we went deep so much that guys would back up all the time," he said Thursday. "This year, we've been going (short) so much, guys I think are kind of forgetting who we are when it comes to deep balls. They're forgetting we're the best in the world. We need to remind them."
Of course, there has been one major benefit that has come from the dink and dunk style, and that's the health of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has only been sacked 17 times so far this season. At that current pace, Roethlisberger will be sacked 34 times in 16 games in 2012 as opposed to 40 in 15 games a year ago.
Speaking of Pittsburgh's franchise quarterback, with 16 touchdown passes to only four interceptions and a 101.1 quarterback rating (his career rating coming into the season was 92.9), Big Ben's teammates have started to campaign for him as a candidate for league MVP. However, a season ago at this time, Roethlisberger had 14 touchdowns to go along with seven interceptions, and his 2187 passing yards through eight weeks basically matches the 2203 he has at the halfway point in 2012.
As for the ground game, a season ago, the Steelers averaged 115 yards on the ground through eight weeks as opposed to 104.9 so far this season. In all fairness to Haley, Arians had a healthy Rashard Mendenhall to use for most of 2011, while Pittsburgh has had to turn to a "running back by committee" approach in 2012 thanks to a rash of injuries in the offensive backfield.
In terms of points per game, the offense is averaging 23.9 per game through eight weeks as opposed to 22 a game a year ago at this time. Not much of a difference, and even though Pittsburgh eventually finished 21st in that category in 2011 with 20.5 per game, it is worth noting the offense struggled mightily over the last month of the season after it was hit by a rash of injuries--led by the high ankle sprain suffered by Roethlisberger in a Thursday night game in early December. It's also worth noting the 23.9 per game is just over a point more than the offense averaged during Arians's five seasons at the helm.
In conclusion, while I like most aspects of Haley's new offense, the bottomline is overall production, and just like in recent seasons under Arians, it seems like the offense is just falling short of its true potential.
If you're all about "style-points," Haley's system is probably right up your alley--Heath Miller is having a career year with six touchdown catches through eight weeks, and everyone loves "HEATH!". However, a big part of the reason there was a change at offensive coordinator was to get the most out of a unit that many thought had the chance to be very dynamic and explosive.
There is no question Haley is an emotional guy. It would be nice if his offense started to "unleash some Hell" in the second half of the season. What better time to start than on Monday Night Football against a 1-7 Chiefs team that fired him as head coach a year ago?