When starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out indefinitely with a shoulder and rib injury, Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin elected to go with the strong-armed, but brittle boned Byron Leftwich over the venerated Charlie Batch to start against the AFCN leading Baltimore Ravens. With that selection, the onus for developing a last minute game plan to play to Leftwich’s strengths fell to offensive coach Todd Haley.
When Leftwich fell over his own feet and came up grimacing in the end zone after scoring on what would be the Steelers’ only touchdown of the night, the onus then fell again to Haley to monitor his backup’s performance and make any necessary changes.
Haley and Tomlin both failed to do so.
On a night that saw a weakened Ravens defense both against the run and the pass continue to have its troubles, the so-called offensive genius of Todd Haley was nowhere to be found. Despite Leftwich’s personal gutsy play, and with his arm strength draining away throughout the course of the game, Haley performed more like the worst of former Steeler OC Bruce Arians: he stubbornly stuck to whatever over-thought game plan he had in mind despite the very visible evidence on the field that the player responsible for carrying out that plan was unable to do so.
Over the Steelers’ previous four games, they ran on average 46 percent of the time despite having the tenth highest rated quarterback in terms of passer rating in Ben Roethlisberger for all but the last quarter and change of the Kansas City Chiefs game.
For the entire Ravens game, despite Leftwich’s injury which occurred on the third play of the game after only one minute 29 seconds, the Steelers ran the ball just 27 times or a measly 39 percent of their plays.
Running back Jonathan Dwyer averaged 4.7 yards a carry on just 12 carries for the game; however, in the second half when a consistent running game would ground the hapless Ravens defense down and minimize the risk of further scores, Dwyer’s number was called just seven times, despite his production rate of 5.7 yards a carry in that half.
Is there a reason why Dwyer does not get the ball more? Has he somehow offended Haley with his two one hundred yard games? Or does he have some sort of clause in his contract that keeps a permanent reservation for him in Tomlin’s dog house?
This game was a travesty of coaching. The only thing saving Tomlin from more blame was the fact that he actually got his one challenge of the night right, thus not blowing the last time-out the Steelers had in the second half. This successful challenge of the referee’s mistaken placement of the ball on (who else?) Dwyer’s run late in the fourth quarter did more to help the Steelers than anything Haley has done since the Chiefs game in terms of play calling.
You may recall in that game, the Steelers were penalized deep in their own territory; it was a third and 29 play, the Chiefs stacked the box, and Haley called for a handoff to Isaac Redman. On a third and 29? A run? Really?
And yet on a night when his quarterback was a lame duck, and he had a running back who was punishing the Ravens at 5.7 yards a clip, Haley kept calling pass play after pass play; 22 times in the second half Haley had Leftwich throw, with only 11 completions for a 4.2 yard per catch and an interception. Even if the Ravens’ secondary had been the ball hawking carrion eaters of old, they probably could not have intercepted more of Leftwich’s passes; that’s how poorly they were thrown.
After the announcement that Todd Haley was being hired as the new offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, both the blogosphere and the main stream media waited with baited breath for Haley’s reputation as a hot head to cause an explosion between himself and the Steelers’ very independent thinking franchise quarterback.
As recent as a few weeks ago, journalists were opining as to whether such an explosion had occurred but was being effectively covered up by Tomlin and the Steelers front office, or whether bad blood between Haley and Roethlisberger was slowly coming to a boil.
Who would have thought that instead of Haley’s temper exploding, his "genius" as an offensive game planner; his reputation as a wunderkind able to assess the talent he has on hand and spin gold from dross, would instead implode as it did this past game against the Ravens claiming as its victim quite possibly any chance the Steelers have of controlling their own destiny by catching the Ravens early instead of waiting for some other team’s offensive genius to figure out how to beat them?