Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Kudos to Todd Haley for brushing off Ben Roethlisberger's criticism of his playcalling in a 27-24 loss to Dallas in Week 15. Considering the situation, that's exactly how he should have handled it.
Those affirmations can confidently be said as the Steelers head into a huge Week 16 game against Cincinnati because Haley wisely took the high road with reporters Thursday, welcoming conflict and understanding why Roethlisberger may have been frustrated.
"I think healthy conflict, discussion, banter is good because it gets you to the right place and gets everyone on the same page and where you need to be," Haley said. "Like I've said a number of times, when I make a call into Ben's ear in the game I'm putting complete faith in him to make it the best call it can be. The same goes for him."
Coaches don't often air grievances in public. Coordinators, probably even less often. Just as Roethlisberger is allowed to have frustrations after the team's second straight defeat - one in which Roethlisberger's interception set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.
It's a fair assumption to suggest Haley feels Roethlisberger has made mistakes this year, but he isn't calling him out publicly on it, nor should he. Roethlisberger is known to make passive-aggressive criticism in the media from time to time, but he's an emotional player, and that was a painfully emotional loss.
His comments are understandable, if not constructive.
Haley took it even further, suggesting those comments are welcomed. That's not the action of someone embittered over the whole affair. And maybe they hug it out and become stronger people for it.
With that said and done, playcalling and performance can and should be questioned after that game. And they aren't the only ones who should feel the pressure right now. A season that was rolling in Pittsburgh's favor has fallen apart, and while criticism alone isn't going to make it turn back around, that discord is healthy and productive.
Provided there's action behind it.
The Steelers took the Bengals' defense behind the shed the last time they played. They're certainly not the same team they were, but the back-to-back 17 rush weeks can't be the game plan heading into Week 16. The Bengals front seven is among the most talented in the game, and letting them tee off on an inexperienced offensive line (rookies David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum will start their second games together) does not seem like a winning strategy.
Hopefully Roethlisberger - a strong advocate of Pittsburgh's hurry-up offense - recognizes the fact there's a direct correlation between the Steelers losing the time of possession battle three times in their last four games and their current losing streak.
Part of burying their proverbial (and perhaps overblown) hatchet is addressing the issues that caused the discourse in the first place. There are times for the no-huddle offense, and there are times to be patient. The Steelers face the very real possibility of losing four games in a row to miss the playoffs and finish with a losing record for the first time since 2003. They also face the very real possibility of getting back on the same page and building some momentum before likely hitting the road for a playoff game against a tough but beatable first round opponent.
While they're moving past it, Haley and Roethlisberger face a more daunting task now, one they'll need to lean on each other to complete.