Team Haley and Team Arians pace around the squared circle, waiting to weigh in on one of the more hotly debated topics in recent Steelers memory.
Bruce Arians, the castoff, cast out alleged best friend of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger goes on to what will almost certainly be NFL Coach of the Year with the Indianapolis Colts and wunderkind Andrew Luck.
Todd Haley, sharp and innovative user of an entire roll of players in order to achieve offensive success, only to see much of that offense sputter under the weight of an injured offensive line (and Marcus Gilbert's butt).
Let's pretend all things are equal here, and after one season, let's compare Arians' offense in Pittsburgh in 2011 to Haley's offense in 2012 from a statistical point of view.
Haley: 21.0 (21st in the NFL)
Arians: 20.3 (21st in the NFL)
Clearly, the needle isn't moving much. If less than one point a game is the difference between the two, and no movement into the top two thirds of the league is made, it's difficult to say, overall, there's much of a difference. One can point to injuries (which will likely be the common theme by the end of this), but that's easily refuted by pointing to the fact the Steelers consistently score 20-21 points a game.
Really, the fundamental difference is found in the fact kicker Shaun Suisham hit five more field goals and scored 13 more points in 2012 than he did in 2011. That's an increase of .83 point per game, or essentially the difference in scoring between the two teams. And he attempted 31 field goals in both seasons, making 23 in 2011 and 28 in 2012.
Haley: 412 carries, 1,537, 3.7 yards per carry, 96.1 yards per game (26th in the NFL) eight runs of 20-plus yards, eight touchdowns.
Arians: 434 carries, 1,903 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 118.9 yards per game (14th in the NFL), nine runs of 20-plus yards, 13 touchdowns.
While Haley's offense clearly trails Arians in most of these statistics (and all of the most important ones), Arians did not have a running back go for 100 plus yards in three consecutive games like Haley did from Week 7 to Week 9. The health of Rashard Mendenhall benefited Arians quite a bit while the development of Jonathan Dwyer was something Arians did not have.
Injuries will always be a factor, but statistically, Arians' team ran only a little less than two times a game more often than Haley, and had far more success. It's hard to give that edge to Haley.
Haley: 354-for-574 (61.7), 4,012 yards (net of 3,787, 14th in the NFL), 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 88.1 passer rating.
Arians: 341-for-539 (63.2 percent), 4,333 yards (4,054 net, 10th in the NFL), 21 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 89.7 passer rating.
It's hard to glean there was even much of a change with the exception of Haley's offense having thrown more touchdown passes. Much of that could be attributed to what's simply the only fundamentally different aspect of Haley's offense in 2012 to Arians' in 2011 - possession protection.
Roethlisberger had 14 picks in 513 attempts in 2011 (2.7 percent), and that number dropped to 1.8 percent (eight picks in 449 attempts) in 2012. And he threw half of them in his final four games after returning from injury.
This is the main area - and perhaps the only area - of difference between the two seasons on the offensive side of the ball. Haley's best quarterback didn't turn the ball over often. Six of Haley's team's 14 interceptions came from back-up quarterbacks. It's important to note that, just as it's important to note one of them came from wide receiver Antonio Brown on a poorly devised wide receiver pass against Baltimore in Week 13.
Sure, there are unique characteristics of the two, but they both essentially led to the same place. Arians had five years of experience working with Roethlisberger and many other offensive players. Haley didn't have that, and the system itself was much more based on timing than Arians' high-low read-heavy passing style.
One of the downfalls of that kind of offense, while great between the 20s, is it stalls in the short field. His offense was not successful in the red zone, which was one of the major points of emphasis from those calling for Arians' ouster this past offseason.
Did it improve under Haley?
The Steelers scored touchdowns on 55.10 percent of their red zone trips in 2012, as compared to 50.91 attempts in 2011. That's 14th in the league in 2012, up from 17th in 2011.
Tilt a bit in Haley's favor as the team averaged 1.7 red zone touchdowns per game in 2012 to 2011's 1.6, but Arians' offense had 3.2 scoring attempts compared to Haley's 3.1.
Time of Possession
Almost bizarrely, Arians' group in 2011 led by 20 seconds of possession on average - 32:28 vs. Haley's 32:08. The 2011 team lead the league, and the 2012 team was second. Much of this could be attributed to the fact Haley's offense saw 20 percent more lost fumbles per game (1.0 vs. 0.8) than Arians' did, and with nearly identical interception totals, and defenses that didn't cause many turnovers, it's fair to interpret similarly euqal quality possession numbers for both sides.
But the 2012 team's ceiling in this statistic reached much higher.
Taking a snapshot in time look, before the Steelers entered a Week 10 Monday Night game against Kansas City, they were 34:40, more than two minutes higher than the previous season. Things fell apart against the Chiefs and stayed down for much of the rest of the season.
This is also the point the Steelers most critical stat in the first half of the season started to fade. They were converting third downs 51.92 percent of the time through Week 9 in 2012 (first in the league by more than three percent). It finished the year at 41.96.
Their 30.77 percent conversion rate on third downs over their final three games was the 23rd best total in the league. Suffering a nearly 10 percent drop in that critical stat down the stretch can be attributed to many things - Roethlisberger's injury, the lack of running success, a beaten up offensive line, pick whichever you choose. But it's safe to say the most impressive stat of all in the last two years was that 50 percent mark through the Steelers' first eight games.
However you want to boil it down, neither of these offenses were successful top to bottom, and it'd be hard for even Haley and Arians to argue otherwise. Both showed outstanding production in some areas for some of the time, but neither offense operated with great efficiency on a consistent basis. Even with the injuries to this year's team, the Steelers offense was never scoring loads of points. They only scored over 30 once (vs. Oakland in Week 3), and scored under 20 five times.
The stretch of time in the middle of the season under Haley, though, had a team that scored on 58 percent of its red zone chances (from Weeks 7-9), and the amazing third down conversion rate strongly suggests the ceiling with Haley's offense was higher than Arians.
Before Roethlisberger's injury in Week 10 he was playing at a very high level. Protection became a bit more challenging down the stretch in both seasons, but Roethlisberger was off to an incredible start to the season through four games, completing 66 percent of his throws for 1,124 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception.
Arians had his moments with Roethlisberger and the passing game during the 2011 season, particularly with a 7.4 yards per pass attempt stat on the year, and was 7.8 at the midway point of the season. It faltered down the stretch, though, and Roethlisberger suffered similar struggles due to injury and a lack of protection.