I tweeted very early during the Jaguars game that we were in for the Evil Todd Haley experience on Sunday, and I think that would be a fair characterization of what transpired.
In a bold move, I've decided to rebrand the phenomon known as Evil Todd Haley before it has ever really begun. Henceforth, it will be known simply as Mr. Haley, as in the classic Dr. Todd and Mr. Haley from Robert Louis Stevenson's 1880s novella. Clever, isn't it?
It's important to note that Mr. Haley isn't strictly a genuine concept and it isn't derived from a clear set of examples or evidence. Mr. Haley is a feeling, an idea and a certain sense that inevitable failure is on the horizon and there isn't anything you can do to stop it. And we all know what Mr. Haley feels like...
It's an end-around to Jerricho Cotchery against the Chicago Bears. It's inexplicably abandoning the run in the red zone. It's lining up 5-wide in the red zone not once, not twice, but three times. It's a head-scratching decision to go for a fake extra-point conversion that's saved only by a little Emmanuel Sanders juking and cutting. It's a wide-receiver screen pass on 2nd-and-10 when everyone and their dog knows it's coming. It's a wide-receiver screen on 3rd-and-12 when everyone and their cat knows it's coming. It's putting Dri Archer in as your running back on 3rd-and-1. It's an end-around to Markus Wheaton at any point, but especially in the red zone. It's daring to use a fullback screen at any point during a game. It's an end-around to Antonio Brown in the red zone. It's going so horizontal Ben Roethlisberger needs a compass to find North again. It's obstinately sticking to the pass and abandoning the run game. It's obstinately sticking to the run game and refusing to utilize a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. Sometimes, when we reach peak-Mr. Haley, it seems like the Steelers have simultaneosuly abandoned both the run and the pass, and you're not sure exactly what you're watching anymore.
The phenomenon of Mr. Haley is, when watching a game, you turn to your friend on the couch and, with a bewildered-but-knowing smirk, you say "you couldn't even guess which play the Steelers just called."
Dr. Todd, on the other hand, is pretty much the guy when the Steelers passing and rushing attack are operating relatively smoothly. At such times, there's a resonable balance, Big Ben is making things happen through the air and the Steelers are grinding out reliable yards on the ground. Sure there might be a couple of head-scratching plays called here and there because there's always something we armchair generals would have done differently. But by and large, everything seems appropriate.
Quantity of points scored, or lack thereof, isn't proof of which offensive coordinator took the field that day, because luck and execution will always play a large role. But that's not to say they're irrelevant either. It's a feeling, and if you're a level-headed Steelers fan, you'll know which one you're seeing.
On Sunday, there's little doubt Mr. Haley was roaming the sidelines. Although the Steelers were able to move up the field reasonably well for most of the afternoon, Todd Haley didn't call a good game.
All day and from every spot on the field, the Steelers were overly reliant on the passing game. That's to be expected going into the game considering their opponent, but there was no apparent effort to make adjustments throughout the course of the game. They relentlessly attacked the short flats, as this offense likes to do, but time and again came away with nothing. Those bubble-screen passes, usually so effective, simply were not working.
An improved Jaguars' defense knew what it was doing and dared the Steelers to beat them with deep and intermediate passes. Might the Steelers have done so? Almost certainly. Did they try? Outside of a couple throws, one negated by a Kelvin Beachum penalty, no they didn't.
The Steelers could have had a big day on the ground if they had been committed enough to do so, but they didn't. Again, they obviously came in with an emphasis on the passing game but, when they started meeting resistance from a Jaguars' defense with a spine, I'm shocked they didn't turn to the best backfield duo in the NFL to lead the way.
In short, the run/pass balance was simply off in my view, and it showed.
But that's not even the most bizarre aspect of Sunday's game. Red zone play-calling has become a tiring narrative for the Steelers, but working inside the opposing team's 20 yard line is simply kryptonite for Mr. Haley. Not much needs to be said here that hasn't or won't be said soon, but abandoning the run game and throwing repeated passes out of an empty backfield is hardly a clever approach. I don't care how well you think you'll be able to pass on the Jaguars.
I realize at all times one should strive to avoid the easy narrative but, from time to time, the Steelers' offense simply attempts to be too bloody cute.
Yet still I believe in Dr. Todd. He's a great schemer who has gathered talent capable of fulfilling his offensive vision whlst showing he's fully capable of calling plays on game day that take advantage of what he's got and what the opponent's defense does not. He also has navigated a rather rocky road and worked hand in hand with Ben Roethlisberger to create an offense they're both comfortable operating within, which wasn't an easy task.
None of this, however, dismisses the fact that Mr. Haley still can rear his ugly head from time to time.
The Steelers need Dr. Todd present for the full four quarters every week, especially in the second half, if they're going to be smelling the cold, wintry air of football in January.