Training camp is fast approaching, and it can’t get here soon enough. By this point in the offseason, fans are starving for any meaningful Steelers information they can get their hands on.
OTA’s and mini-camp practices provided a few tasty tidbits, but it was hardly filling. You can only garner so much information from these football-in-shorts sessions. You mainly hear about rookies, and any other newcomers to the team, but most are lobbed mostly softball questions to which, if they’re smart, they lob back status-quo answers.
Not very interesting for us rabid fans here in Steelers Nation, although some fans may actually care which color is a player’s favorite. If you’re one of those fans, I sincerely apologize.
Now, for the next three weeks, all we fans can hope for is to see the team arrive at camp at full strength, relatively healthy, and without any unforeseen legal baggage. No unnecessary distractions that could impede what is shaping up to be a special season for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.
The starting offense may be the most talented group in the league this season. Last year, the team proclaimed their goal was to average at least thirty points per game for the season, but they ended up falling a bit short of that mark. The talent was there to meet their goal, but not the execution.
There certainly was plenty of excuses to go around last season to explain the offense never reaching the level of production their talent seemed to suggest. Bell’s holdout, Bryant’s return from a yearlong suspension and subsequent struggles on and off the field, Gilbert’s in-season suspension, along with Vance McDonald’s late arrival and nagging injuries hindering his ability to gel with the offense.
All of these issues played a part in the Steelers not living up to their own expectations on offense, but I don’t think any of them were the biggest reason for any perceived shortcomings. I give that distinction to none other than the recently departed Todd Haley.
Often times, a player’s abilities are greater than the sum of the parts. His performance on the field might belie his capabilities as defined by his measurables. Certain players are often credited with having the “it factor”. They have superior instincts, a feel for the game that can’t be measured and is hard to explain.
A coach is no different, and this ability can be what separates a competent coach from a superior one which, in turn, can impact an ultra-talented offense’s ability to reach its full potential.
There’s more to being an offensive coordinator than installing a game plan. It requires more than diagramming some plays and calling them during the game. It’s so much more than the X and O’s. That’s why the sidelines are not overrun with rocket scientists spewing out probability statistics before every play.
Superior coaches understand the nuances of the game. They are able to connect with their players on a personal level. They develop a special bond through mutual respect and support. Todd Haley never displayed the ability to develop these relationships with his players or other coaches at any of his previous places of employment due to be what appears to be a lack of personal integrity.
Communication is imperative for a coach at any level, but players and coaches have admitted avoiding personal interaction with Haley whenever possible. He even had Ben contemplating retirement just to avoid the situation altogether.
An offensive coordinator has to understand the power of momentum. Haley never seemed to grasp the concept.
Take for example the game against the Tennessee Titans last season. The Steelers went with the hurry-up offense to start the game, and they hit pay dirt on their first two possessions. They were controlling the tempo of the game and the offense was running crisply.
Then, on their third possession, they went away from the up-tempo attack and started to huddle. Two ineffective running plays and an incomplete pass on a 3rd-and-long play resulted in a punt. Just like that, all of the offense’s positive momentum was lost. They struggled to move the ball on offense for the rest of the half until they were forced to return to the hurry-up for their final possession of the first half. You can guess what happened — they scored.
Why try to fix what isn’t broken? Why move away from an offensive concept when it’s being so effective? Force the defense to make adjustments and, if they’re unwilling or incapable of such adjustments, simply destroy them for the rest of the game. Kind of like Jacksonville did to us in both games last season.
You have to give the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick credit for one thing. If you have a weakness, they will identify it and exploit it until you find a way to stop them. Back when Tom Brady was merely human and the Patriots were nowhere near the offensive juggernaut they would become, Belichick’s offenses were always a mismatch nightmare for our Dick LeBeau-led defenses.
The Steelers couldn’t generate pressure without blitzing an extra defender, which left one offensive player wide open and unaccounted for. This player was typically a running back who leaked out into the flat. The Steelers were never able to make the necessary adjustments and Brady had the intelligence to recognize this and the patience to simply take the easy completion. No ego involved, just the will to win.
With Haley having moved on to the greener pastures of Cleveland, the Steelers may finally be able to get out of their own way. It should finally be Ben’s offense, and he’s surrounded by an impressive assortment of talented skill players. With Bell’s contract situation looking bleaker by the day, this very well may be the offense’s last opportunity to do something special as a unit.
One thing is for sure. They’re running out of excuses.