The Todd Haley Question: Point/Counterpoint, Part 1

A7E66198-FE43-4516-B882-F530411F6299.jpegPhoto via USA Today Sports

Or so I suspect. Ivan commented in his responses to the 5 Smoldering Questions yesterday that he had too many thoughts to share in a comment format and that he would be writing them up. The reason I say “Point/Counterpoint” is that I expect our viewpoints are somewhat different.

But before I share my own thoughts, here are some from a commentor by the name of Wes Lee who left this on our Facebook page:

I know a lot of Steelers fans are mad at Todd Haley, but facts are facts, folks. Since Todd Haley has been our OC, Ben has been more productive and better protected than he has under any other previous OC we’ve had. Keep in mind, we did manage to go 13-03 this season (actually 14-02, but were robbed once again by the Cheatriots and crew). Yes, we lost in the playoffs again, but you can’t blame most of that on the offense. Our defense played horribly for the most part. We need to try to address our defensive problems in the next draft. No doubt about it. We led the league in sacks, but couldn’t get to Bortles once in that game and we couldn’t manage one interception either. You can’t blame that on the offense. We were pretty much at the top of the league in defense this season, yet we couldn’t stop the run in the playoffs when it counted the most. Once again, it’s back to the drawing board as far as our defense is concerned. The complaints you should have should be mostly focused on the defensive side of the ball. I know we aren’t perfect on the offensive side either, but they did manage to put up 42 points against a Jaguars team that was number one against the pass. Oh yeah, Big Ben also threw for FIVE TDs. in that game. I would say we lost that game mainly because of the poor communication between the defensive players who looked like they were lost out there from the very first play. So, to wrap this up, yes, some plays on offense should be open to question, but the bottom line is our defense looked pitiful. Place the blame where it should be placed. They had an entire week to look at film of the Jaguars, INCLUDING THE GAME THEY SPANKED US IN AT PITTSBURGH IN THE FIFTH WEEK OF THE SEASON, yet they come out onto the field in the playoffs AT HOME and looked as if they hadn’t studied any game film at all. Um, yeah, most of the blame gets laid on the defense for this loss. Mainly for it’s lack of communication. We really did miss Shazier out there, but our defense had come together and played very well in his absence up until it mattered the most. Communication on defense was our Achilles heal, if you will. Look, I know we need to change-up a few things when it comes to calling offensive plays and when to call certain offensive plays, but it’s far from as bad as some are making it out to be. Ask yourself this, what’s worse, an offense that scores 42 points or a defense that gives up 45? Below is a chart proving my point about our current OC. Enough said.

Whew. The chart he posted, BTW, was Hombre de Acero’s, as seen in the 5 Smolderings…

I admit to a good deal of sympathy with this point of view. I do agree with Ivan that the offensive playcalling was, more than occasionally, unimaginative. The question is, whose fault was that? It has been pointed out by more than one local writer that Ben seldom missed an opportunity to throw Haley under the bus, and when questioned about particular unsuccessful plays, would say something to the effect that “I just run the plays that are called.”

Which is interesting, because recently Josh Dobbs implied the opposite, as quoted by one of the local writers. I’m sorry but I can’t find the article, as this was a small part of it, but basically Dobbs said that watching Ben from the sidelines, he was amazed by how well he could diagnose defenses and how he would move players around. In short, what he described sounded as if he did the vast majority of the actual playcalling. (In fact, Tunch Ilkin said as much after the first Jacksonville game—that the JAX defense “baited” Ben by leaving his best receivers in single coverage, so Ben would check out of a run play, throw the ball, and get picked.)

But this all does make one wonder if this changed, partway through the season. Perhaps when the offense was so discombobulated, Tomlin finally said, Okay, Ben, run it how you like and let’s see what happens. Which would imply the change took place before the Jacksonville game. But Tunch more or less said that Ben has “always” (no telling how long “always” is) had this option.

As with the departure of James Harrison, stuff is coming out of the woodwork about Todd Haley. Ed Bouchette, the long-time Steelers beat writer for the PG, reported that things had come to such a pass by mid-season that Randy Fichtner was asked by Tomlin to leave the booth and stay on the sidelines so that Ben would have someone to talk to. If true, this honestly doesn’t say a lot for Roethlisberger’s maturity level.

But as Bouchette also said in his article after the departure of Haley was official:

Roethlisberger wasn’t the only one who put off by Haley during his six years coaching the offense. After Haley’s first season as coordinator in 2012, three offensive coaches voluntarily left the team for other jobs — Kirby Wilson (backs) took a lateral job with the Vikings and Scottie Montgomery (receivers) and Sean Kugler (line) fled back to the college ranks. There were no coaching changes on defense.

A source pinned their departures on an inability to work any longer with Haley.

Obviously Haley had a history of poor relationships with those he worked with, but this is scarcely unknown elsewhere. Just watch Tom Brady on the sidelines, screaming at anybody he thinks needs screamed at, including his coaches. However, if Haley was running off good peaople, that’s a bit alarming.

The list above, however, weakens that case by including Sean Kugler, the offensive line coach whose line was absolutely putrid—I think they gave up the most sacks that year in Roethlisberger’s career. I suspect he was going to be fired anyhow.

But maybe he really was a great coach. As we all know, correlation doesn’t equal causation. Which is, presumably, why Mike Tomlin told his entire defensive staff they would be returning.

I realize this is rather rambling. I’m still in recovery from last Sunday, which is my excuse. My thoughts on the Haley situation were that it wasn’t fair Haley took the fall for the loss last week. And I still believe that. But part of what I’m realizing is that there are way too many variables for me to even make that statement.

Perhaps the unease between Haley and his offense (or at least the most prominent member of it) and, possibly, between Haley and some of his staff bears some responsibility for the poor performance of the offense in the early days of the season. Had the offense won one more game (and I’m thinking of the Bears game in particular) perhaps the Steelers would never have had to face the Jaguars in the postseason.

This means that they almost certainly would have had to face the Patriots instead. Which actually might have been better. It surely couldn’t have been worse, despite the many people supposing Tom Brady would put up 90 points on the defense.

And speaking of the Patriots, if I were a betting person I wouldn’t be putting any money on the Pats this week. Between Tom Coughlin, Patriots killer, Brady’s hand injury, and the front seven of the Jaguars, I can easily see them losing a low-scoring game. Maybe I’m fooling myself. We’ll see in a few days.

But it’s immaterial. The Steelers are out of it. The big question is why. If Haley was a piece of this, then he needed to go. If Ben plays better when he runs his own offense, in effect, and if in the meantime he’s learned there are major advantages to living to fight another day (or play, really) from Haley’s tenure, all the better.

Now, what about the defense? Because we can’t blame that on Todd Haley. I wish him well, and hope he lands up on a team with a young quarterback…




  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    I will await the counterpoint before replying but for one thing… we have a Facebook page?


    • Yep. It’s basically just a vehicle for publicizing new posts for the people who prefer that format. The same goes for my Twitter account. When I publish a post it automatically posts to Facebook and Twitter, or, more accurately, a link does.


    • You didn’t know I was such a sophisticated social media user, did you? You still don’t, because I’m not : )


  • Hailey can’t get along with people, period. True, the offence was cruising at the end of the year, and certainly not the reason we lost to the Jags (except for maybe the 4th down calls), but I think it’s more than possible that some of the the sideline tensions and distractions were due Todd’s toxic personality and the atmosphere it created. His exit seems to make Ben more inclined to stay, and I’m hoping it might make Bell more flexible as well. The new OC seems inclined to run the same system, ideally with less stubbornness and more player input. Maybe Hailey can go to the Pats after their co-ordinator gets a head coaching job. Slightly off topic, it figures that Brady would get his injury the week before we should have been playing him. You really could argue that our whole season came down to that heavy handed call against Jesse James…


  • Haley with his play designs but mostly his personality was the needed breath of fresh air to scrub Bruce Arians out of Ben. It is nice to have our first string QB play 16 gamesa season and into his late 30’s. IMO Haley’s lasting legacy is Ben’s gunslinger days are behind him and In place of gunshot prone Gunslinger Ben is a Ben more risk calculating B who can zip the ball into tight spots when needed. Thus I admire Haley for both his personality and play designs. However it is time to move on from him. He had the last two seasons with top talent and solid OL to establish a top 3 offense. Hasnt happened and I blame his terrible situational play calling. It is time to try something new but not too different.

    Im a little concerned Fitchner will be too much buddy with Ben and wont get the best from him. How about Batch for qb coach? Munchak for offensive quality control?


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