Todd Haley is Giovanni Manzoni. Manzoni, of course, is a notorious mobster played by Robert De Niro in the recently released movie “The Family.” A man of few words, Manzoni frequently expresses his feelings, positive or negative, through the adjective “F–k!” Whether it’s good pasta or the mafia knocking on his door, the response is the same.
Haley is no different when on the sideline calling plays, only that he seems to usually express negativity, like he did last Sunday when he yelled at at his sputtering offense.
He had good reason — his unit generated NINE points. The offense couldn’t piece together a single drive with cohesiveness, struggling to run, pass, and block. Traditionally known for running the ball with great success, the running backs and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger combined for 31 yards on 15 carries, good for 2.1 yards per carry. And in the passing game, Roethlisberger generated only 5.8 yards per attempt when he wasn’t on his back, which occurred five times in the game.
A big reason for the overall struggles was the trenches. The interior offensive line crumbled when it lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey to a torn ACL, courtesy of teammate and right guard David DeCastro on a disastrous cut block. The injury called for second-year man Kelvin Beachum to enter the fray, and he immediately struggled. Failing to play with power and quickness, he gave up two quarterback hurries and one hit, according to Pro Football Focus.
The one hit came on an awful attempt to block Tennessee Titans one technique nose tackle Jurrell Casey. Lined up over the right shoulder of Beachum, Casey fired off the line of scrimmage and took aim fat Roethlisberger, who was taking a quick three-step drop that was designed to get the ball out of his hands and vertically in a hurry.
It wasn’t quick enough, though, as Casey performed a swim technique past Beachum, who whiffed, by raising his right arm over the blocker’s head while lowering his left shoulder. That allowed him to slip by with low pad level like his coaches teach him in practices. A last second shove from DeCastro did little to slow down Casey, who kept his balance and tore through the heart of the pocket to level the quarterback as he threw the ball deep for an incomplete pass.
Hopefully the Steelers better have figured out their plans for blocking the Cincinnati Bengals’ dominant front four tonight, because if Beachum struggles, they could be in for a long day facing defensive tackle Geno Atkins (three hurries, one hit last week) and nose tackle Domata Peko (two tackles, one stop). Atkins, in particular, is a three technique and is lined up over a guard, but could slide into the one technique when the Bengals go to their three defensive end “NASCAR” package, putting him right over one of Beachum’s shoulders.
If the Steelers can’t stop Atkins and his teammates, they’ll struggle to run and pass the ball once again.
Attempting to establish a zone running game, Haley called for a stretch to the offense’s right. That gave the ball to tailback Isaac Redman laterally, allowing him to stretch the play outside before cutting it back inside once a hole opened up. That hole, however, never really opened up. In an attempt to run for positive yards and do what the concept asks of him, Redman cutback a couple of steps after the handoff, only to be bottled up by multiple Titans defenders that came unblocked at the end of the line of scrimmage and up the middle of it. They were free due to the Steelers offensive line’s failure to execute cut blocks on the back-side of the play and then climb to the second level.
If they can, conversely, run the ball and give Roethlisberger time to pass, they’ll need him to step up and make big throws. There were a couple of instances against the Titans when he should have made a throw or he should have thrown it more accurately to give a teammate the chance to make a play, but he failed to do so.
One of those came on what was supposed to be a play action pass. There was 2:06 on the clock in the first quarter and it was 1st-and-10. Roethlisberger was under center with one tailback behind him and three tight ends to the end of the offensive line’s right, effectively forming “13″ personnel.
At the beginning of the play, he took the ball from the center, turned right, took three steps and sunk his shoulders as he faked the handoff to Redman. Then he immediately raised his head and looked to tight end David Paulson running a seam route with inside position down the middle of the field. Then a pump fake came oddly, followed by a tuck of the ball as he was wrapped and brought down by Casey for the sack. It’s uncertain what he saw, but it was a throw that he certainly should have made.
Later in the game, Roethlisberger actually made a throw, but with poor ball placement. It was a simple call for a throw to the left flat in the red zone to Redman.
Redman ran a simple arrow route to the left flat while the single receiver to that side ran a corner route with an inside release, done to draw attention and create room for the flat route to be ran one-on-one against a Titans defender. To score, the ball had to be thrown inside or over the target’s head, hitting him in stride and leading him directly to the pylon.
But Roethlisberger threw the ball high and behind. His shoddy accuracy forced Redman to contort his body, slowing him down and preventing him from finding the time to gear up again and score. He was tackled well short of the goal line immediately upon catching the ball.
Roethlisberger, overall, didn’t necessarily have a poor game. He didn’t receive enough help from his teammates to absorb full blame for a lackluster performance. Despite the shared blame, he left throws on the field because he either second guessed his read, like he did on the exampled play action, or he didn’t square his shoulders and point his lead foot and hips to his intended target, consequently throwing inaccurately.
Against the hated Bengals tonight, the Steelers’ offense will have opportunities to make plays in the passing game, but it will need players to fulfill their responsibilities. And that begins with Roethilsberger executing the necessary f–king throws, or Haley’s going to be groaning on the sideline again.