Many people were excited a year ago at this time when the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that Bruce Arians wouldn’t return to the team for the 2013 season and would be replaced by Todd Haley.
But as it is with any Steelers’ offensive coordinator, the cheers quickly turned to jeers as the Steelers struggled mightily the first time around in Haley’s system.
Despite quarterback Ben Roethlisberger playing MVP-type football before he was injured, the Steelers ranked 21st in the NFL in total offense and scored 21.0 points per game, good for 22nd in the league.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Steelers will have to look to improve off of those numbers after losing the likes of wide receiver Mike Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall, two core players in the offense under Arians.
But as organized team acitivies (OTAs) continue one of the biggest storylines to watch is whether the Steelers will be better in the second season in Haley’s offense.
If you ask wideout Emmanuel Sanders, that answer is yes.
“Last year, we were trying to get familiar with the system and coach Haley’s coaching style and everything that comes with being in a new offense,” Sanders told the Post Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo. “Now we know the plays. Ben understands it. We know where we need to be. We should continue to grow and get better.”
It’s hard to argue with that sentiment, although there is still a ways to go before anyone can be convinced that the Steelers offense will be better by leaps and bounds.
The addition of Le’Veon Bell should pay immediate dividends.
Haley wanted to get back to running the football a season ago, but didn’t have the horses to do so. Even if Bell isn’t great, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being as bad on the ground as they were a season ago when they finished 26th in the NFL in rushing. Being able to run the football better should have a trickledown effect to the passing game as well.
Roethlisberger is outstanding in play action, but if the Steelers can’t run the football, that weapon is taken out of the play book.
In addition to the running game, there’s just the simple fact that the adjustment period is now over. Even though there are some young parts being brought in, most of the Steelers should feel more comfortable in Haley’s system next year.
Common sense would tell you that they should be better the second time around.
But there’s still going to be a transition, which could make things tough out of the gate.
Wallace’s speed on the outside is gone, which means the Steelers will have to count on the likes of Antonio Brown, Sanders, Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton. You just don’t know what you are going to get out of that group, which means that the receiving core could take a while to develop.
Then there’s the fact that tight end Heath Miller, Roethlisberger’s best weapon, won’t be ready for the start of the season. Having a security blanket such as Miller is a luxury for Roethlisberger, which means he is going to have to find another go-to-guy when he has to make a play.
There are also other questions such as what if Bell doesn’t pan out and what if the Steelers offensive line doesn’t come together like many people think it will.
If the Steelers can’t answer all of those questions, then quite frankly it won’t matter who the offensive coordinator is. The bottom line will be that they won’t have enough talent to compete.
But if they can, the only remaining question is whether or not they can succeed in Haley’s offense. It’s still a long while before training camp begins, but hopefully we won’t have to wait long before we get that answer.