For the first time since Mike Tomlin took the reins for the 2007 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a new offensive coordinator in the person of Todd Haley, who replaces Bruce Arians, the team's coordinator for the last four seasons.
There has been much debate over whether or not the departure of Arians and the arrival of Haley will be beneficial to one particularly important player: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The argument goes a little like this.
Roethlisberger is elite and was close with Arians, who was kind of like a good buddy. Haley is confrontational and often harangues his quarterbacks on the sideline. This has played out with Kurt Warner and Matt Cassel among others. This adversarial relationship could cause Roethlisberger to have issues.
My response? Yawn.
Haley might just be the exact opposite: a coach that will make Ben Roethlisberger, already a great quarterback, even better. How will he do that? Well, let's take a look.
Back to the Future
Sometimes, it doesn't hurt to dust off an old playbook and bring it back into the light. That's roughly what Haley is doing in Pittsburgh. Haley, to some extent, cut his teeth as a coordinator under former Pittsburgh offensive boss Ken Whisenhunt, who left for Arizona when he didn't get the Steelers' top job in 2007.
If you remember, Whisenhunt's offensive scheme didn't rely too heavily on the running game, but did use it regularly to set up a solid passing attack. It was tailored to the quarterback's skills. In Roethlisberger's case, that meant allowing him to be creative while still maintaining some measure of control.
Bringing a system back in which Roethlisberger thrived is certainly not going to hurt. Bringing back some control and creativity to the offense can also only help. Last year, the Steelers, particularly in scoring situations, were beyond boring and predictable.
Structure and Accountability
Is it really the worst thing in the world to have a coach that isn't afraid to give his quarterback a tongue lashing when he doesn't perform well? It worked for Tom Brady and Bill O'Brien last year. It has worked for other quarterbacks down through the years, too.
Will Todd Haley's attitude be a problem for Ben Roethlisberger?
Do you think Bill Belichick or Josh McDaniels care if they hurt Brady's feelings when he throws a poor pass that gets picked off? I highly doubt it. And if you think Mike Tomlin cares if he hurts anyone's feelings when he tells it like it is, then I've got an invisible bridge on the Allegheny to sell you.
Roethlisberger doesn't need a best friend. He needs a coach who can sit with him and break down mistakes. Roethlisberger is never going to have the polish of a Peyton Manning, but he does have some room to improve. His ankle injury last season was largely due to his inability to know when there really is no better move than to throw away the ball.
Luck doesn't always trump the skill of an opponent. Roethlisberger could use someone who can take some of those teachable moments and turn them into even more progress. For a team that is always close to a title run, a little improvement could go a long way.
Smarts and Savvy
One thing I love about Haley's work as a coordinator is that he knows how to use every weapon that's given to him. He doesn't just work a particular angle for a game or even a drive. He certainly doesn't continue to give the same looks for an entire season or more.
One big knock on the Steelers, highlighted by their finishing 21st in the NFL in scoring last year, is their inability to punch the ball in once they get into scoring position. It's the football equivalent of leaving a runner at third after he led off the inning with a triple. There's been a huge lack of finishing.
Haley won't tolerate failure. He also won't permit it to happen because he's calling plays with his eyes closed. He'll use people like Heath Miller. He won't run four times from the 1-yard line. He'll be brave enough to call things like a naked bootleg or a play fake at the goal line.
If you want a good offense, you have to be willing to take risks and you have to be willing to think outside the box. When a coach does that, the whole unit gets better. If the Steelers field a more consistent offense, Roethlisberger will get some credit where it's due. He also might get another ring or two before his career is over.
The Big Finish
Will Ben Roethlisberger benefit from Todd Haley's presence?
So, Haley might just be a lot better for the Steelers than people have thought thus far. Only time will tell and there's certainly room for this experiment of sorts to fail, but there's also room for it to succeed beyond everyone's expectations.
One thing is for sure, there's almost no way this can be anything but a good thing for the team's most important player at the game's most important position. Ben Roethlisberger should be very happy that the Steelers went out and got him one of the best offensive minds in football.