The Pittsburgh Steelers' philosophy is about one thing and one thing only—winning championships.
Traditionally, the Steelers have achieved this through a physical, run-stopping defense and an offense that played smash-mouth football.
This style of football was a major reason why the Steelers were competitive throughout Bill Cowher’s tenure as head coach.
But it took Cowher to open up the offense with Ben Roethlisberger before he could finally win a Super Bowl.
However, even with Roethlisberger at quarterback, the 2005 Steelers were still a physical offense that rushed for 2,223 yards. It was not the best offense in the league, but it was one good enough to win Super Bowl 40.
When Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007, there were questions with the direction that he would take the Steelers, but team president Art Rooney II said that Tomlin believed in stopping the run and running the ball well. Via ESPN.com:
“He wants to play the kind of football the Pittsburgh Steelers want to play...He wants to play the kind of football Steelers fans have come to appreciate.”
Tomlin delivered with the defense.
He has let Dick LeBeau control the defense, and the results have been fantastic.
Pittsburgh’s defense has finished no worse than fifth in yardage, and it was the best in the league in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
They have been nearly as good in points allowed, finishing first in the league in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Their worst finish was 12th in 2009.
It has been clear that Tomlin has lived up to his word on the defensive side. However, things have not gone as planned with the offense.
Tomlin believed in a strong running game, but when is the last time the Steelers were able to run the ball well? In fact, when was the last time that they have had a true identity on offense?
The best answer may be in 2007 when offensive Bruce Arians primarily used Ken Whisenhunt’s offense as the team transitioned from Cowher to Tomlin.
According to Sean Durity, a contributor to Yahoo Sports, the Steelers ran the ball 54 percent of the time in 2007 and only 42 percent of the time this past season.
It's no surprise that the Steelers began to throw the ball more.
Roethlisberger developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and the team surrounded him with talent at receiver.
The NFL also had made rule changes that have made it easier for offenses to throw the ball. The Steelers just evolved with the rest of the league.
However, there was a still a problem with the offense.
Despite the explosion in offensive production, the Steelers’ offense lacked a true direction. They did not have an identity.
The lack of an effective ground game meant that the play-action pass was no longer a staple of the Steelers’ offense.
The Steelers weren’t a rhythm passing attack either. There were few times when Roethlisberger would drop back and throw to hit his receivers in stride. Quite simply, no one would confuse the Steelers’ offense with that of the New England Patriots.
Instead, the Steelers threw the ball all over the field and did so with a porous offensive line.
A typical passing play seemed like it would involve Roethlisberger dropping back and scrambling all over the field because of the long-developing routes by the receivers.
It was not exactly a clever scheme devised by Arians, given the state of the offensive line.
But not all was bad.
Arians would do a fantastic job scripting the offense for the start of the game, but once he had to make adjustment, things seemed to fall apart.
The offense just could not do many things well given its lack of identity.
As a result, the Steelers had an underachieving offense for much of the time under Arians, including this past season when they finished 21st in scoring despite ranking 12th in yardage.
A change was needed, and the Steelers made it.
It may have been prompted by Rooney, who told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Steelers need to run the ball more this season.
I think Mike and I certainly agreed coming off the season that we need to run the ball more consistently to get to where we want to get to...So that’s part of the thinking in the offseason: We need to figure out how to get better running the football.
That brings us to Haley.
No one really knew what Haley would bring to the Steelers’ offense, but it has become clear now—Pittsburgh will be committed to the run.
Haley has sent a message in training camp that the Steelers will be physical on offense, and they will be able to run the ball more effectively.
This is an obvious difference from training camp under Arians, where he had the offense focused primarily on throwing the ball.
It has been a complete turnaround under Haley.
Haley has a new offensive line to work with, including rookies David DeCastro and Mike Adams, and the line will definitely develop a nasty streak as camp progresses.
But even more than the personnel on the field, the team is developing a mindset on running the ball effectively.
Nearly every offensive play called during team drills has been a running play.
All of the running backs are getting involved. They are running inside and outside, and each day they are improving. It is the return of a physical brand of football.
Do not expect the Steelers to return to the days of a ground-and-pound offense, but they will be much better at it this year thanks to Haley.
More importantly, the Steelers now have their offensive identity back, and if things go as planned, it will indeed get them to where they want to go—a Super Bowl championship.