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Pittsburgh Steelers: Why Did Todd Haley Change the Game Plan Against the Chiefs?

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Why Did Todd Haley Change the Game Plan Against the Chiefs?
Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

Was that Bruce Arians calling the plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night? If you didn’t know, you may have been fooled.

In a cold, driving rain, the offensive coordinator called a game which was eerily reminiscent of last season, and the results were not good.

Rather than stick to the formula that had been working for most of the season—particularly on the team’s three-game winning streak—Haley had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing more deep passes than he did all season.

So why the changes?

 

Familiar Foes

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Prior to the game, Haley was asked if being familiar with the Kansas City Chiefs would help the Steelers. Haley acknowledged that it could benefit the Steelers (via Steelers.com). He said:

To an extent, understanding matchups and things like that. As an offensive coach, as we went through the game plan, I got a pretty good feel for most of the guys. There are some new guys there, but I would say it’s a benefit.

Even though Haley toned down the game against his former team, he didn’t coach that way.

Haley called the game as though he was going for the kill shot early and often, and it did not work out.

That extra motivation for Haley to get a victory over his former foes took him away from what had been successful and made the game a lot closer than it needed to be.

In the end, we learned that the Chiefs could benefit from the familiarity as well.

Joe Starkey tweeted that members of the Steelers were quoted after the game that the Chiefs were calling out plays. 

It seems as though the Chiefs' familiarity with Haley was a bigger advantage than what was originally thought.

 

No Dink-and-Dunk Available

Steelers take advantage of Chiefs' defending the slant pattern for a Mike Wallace touchdown.

While the Steelers took more shots downfield, it may have been due to necessity rather than the desire to dominate one of the worst teams in the league.

The injury to Antonio Brown left the Steelers without their best receiver and Haley with limited options.

Emmanuel Sanders is a solid replacement for Brown but isn’t quite at his level yet, and it showed as the Chiefs’ defensive backs were able to blanket Sanders and the other Steelers receivers all night.

Mike Wallace is best when going deep, and the Steelers were unable to connect with him, but Wallace showed last week how he can take a short completion and break it into a big play.

But even Wallace acknowledged that the Chiefs played the short routes tight, and they took advantage of this on his touchdown reception (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).

“We hit them with the fade route because they were biting on the slant,” Wallace said. “They really played us tough in man-to-man coverage, but I knew Ben would the ball where I would have a shot at it.”

Roethlisberger and backup quarterback Byron Leftwich took their shots deep to Wallace as well, but to no avail.

Haley even ran a couple of screens—with no blocking of course—that weren’t successful. But it was an attempt at picking up short gains since the ground game wasn’t working.

Given the coverage from the Chiefs, Haley was able to use Heath Miller to tear up the middle of the defense on mid-range passes for part of the game, but it wasn’t enough with the short passing game taken away.

But to Haley’s credit, he adjusted the offense because of what Kansas City was able to take away. However, on this night the Steelers were unable to execute as they had their lowest passing output of the season.

 

Run Anyone?

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The Chiefs' defense held the Steelers' ground game in check.

After three-straight games with a 100-yard rusher, the Steelers ran for only 95 yards as a team.

The offensive line that had been playing at a very high level for the past several weeks finally met its match against the Chiefs.

Kansas City’s defensive line handled Pittsburgh’s line to take away one of the hottest ground games in the league and made the Steelers one-dimensional.

Jonathan Dwyer ran for 56 yards on 19 carries while Isaac Redman only had 21 yards on eight carries and a fumble.

On such a cold, wet evening the Steelers needed to run the ball better, but they simply couldn’t. The Chiefs were too good.

The lack of an effective ground game forced Haley into throwing the ball, and this is exactly what the Chiefs wanted given the conditions.

Even though they weren’t running well early, Haley may have been wise to stick to the ground game a little longer given its success in recent weeks.

 

What’s Next?

What do the Steelers need to do on offense to beat the Ravens?

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Nearly everything that could have went wrong for Haley and the offense did against the Chiefs.

From playing in the heavy rain without one of their best receivers against a team that knew Haley very well, the Steelers had some problems from the start, but it was still the Chiefs and the Steelers needed to perform better.

Now things get even tougher as Mike Tomlin told reporters in his weekly press conference (via The Baltimore Sun) that Roethlisberger is “questionable” for the game against the Baltimore Ravens.

In the most important game of the year for the Steelers, they will have to get back to their roots against their archrival as they look to gain the lead of the AFC North.

That means that Haley needs to get the short passing attack and power ground game working again if the Steelers are to have a shot at defeating the Ravens.

 

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