The honeymoon between Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley is over.
After the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 15 27-24 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was rightfully upset. His team had lost, the playoffs are now a little further out of reach and many fans were blaming him for the game's outcome.
However, Roethlisberger had another scapegoat for the loss in mind: offensive coordinator Todd Haley. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Dejan Kovacevic, the quarterback blamed the play-calling for the dearth of passes thrown to tight end Heath Miller in the second half of the game and also said it was "disappointing" that the no-huddle was shut down as well.
Kovacevic himself goes further, pinning the loss not to the many miscues on both offense and defense, but to the plays called in the first drive of the second half, illustrating that the Steelers had lost their aggressiveness and with it the game:
"Here was your go-for-the-jugular play-calling from Haley:
• Jonathan Dwyer over right guard, 4 yards.
• Dwyer up the middle, 1 yard.
• Roethlisberger incomplete short pass to Dwyer in right flat.
Yeah. Way to step on that Texas rattlesnake, gentlemen."
There would be, without a doubt, far less scrutiny of Haley's play calls had the Steelers won the game. Even if they had won with these plays and Roethlisberger was still frustrated about Miller and the no-huddle, there's little chance he would have aired that publicly. His exasperation with the loss bubbled over, and he made public something that probably would have been better served staying in the locker room.
Further, Roethlisberger is off-base in his remarks. The play-calling is not the problem this season, and it wasn't on Sunday against the Cowboys either.
While Haley's calls and decisions weren't the ones Roethlisberger prefers, they were in response to something that Haley and the rest of the Steelers' coaching staff was seeing from Dallas' defense.
The Steelers had just 34 rushing yards in the first half and just 69 total yards on the ground in the game, so all indications are that, in order to attempt to boost the run production, Haley used Miller more as a run-blocker in the second half than as a receiving target.
Further, Dallas' pass rush also stepped up in the second half. The defense had zero sacks on Roethlisberger in the first half of the game, but in the second half, it got to him four times. In order to offer a boost to the offensive line, Miller needed to again be used in blocking rather than as a receiver.
Haley was reacting to the defense he was seeing. And while it was unfortunate that Miller only had one additional target and catch in the second half after catching all six passes thrown to him in the first 30 minutes (for 85 yards and a score) it was an adjustment he needed to make.
Roethlisberger would have been far less annoyed with Miller being taken away as a passing target if the rest of his receivers had been playing well.
Mike Wallace caught none of the five passes thrown his way in the first half and only got warm in the second, with four catches for 95 yards. Emmanuel Sanders had just one pass thrown his way, and he would have fumbled it had the play not gone so quickly; then he injured his rib and was off the field for the rest of the game.
Miller was his most reliable target, yes, but it didn't have to be that way.
What Roethlisberger really means when he says he wants more no-huddle is that he wants to be the one to call and adjust plays at the line, because he doesn't like what Haley has put together.
It's surprising that Roethlisberger would be so opposed to Haley at this point in the season, considering that, up until his Week 10 injury, he was on pace to have his best, most efficient year in the league, with 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
It's not Haley's fault that the Steelers have lost their last two games with Roethlisberger under center—it's been a collective failure of both offense and defense.
For two straight weeks, the Steelers have struggled in pass coverage because cornerback Ike Taylor has been sidelined with a foot injury. Also, receivers haven't been as focused as they were earlier in the season. And the run game, which performed well in Weeks 7 through 11, has been held to under 70 yards in the last two contests.
Sunday's loss featured error after error, but none were as glaring as the one that lost the game in overtime: Roethlisberger's interception.
Roethlisberger may not be happy with the plays Haley called, but the plays themselves didn't lose the game—it was the failure to execute them that did.
While Haley is a big change from what Roethlisberger was used to under Bruce Arians, it has paid off dividends for both himself and his team. Now that things aren't going so well, though, Roethlisberger seems to feel like it's the right time to throw the coordinator under the bus rather than taking responsibility for the aspects of the loss that were his and his alone.
If Pittsburgh had defeated the Cowboys on Sunday, this wouldn't be an issue and Roethlisberger would have likely not made those comments. That alone proves that Haley is not the issue here—the two-game losing streak is.