Current Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley will meet with the Arizona Cardinals, likely this week, to discuss their vacant head coaching position. Haley's quite familiar with the Cardinals—he was their offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008—which may give him an advantage, but if he walks, it's not good news for the Steelers.
Though Haley has been a rather polarizing figure in Pittsburgh since taking over for the equally as divisive Bruce Arians in the 2012 offseason, his time with the Steelers hasn't been a disaster. Under his control, Pittsburgh's offense was more efficient, though less flashy, and while it wasn't without its hiccups, a second year in his system should help things come together even better.
With Haley as coordinator (at least until Ben Roethlisberger's Week 10 rib and shoulder injury), Pittsburgh's offense was tops in the league at third-down conversions and second in average per-game time of possession. Haley's conservative, ball-control approach wore down defenses, especially those expecting the big-play passing from Arians' days with the team.
Though Roethisberger threw deep passes—those of 20 or more yards—less often (10.5 percent of his throws in 2012 to 13.3 in 2011), it increased his overall accuracy from 70.9 percent in 2011 to 75.8 percent this year. With fewer risky throws, Roethlisberger's interceptions also dropped, with just eight in 13 games played compared to 14 in 2011, in 15 regular-season games.
While wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown were still important components to Pittsburgh's passing offense, with Haley as coordinator, the real star of the show became tight end Heath Miller. With 101 targets in 15 games and 71 receptions for 816 yards and eight touchdowns, 2012 was Miller's best season as a Steeler.
With the goal of the passing game being first downs first, and then touchdowns later, Miller became the poster boy for the kind of passing offense Haley wanted to sculpt for the Steelers.
Though Miller suffered a devastating knee injury in his team's Week 16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals—a torn ACL which has since been surgically repaired—making it unknown whether he'll be able to play come Week 1 of the upcoming season, the template put in place by Haley has been proven successful and can likely be somewhat replicated should Miller's recovery go into October or later.
Wallace, too, had a good year despite the deep passing game being reeled in under Haley's watch. Though Wallace claimed a lack of targets was the cause for his apparent loss of focus this year, the numbers indicate that it wasn't targets or involvement that made him have a dip in production from 2011 to 2012.
In the 2011 season, Wallace was thrown to 113 times with 72 receptions for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns, and he had a 16.6 yards-per-reception average.
In 2012, he was thrown to 119 times despite playing in 15, rather than all 16, regular-season games. He caught only 64 of them, however, and ended the year with 863 yards though with eight touchdowns—the same number of scores from the previous year.
Wallace claimed he wasn't being thrown to as much, especially early in games, but as Bleacher Report's Scott Kacsmar discovered, Wallace's targets were more evenly distributed in 2012 than in his previous seasons.
Wallace may have been disappointed with Haley's lack of downfield play calls, however he was targeted 31 times on passes 20 yards or deeper in 2012, with six receptions, two drops and four touchdowns, compared to just 24 times in 2011. He had 10 catches on those deep balls in the previous season, however, and just one drop, and the catches resulted in five touchdowns.
Therefore, it seems safe to say that Wallace's dip in production was his own problem and not one created by the switch to Haley.
The run game's disappointments aren't Haley's fault, either. Rashard Mendenhall's ACL tear in 2011 had nothing to do with coaching, nor did Isaac Redman's injury-plagued 2012 season or Mendenhall's frustration about being benched after fumbling the ball.
The four fumbles attributed to four Steelers backs (Mendenhall, Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey) in their Week 12 loss to the Cleveland Browns were not Haley's fault, either.
Though Haley's system would benefit far more from having an explosive, elusive runner like Jamaal Charles, whom Haley coached in Kansas City, the responsibility didn't fall on him for the Steelers' failure to draft or start a player in that mold.
In fact, the 2012 season further highlights how serious the Steelers' need for a true, feature-type back really is, and another year with Haley as offensive coordinator could push them to pick up a player of that caliber in this year's draft to help round out their stable of backs. Haley's run game thus gets an incomplete grade for 2012, with no stability at the position yielding inconsistent results.
There were very real signs of progress and development for the Steelers' offense in 2012 with Haley's new system, ones that will only continue with another year working with him. Though there are things that need to improve, and though the Steelers failed to reach the playoffs, it doesn't mean Haley's approach is worth abandoning after just one season.
Like any team, the Steelers benefit more from continuity rather than change upon change. If Haley leaves for Arizona, that means Pittsburgh will have their third offensive coordinator in three seasons. Roethlisberger may not have enjoyed that Arians was replaced by Haley, but he won't be any happier if another new face comes in this year to tell him how to play his position.
Indeed, it is not a convenient out for the Steelers that the Cardinals are interested in Haley. Should he leave, Arizona will not be taking a burden off of the Steelers' hands; in fact, it will hand them a new set of challenges, ones they'd be better off not having to deal with at all.
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