After one season in Todd Haley’s offense, you can put to rest the talk that Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive coordinator would not get along. But while the two functioned together, there is still room to grow, as the Pittsburgh Steelers try to fix their offense.
Gone is Roethlisberger's best receiving option in Mike Wallace. No longer does he have that deep threat to just heave the ball up to.
Without this crutch, Roethlisberger must go “all-in” with Haley’s offense.
Pittsburgh's offense is now littered with small, quick receivers who are going to fit perfectly into the quick rhythm passing attack that was implemented last season.
But not all was well with this type of play.
Roethlisberger caused a bit of a stir when he spoke out about the offensive scheme in the middle of the 2012 season (via Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).
“Haley’s offense is not a big-play offense,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s kind of a dink-and-dunk offense.”
Not exactly the big blowout that some were expecting between Roethlisberger and Haley, but enough to get you thinking, is Haley taking Roethlisberger out of his comfort zone?
It was a valid question.
Roethlisberger was never a rhythm passer. He doesn’t like to take a three-step drop and get rid of the ball. That was not the style of play that made him one of the great quarterbacks in the game.
Instead, it was his improvisational skills: the ability to scramble around the pocket, avoid going down on first contact and making a play downfield. No quarterback is better at extending plays.
But the now 31-year-old quarterback is not the same athlete he was five years ago.
Roethlisberger isn’t as fast as he used to be. His body cannot recover from the types of hits he takes on a weekly basis. While he is not fragile, he does get hurt a lot.
Injuries have gotten the best of Roethlisberger and the Steelers. It could be argued that the injuries he’s suffered over the past two seasons have been the main reason for the team's end-of-season failures.
There cannot be a repeat this season if the Steelers are going to compete for a playoff spot. They need Roethlisberger healthy and on the field for the entire season. That means he has to take full ownership of what Haley is trying to accomplish on offense.
The first thing Roethlisberger will have to do is adjust to the new offensive line.
Expect Marcus Gilbert to take over for Max Starks at left tackle and to experience some growing pains. Not exactly what you want from the man protecting the quarterback’s blind side, but it is a reality.
So is the fact that the likely starter at right tackle—Mike Adams—struggles in pass protection.
Roethlisberger is going to face a ton of pressure from the edge, and he is going to have to fully embrace the short passing game.
The receiving trio of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Markus Wheaton will certainly help him in this area. They are all dangerous options on short routes, as well as over the middle of the field, and have the speed to break a short completion into a long gain.
But timing will be the key for the offense to be successful. Training camp will be important for Roethlisberger and his receivers to establish their rhythm.
This was not a luxury that Roethlisberger had last season when he was without his top receiver for camp, as he held out for a new contract. That should not be an issue this year.
Neither should any perceived—or potential—disagreements that Roethlisberger has with the offensive philosophy.
Though he may not have liked the dink-and-dunk approach, it was showing signs of success prior to Roethlisberger's injury last season. However, it still needed some tweaks.
Apparently, those changes have been made, and Roethlisberger is feeling much better about his comfort level with the offensive heading into 2013 (via Steelers.com).
Yeah, a little bit. There’s a little more comfort. There has been some changes this offseason in some of the offensive philosophies, playbook and some things that I think are good. It’s some compromise from all different position coaches, running back coaches, line and quarterback coaches. I think we’ve taken a little bit of everything and made it a lot better. You can ask anybody on offense that, including coaches, and they’ll tell you that we all like the way the offense is and where it’s going.
That sounds like a happy quarterback. It also sounds like a quarterback who realized the offense still needs to get better in many areas.
More short throws and fewer hits on Roethlisberger was nice, but the lack of points on the scoreboard wasn’t.
There is still a place for defense in the NFL, but it is an offensive league now, and to succeed, teams have to put points on the board. That is one problem that has plagued the Steelers in recent years.
But with his comments, Roethlisberger sounds pleased with the direction in which the offense will be moving.
While we are months away from seeing what they have in store for us, you have to believe that Roethlisberger, Haley and the rest of the offensive coaching staff took the best of what Roethlisberger does and combined it with the best of Haley’s offense.
More importantly, it sounds like an offense that Roethlisberger is ready to take ownership of.
In a quarterback-driven league, great play from your signal-caller is the difference between a Super Bowl contender and a team sitting at home for the playoffs.
Roethlisberger must take command of the offense to remind everyone why he is recognized as one of the best in the game. More importantly, it will get his team back to competing for championships.