Steelers' Haley trying to find balance
PITTSBURGH (AP) The call was unconventional. No wonder Todd Haley loved it.
Lined up at the Houston 2 late in the first half on Monday night with a chance to take the lead, the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't put the game in the hands of star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, rapidly improving running back Le'Veon Bell or reliable veteran tight end Heath Miller.
Instead, Roethlisberger took the snap and flipped the ball to wide receiver Antonio Brown. Typically this isn't a bad idea. Brown, after all, is a Pro Bowler. Of course, that's for catching passes. What he did instead showcased the inventiveness - or insanity, depending on your point of view - of Haley, Pittsburgh's unapologetic offensive coordinator.
Brown pivoted 180 degrees, sprinted to his left, cocked his arm and fired a strike to Lance Moore in the end zone.
Touchdown. Just like that, the Steelers had surged in front. Pretty good execution for a play the Brown and Moore had struggled with in practice. Haley decided to run it anyway.
''You're trying to create a look, create a reaction,'' Haley said.
That's never been a problem for the architect of one of the NFL's more dynamic, though occasionally erratic offenses. The confident, blunt and sometimes caustic former Kansas City Chiefs head coach has the Steelers (4-3) in the top 10 in yards passing (eighth) and rushing (ninth) heading into Sunday's game against Indianapolis. It's heady territory for a franchise who has staked its reputation and six Super Bowl trophies on defense.
Not anymore. Not with Roethlisberger in the midst of another understatedly productive season and Bell and Brown proving to be two of the most electric players in the league.
Ask Haley if this group of Steelers represents the most balanced offense he's had at his disposal in his career and he starts nodding his head.
''Without a doubt,'' Haley said.
With great firepower, however, comes great responsibility. Not to mention more than a handful of egos. Considering the depth at the skill positions, there are plenty of mouths to feed. While Haley has taken great lengths to create a symbiotic relationship with Roethlisberger - to the point where Roethlisberger calls it a ''partnership'' - he also has no problems juggling the depth chart and the game plan each week depending on need.
And if that ends with hurt feelings, so be it.
''I never worry about it a whole bunch,'' Haley said. ''Their job is to come out and play and contribute and coach (Tomlin) does a great job of making that very clear, that the guys that make plays will continue to get opportunities and guys that aren't will have to wait their turn.''
No matter how long they've been around. The Steelers signed Moore to a two-year deal in March figuring he would be a perfect fit in the slot. When a hamstring injury slowed Moore late in the preseason, he found his spot on the depth chart taken by unheralded Justin Brown. It bothered Moore but he didn't ask for an explanation. He's been around long enough to know that's not how it goes.
''It's not something that's communicated, they're not calling us on the day off and saying `we're going to do this with you,''' Moore said. ''You just come in, check the game plan out, you get in practice and get the reps and get a feel for it then.''
While Moore's profile has risen over the last few weeks, even he's not sure how much he'll be involved against the Colts (5-2). As balanced as the numbers appear, they're also deceiving. One week the Steelers are pounding away with the running game as they did when they rolled up 264 yards in a win over Carolina. The next Roethlisberger is throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns against Tampa Bay.
While Haley allows the offense remains a work in progress, he's not sure there has to be a certain identity. Given how the talent is spread out at the skill positions, maybe the Steelers are more chameleon than anything.
''Balance forces you to look at each defense and figure out what is the best way to have the best chance to win,'' he said. ''When you can do both (run and pass), it's a positive.''
And if you can gamble every now and then, all the better. Haley has no problem opening games in five-wide sets on first down then bringing in three tight ends and a fullback a play later. Last he checked, part of his job is to keep the defense guessing.
That's why Brown found himself rolling left and threading the ball in between two Houston defenders during a pivotal moment in a game Pittsburgh hopes will provide a jolt to their puzzling season. For all their yards, the Steelers have struggled to score touchdowns in close. Might as well experiment.
On that front, Haley has found a kindred spirit in Tomlin.
''I couldn't ask for more because he's playing to win and wants you to think likewise,'' Haley said. ''Whether it's thinking about the flea flicker here or whatever it's `Let's do it. Let's play to win.' There is no second guessing. It's pedal to the metal.''
NOTES: LB Ryan Shazier practiced on Thursday, meaning he could return from a sprained right knee to face the Colts. ... T Marcus Gilbert (concussion) and DT Steve McLendon (Shoulder) did not practice.
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