Starkey: Brave new world for Ben, Steelers
Someday, perhaps, we will look back on the Steelers’ 37-27 victory over the Detroit Lions as a watershed game in the Todd Haley era.
The quarterback you saw Sunday was precisely the quarterback Art Rooney II and Mike Tomlin envisioned when they brought Haley aboard. Ben Roethlisberger stood tall in the pocket, got rid of the ball fast and stayed clean.
The catch, of course, is that Roethlisberger called many of the plays.
On the day they set Ben free, he stayed home. On the day they gave a wild man the reins, he took the horse for a guided walk around the property.
Roethlisberger had been sacked at least twice in every game this season. The Lions sacked him once.
The Steelers scored 37 points, their highest total under Haley. They combined a short rhythm passing game (don’t call it dink and dunk) with the explosiveness the quarterback has craved.
All of which leads to a question: What now?
Surely, the Steelers can’t go back to how it was, can they?
Before hazarding an answer, it’s important to know what happened Sunday.
Nothing inspires hysterical reactions among Steelers fans — even those who leave at halftime — like a new chapter in the Haley-Roethlisberger saga. That Tomlin gave Roethlisberger an unprecedented share of play-calling duties had extremists on both sides up in arms.
The Ben Backers believe their hero drew up every play in the dirt. They never want to see the Steelers huddle again. They think Ben hates Haley, wants to be reunited with Bruce Arians and should be able to do whatever he pleases on the field.
The Todd Totalers — the ones who insist, against direct statements from primary sources such as Charlie Batch, that everything was hunky-dory in the quarterbacks room last season — are extremely protective of the coordinator. They resent Ben getting the slightest bit of credit. They believe Haley was in Ben’s ear choreographing the Lions game.
The truth, as always, rests somewhere in the middle.
It was at Tomlin’s behest that the Steelers started in the no-huddle. He was tired of watching his team sputter at the start of games (zero opening-drive points in the first nine games). It was also his call to keep the foot on the pedal until the end.
Secondly, Roethlisberger absolutely calls the plays in the no-huddle. This is not to be overlooked.
“He gets a feel for how a defense is playing in certain formations, takes a look and picks what he wants to run,” said tight end Heath Miller. “He tries to dissect the defense and put us in a position to make plays.”
A coordinator can talk to the quarterback, via ear piece, until 15 seconds remain on the play clock. Last season, Haley spoke to Roethlisberger often in the no-huddle. This season, not so much.
However, Roethlisberger was choosing from a menu of Haley’s plays. This also should not be minimized. It’s Haley’s offense. Both men deserve credit for what transpired Sunday. The touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery was a perfect example. Haley designed the play, built off the widely used quick screen to Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger called it.
“Ben saw what the defense was doing and got us into the perfect play against the perfect coverage,” Cotchery said.
Moving forward, Tomlin would be crazy to eschew the no-huddle. Roethlisberger has earned a bigger stake in this offense. Contrary to what one or more of his teammates told NFL.com‘s Michael Silver, Roethlisberger prepares meticulously and can beat a defense with his brain.
That doesn’t mean the Steelers should use the no-huddle exclusively. They didn’t Sunday. They’ve been evolving in their huddled offense, too. But they also broke new ground. Roethlisberger has matured. As he moves into his mid-30s, he can be more of the stay-at-home quarterback the Steelers desire. It will take some compromise on his part, just as Haley must willingly cede some control — a challenge for any football coach.
This can work.
Nobody has to be diminished in the process.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7FM. Reach him at [email protected].