By Matt Pawlikowski
Since the NFL merger, The Steelers’ mantra has been good defense and run game. Add the two together, and the outcome–usually more than not–is a win.
This year, one part of that mantra is missing (the run game altogether) and the other is missing key players (the defense is walking with a heavy limp due to injuries). Yet without the two staples of success, something else has been bred–something that wins football games: long offensive series that consume large amounts of time.
Call it “Haleyball,” as in offensive coordinator Todd Haley; and while the season is young thus far, its been success. Against Denver, Pittsburgh held the ball 10 minutes more and converted 11 of 19 third downs and had a 16 play drive that lasted eight minutes and a 14 play drive that lasted nearly five minutes.
It was more of the same against the Jets, even with a run game that was nearly invisible until the final quarter. In all the Steelers had the ball over 36 minutes, including a game clinching 10 minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t really have any deep plays, but that is important to me,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “They call it run game alternative and I think that is important to us.”
While the team lost to Oakland on Sunday, Haleyball continued to excel as the offense racked up 433 yards, scored 31 points.
Running on empty
The biggest question for the Steelers, and perhaps one of the more baffling, is the running game. Once the staple of an offense that won six Super Bowls, after two games, the running game is an afterthought.
Some blame the complexity of the new system Haley has installed, some on the line, and others on the fact Rashard Mendenhall, who averages over four for his career, is still sidelined.
Whatever the case, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry and ranking 30th in the league could be problematic when the snow and cold weather come around if it’s not remedied.
“We’re kind of struggling right now,” running back Isaac Redman said “But each game, we’re hoping to get better and better.”
Against the Raiders it was an afterthought.
Tomlin has rotated Redman and Jonathan Dwyer in Mendenhalls absence, and while each has shown some signs of life, he has expressed his concern.
“The reality is we’ve got room for growth,” Tomlin said. “ We need to tighten up our menu and lean on the things we are doing well. We need to block better and put the ball where it needs to be on a more consistent basis.”
Despite the lack of a run attack, the Steelers still have won the battle of the clock, a big reason being Ben Rothlisberger’s grasp of Haley’s system. Part of it has been what he calls the run game alternative, utilizing the short pass to either the backs or a reciever.
“They call it run game alternative and I think that is important to us.” Roethlisberger said.
Problem is, to win football games, time of possession isn’t the only thing needed. You also have to hold onto the football and you need to play 60 minutes of football. Twice now the defense, also a staple of success, has given up leads and lost games in the last minute.
“It’s a 60 minute ballgame, we do good for halves, but we have to do good for 60 minutes,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “Teams are going to come ready to play and we need to find out how to finish. Point blank period. We are 0-2 on the road, we have to find a will and a way to win. No question.”
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Matt Pawlikowski is a veteran journalist covering all things Steelers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.