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Even If Heath Miller Returns, the Pittsburgh Steelers Offense Will Struggle If Todd Haley Does not Find an Identity

September 20th, 2013 at 11:36 PM
By Mark Mihalko

The Pittsburgh Steelers already have their backs to the wall. While it is not impossible to overcome their 0-2 start and make the playoffs, it is definitely an uphill battle. If they start 0-3, the chances dramatically increase that they will miss the playoffs for a second straight season.

'MRR_0249' photo (c) 2006, SteelCityHobbies - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Yes, it is way to early to be considering the playoffs, but with how historically bad the offense has been to start the season, there is really no reason for optimism. If there is one thing for fans to look forward to it is the potential return of tight end Heath Miller. The Pro Bowl tight end was again a full participant in practice Friday and is now listed as probable on the weekly injury report. For Miller, he would be returning to the field for the first time since tearing his ACL/MCL nine months ago during the 2012 season.

Even if Miller can go, his overall impact may not be more than an emotional boost, as the real problem for the Steelers offense has been a combination of an anemic rushing attack, poor offensive line play, ill-timed turnovers and some suspect play calling. Looking deeper at the play calling aspect, it is more a question of the personnel grouping used on certain plays than the plays themselves.

One look at the tape of the Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals is enough to get your head scratching. Running a reverse to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, throwing screen passes to the slowest running back Isaac Redman, and even running Redman on basic plays when it was clear he was not himself in that game after undergoing sideline and locker room tests for a concussion. This has not even brought up the lack of use of the zone blocking scheme the team spent all season working on. While some may think that those plays are just part of the game plan, and maybe they were (or weren't), one has to question the player selection.

Take the reverse to Cotchery. Yes, he is a solid number three receiver and a player that can make a tough catch on third down, but no one fears his speed. In fact, the case can be made that Cotchery is the slowest member of the wide receiving corps. With players with return skills such as Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and even third round pick Markus Wheaton, why not give them a chance on a reverse? The same case can be made on the screen. Running back Felix Jones is a solid receiver, and has a first round pedigree with some speed, why not give him a shot? He did look better on limited carries Monday night than Redman.  

Of course, it will come down to the play was called and ran with the players on the field and no substitutions were made, but isn’t that what caused the critical turnover on the opening drive against the Tennessee Titans? At this point, 2013 is proving that decision-making matters more than talent, and somewhere along the line, the Steelers decision makers have lost their way. Somewhere along the line, Todd Haley lost the Steelers identity. 

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Tags: Antonio Brown, Felix Jones, Football, Heath Miller, Isaac Redman, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, NFL, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Steelers, Todd Haley

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