As we wait for additional updates on the health of Le’Veon Bell and look forward to Saturday’s sure to be epic Wild Card match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, let’s take a minute to look back. With mere hours left in 2014, I think today is a pretty good day to reflect on what the Black and Gold accomplished this past season. I realize the new rules making defense virtually illegal ensure huge numbers are put up all around the league but when you look at what the Steelers did on offense 2014 was truly and literally one for the record books.
And we have one man to thank for it: Todd Haley.
When Bruce Arians
retired was canned, there was much hand-wringing over his chosen replacement. Haley came in having a reputation for being an arrogant hothead who frequently alienated many of his players. He also oversaw some of the best offenses and offensive players in the league in recent years. Steeler Nation being Steeler Nation, whenever the team went three and out it immediately became Haley’s fault. Local blowhard Mark Madden made the ludicrous claim that Haley was only hired due to nepotism – his father was the Steelers GM throughout the 70s and 80s – while twits on Twitter would hashtag “FreeBen” because I guess they thought Ben Roethlisberger slinging 55 passes per game was the best path to victory.
In the end, it was Haley who had the last laugh. The Steelers finished the season ranked 2nd in total offense, only the third time in team history they finished that high. They also finished 2nd overall in passing offense, their highest ranking since way back in 1978. Despite all the passing, they only surrendered 33 sacks, putting them in the middle of the pack in that stat which is doubly impressive when you remember Ben’s propensity for holding on to the ball probably costs them 10-15 sacks per year alone. While new offensive line coach Mike Munchak will get deserved credit for the line’s resurgence, remember they didn’t allow a sack the entire final month of the season last year either. Munchak helped but Haley’s run-oriented quick passing offense deserves a good deal of credit.
And while the offense certainly stresses quick timing routes, they don’t neglect the long ball either. Ben had more completions of 20+ yards than any other QB this year.
Let’s talk about Ben for a second. He finished the year 48 yards short of a 5,000 yard passing season. Not bad for a guy supposedly being “held back” and “minimized” by the Haley offense. As it is, he wound up in a tie with Drew Brees for the league passing title. Yes, Ben beat out guys like Manning, Brady, and Rodgers – guys who play on teams with the offensive philosophy of pass, pass, and then pass some more. Perhaps Ben’s most impressive stat is his 32/9 TD-INT ratio, an astounding 1.5% interception rate. It was truly his finest season.
Also having a career year was Antonio Brown. AB wound up not only setting Steeler records but leading the entire NFL with 129 receptions for 1,698 yards. Oh and don’t forge to throw in his 13 touchdowns for good measure. I’m critical of Kevin Colbert for many of his decisions – and those linebackers he drafts, oh why does he keep drafting damnable linebackers – but giving AB a long-term deal over malcontent Mike Wallace or moody Manny Sanders looks more and more brilliant every day. Brown is not only the best receiver in football, I dare say a good argument could be made that he is the Black and Gold’s best wide out ever. Think of the names that statement covers.
While those were the big two in terms of accolades, let’s not forget the third member of the Killer Bs. Le’Veon Bell emerged as the league’s most dangerous all-purpose back. He’s not the best pure runner – Demarco Murray probably holds that distinction – but he is the most versatile. He rushed for 1,400 yards then caught another 850 in passes – again another Steeler record for all purpose yards. I think we all knew Bell was going to be a good one but I don’t think anybody imagined he’d provide that kind of production, especially not in only his second season.
Heath Miller had his most productive season since 2012. Markus Wheaton showed marked improvement over his rookie season although to be fair I’m not sure he’ll ever be much more than a decent slot guy. However, rookie Martavis Bryant was inserted into the line-up about halfway through the year and quickly emerged as a player to watch. Despite catching 8 touchdowns it’s clear he doesn’t have a great grasp of the offense yet every week Haley finds new ways to utilize him. When Bryant’s savvy catches up to his physical ability, he’s going to be nearly impossible to handle.
Going into this year, we all knew if the Steelers were going to win, it was going to be because of their offense. While defensive driven teams still exist in the NFL – Seattle proves they can even thrive – the league as a whole has become tilted towards favoring the explosive offenses. So while it would be nice if our defense could bring it up another level – could you imagine what our offense could do if we had a D that could get off the field quickly on a regular basis? – we certainly have the offense to offset their shortcomings. It’s been a very good year for the Black and Gold and while no coach does it on their own, let’s give Haley’s Comet the props it deserves.
Happy New Year everybody!