PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 09: Isaac Redman #33 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Tennessee Titans during the game on October 9, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Steelers fans should expect constant three-wide sets and a heavy dose of Isaac Redman in 2012.
Ben Roethlisberger recently likened new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's playbook to the Rosetta Stone -- the ancient, hieroglyph-laden decree stone, not the software Michael Phelps used to learn 14 words in Mandarin.
Obviously, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is being hyperbolic. (And maybe he, like, just learned what the Rosetta Stone even was, what with his newly-acquired bachelor's degree endlessly publicized during pro football's insipid period of hibernation.) Learning a new offense isn't akin to deciphering some strange language that's been dead for centuries. But this does beg the question, what will the Steelers' offense look like in 2012? Here are a few things to expect.
The Steelers Will Live in '11 Personnel'
If Haley has proven anything, it's that he's not married to any particular offensive schemes.
As head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Haley installed a power running game, working rushers Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones on the perimeter and in between the tackles, respectively. When the Chiefs threw, it was often off of play action; safe underneath routes to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and then rookie tight end Tony Moeaki masked Matt Cassel's physical limitations, and the quarterback enjoyed a highly-efficient season behind a heroic, 1,400-yard effort from Charles.
With the Arizona Cardinals, however, Haley's attack was essentially a spread offense. Clearly, it doesn't take a football genius to figure out that with quarterback Kurt Warner and receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin on your roster, you throw the football. A lot. But still -- slot receiver Steve Breaston also eclipsed 1,000 yards under Haley, and Arizona's unrelenting deployment of three- and four-receiver sets kept opposing defenses in their sub packages, allowing Warner to consistently beat the blitz behind a deficient offensive line.
Haley isn't Mike Martz with the Chicago Bears -- he's not going to try to jam a square peg through a round hole. Instead, he'll likely field cater to Pittsburgh's personnel, meaning that the Steelers are going to live in 11 Personnel next year -- the base offense will be a singleback, three-wide set.
What's more, fans clamoring for a misguided return to the "Steelers football" of old are in for disappointment. In 2011, Pittsburgh's ratio of dropbacks to rushing attempts was about 3-to-2, and that won't change in the upcoming season. Your team has a top-shelf quarterback and a bunch of young receivers who can fly and embarrass people after the catch; they're going to throw the football.
Early reports suggest that Haley's offense will feature a lot of no-huddle, which Roethlisberger loves. So if a defense lines up in their base package on first down, anticipating the run despite Pittsburgh's 11 Personnel, expect the Steelers to initiate the hurry-up on the subsequent play -- maybe even split Heath Miller out in the slot, drop Roethlisberger back into the shotgun -- and exploit mismatches in zone coverage.
Isaac Redman Will Be Pittsburgh's Featured Back
Of course, none of this is to say that the Steelers are just going to stop running the ball. On the contrary, I think they'll improve in terms of efficiency, although perhaps not in terms of volume.
Including the playoffs, Pittsburgh averaged nearly 4.5 yards per carry last year. Not bad at all. However, excluding Rashard Mendenhall, who has always danced in the hole too much for my liking, that metric rockets up to almost five yards flat.
We haven't event talked yet about how much Pittsburgh's offensive line improved during the draft, which is basically Steelers blogger sacrilege. As I pointed out after the first round, the Steelers are obviously in love with their new mauler up front, Stanford guard David DeCastro:
If you need proof of how excited the Steelers war room must have been, look no further than the rapidity with which they turned in their pick after the Detroit Lions at No. 23. That was the single fastest pick I've seen in a decade, hands down.
Second-round tackle Mike Adams may not contribute right away, but center Maurkice Pouncey and second-year man Marcus Gilbert have yet to peak and should be improved. When you put the youngsters' collective upside together, this could be the most talented line the Steelers have fielded in nearly a decade.
The draft was also an enormous vote of confidence for halfback Isaac Redman, as Pittsburgh didn't select a runner until the third day. While Redman doesn't have Mendenhall's top gear or his first-round pedigree, he has been the statistically superior rusher over the past seasons (yes, yes -- it's a small sample size), averaging almost a full yard more per carry. What's more, he's a decisive, straight-line runner who can catch and pass protect, too.
If Mendenhall can't get back on the field, and Redman can touch the ball 200 times or more, the previously-undrafted back could break out and possibly play himself into a long-term contract with the Black & Gold. (Take note, fantasy owners.)
We'll translate more of this Rosetta Stone as training camp unfolds this summer. Position battles will reveal themselves (who else wants to play guard?), and preseason never fails to add some intrigue.
For now, though, I expect Todd Haley's offense to be balanced -- by 2012 standards -- and extremely effective. In fact, it could be the best we've seen from Steelers in years.