Earlier this week following the Steelers’ horrendous performance in Cleveland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ed Bouchette submitted a piece about blowing up the entire backfield prior to next year. I see where Ed is going but I don’t completely agree. If you want to start blowing things up, let’s start with this running game in general which has been seemingly at every end of the running game spectrum this season.
There’s not much that can be said about the players that fumbled in Cleveland on Sunday. As the teacher from ‘A Christmas Story’ said, “They know their blame.” Fumbles happen but these guys sure chose a poor time for them to go all ‘butterfingers’ didn’t they?
I’ll get to the backs themselves in a minute but my point is the system and how it needs and screams for change. Can someone explain why Todd Haley continues to employ the two-tight end system? I said from the beginning that I liked David Paulson and thought when we drafted him that he had a good shot to make the team or at least the practice squad but I never envisioned him being so heavily relied upon for blocking.
While we’re at it, why did the Steelers sign Leonard Pope? Wasn’t he supposed to be the H-back, hybrid guy that knew Haley’s offense so well? Sorry, but he has become a waste of a roster spot in my opinion.
I watched the Saints and Falcons play last night and was astonished at how well both teams ran the football at times with a full back and tight end on the field. What’s the difference between them and us you ask? Their tight ends were flexed quite often giving the look of a three-wide set which spread out the defense and created running room.
When Haley deploys a similar package, he has Heath Miller in tight and will quite often motion receivers so that they are near one end of the line of scrimmage as well at the snap. If the idea is to spread them out it isn’t working because YOU AREN’T SPREADING THEM OUT!!
Two tight end sets with a fullback are fine inside the five yard line but that’s it. Haley needs to stop tying this offense to the fence post and let it run free. I know many in the Steelers Nation who believe Haley is only doing what the front office wants and that’s a return to three yards and a cloud of dust and they are probably right but I’m not going there. I’m going at the man himself, Todd Haley, who all of us damn well know can spread the field and run and throw it at will. He did it with less talent in Arizona so why not here? (rhetorical question)
As far as personnel, yes Rashard Mendenhall will leave via free agency. I don’t see him coming back. With Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer being restricted free agents, I see minimal offers if any, but I wouldn’t totally sleep on Dwyer. Of the three, he fits the role the Steelers want the best.
The fourth back of course is Chris Rainey. My personal opinion is that he has been poorly used in the offense and his skills are not being utilized. Rainey is not a guy that is going to run very well through the tackles yet the Steelers continue this track.
Rainey needs to be in space. Why is he not given more opportunities to catch passes out of the backfield, in the flats, or over the middle? Why aren’t they using him more out of spread formations? Other teams in the league seem to find ways to take advantage of guys with similar skill-sets so why can’t the Steelers?
I really liked the hiring of Todd Haley, but I can’t help but wonder if indeed he is hamstrung by powers greater than him. Until the Steelers learn to spread out defenses to take advantage of their players’ abilities then this constant roller coaster of rushing success and failure will continue.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.