30 rocks: Haley has great expectations for Steelers offense


Associated Press

PITTSBURGH

Todd Haley came up with a goal of averaging 30 points a game a year ago.

And if the always tinkering, ever aggressive Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator is being honest, he’s kind of surprised his group came as close as it did in 2015.

No Ben Roethlisberger for four games. No Le’Veon Bell for 10. No Martavis Bryant for five. No Maurkice Pouncey for an entire season. And still the Steelers managed to put up 26 points every week on their way to a second straight playoff berth.

“When you look back at the tape, even with the hands we were dealt, whether it was injuries, suspensions, whatever it was, to me it would have been a very attainable goal for us last year,” Haley said.

So why change it even with some of the same issues that plagued Pittsburgh a year ago — Bell suspended for three games, Bryant suspended until next spring, tight end Ladarius Green out indefinitely with ankle issues — popping up again ahead of tonight’s opener in Washington?

“As a coach, you are trying to set the bar high but at an area you can feel like you can achieve and attain,” Haley said. “I just think that’s a number if we are able to get it done, it will give us the best chance to win week in and week out.”

The preseason provided a brief but perhaps telling glimpse of what’s to come. Roethlisberger, Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown played all of two possessions together during an exhibition game.

Both drives in Week 3 featured Roethlisberger working almost exclusively out of the no-huddle and finished with the Steelers in the end zone.

Giving Roethlisberger the latitude to call what he wants when he wants — akin to Peyton Manning’s prime in Indianapolis — is a sign of just how the relationship between quarterback and coordinator has evolved over the past four years.

The trust level between the two is at an all-time high thanks in part to Roethlisberger’s embracing of Haley’s system that tasks the 34-year-old with getting the ball out of his hands (and hopefully keeping him healthy) to a skill group that’s as talented as any in the league when it’s on the field at the same time.

It’s a collection that will include heavy doses of DeAngelo Williams until Bell returns in Week 4. It’s a role he filled remarkably well in 2015 while running for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns at 32. Williams looks as fresh as ever.

“DeAngelo does not lack confidence by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s what you want,” Roethlisberger said.

Pittsburgh’s test will be an unfamiliar one. The Redskins spent the offseason upgrading a defense that finished 28th in yards allowed in 2015, though Washington somehow won the lackluster NFC East anyway.

All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman comes over from Carolina and former Pittsburgh defensive end Ziggy Hood will try to revitalize his career after bouncing from Jacksonville to Chicago to the nation’s capital since leaving the Steelers after the 2013 season.

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