UPDATED: OCTOBER 8, 2012 11:48 PM
Steelers' passing game shortens up under Haley
By JOHN DUDLEY, Erie Times-News
PITTSBURGH -- After four games, new coordinator Todd Haley's stamp on the Steelers' offense is becoming clear. Ben Roethlisberger is throwing fewer deep balls and the Steelers are getting fewer big plays. In Sunday's 16-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Steelers' longest gain from scrimmage was 20 yards.
In their four games, the Steelers have had 12 plays covering 20 or more yards, putting them on pace for 48. They had 60 plays that long in 2011.
Roethlisberger is averaging 7.1 yards-per-pass attempt, nearly a full yard lower than in 2011, and his receivers are averaging 10.8 yards per catch, nearly two full yards below last season.
His 65.6 completion percentage is his highest since 2009.
One by-product of the shorter passing game is that receiver Mike Wallace has been less a focal point of the offense. Although Wallace has three touchdown catches, he caught only two passes for 17 yards Sunday and is averaging 13.2 yards per catch, five yards below his career average.
Wallace didn't speak with reporters after Sunday's game but said last week that he is "excited about the opportunities we're getting in the short passing game, but I'm ready to turn it up a little bit."
Roethlisberger said he understands Wallace's frustration and added that he hopes he remains patient as the new offense evolves.
"It's a frustrating day when you get a great defense because you want to do so much and there are so many plays you feel that you've left out there," Roethlisberger said. "That's what I just told him. We can be frustrated right now, but let's move on. And he'll move on. He'll be fine.
"He's frustrated because he holds himself to a high expectation, high standards. And that's good. You want that."
A more positive by-product of Haley's system is that Roethlisberger seems to be getting better protection. He wasn't sacked at all Sunday and has gone down nine times this season, putting him on pace for 36 sacks, which would be the second-lowest total since his rookie season and only the second time in the past six seasons in which he hasn't been sacked at least 40 times.
"We protected the quarterback," coach Mike Tomlin said.
Keeping Roethlisberger upright was a focal point of the decision to bring in Haley, whose system would allow Roethlisberger to dump off the ball more quickly to receivers on screens and quick outs and let them make plays in space.
A prime example was two plays to Rashard Mendenhall on quick outs, one a designed screen and one a checkdown, that resulted in a touchdown and another in a first down.
Both times Roethlisberger made a quick drop and got rid of the ball right away, never giving the Eagles' pass rush time to clamp down.
The 13-yard touchdown was ruled a lateral because the pass went backward, costing Roethlisberger what could have been one of his longer completions of the game.
"Yeah, I'm going to protest that," Roethlisberger said. "We're in Pittsburgh, so we call it a run."
JOHN DUDLEY can be reached at 870-1677 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNdudley.