Native son and former third-string quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers Charlie Batch is moving from the football field to the broadcast booth in 2013. On his way, he dropped a firecracker involving Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley.
As chronicled by Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Batch claims offensive coordinator Haley revoked Roethlisberger's right to change called plays at the line of scrimmage in 2012.
"By not being allowed that flexibility, like Bruce Arians allowed him to have to change at the line of scrimmage to a pass, that frustrated him a little bit."
While at first it seems a bit absurd to think the team wouldn't allow their Super Bowl winning quarterback to run his offense on the field, Roethlisberger's comments following a costly interception which led to the loss to the Dallas Cowboys last season may have foreshadowed Batch's claim.
"The play that got called, well, they went to a prevent defense so the play that got called wasn't a good play. At all." Roethlisberger said following that game.
The Steelers have been working to re-establish their running game. Haley was hired with two directives: keep Roethlisberger upright and run the ball. As was pointed out by Jon Gruden during the Monday Night Football broadcast of the Steelers loss to the Washington Redskins, Haley wants running answers to running problems instead of throwing the ball all the time.
The problem was conceived and incubated during Bruce Arians' tenure as the team's offensive coordinator, when Roethlisberger had full reign of the playbook and liberty to opt out of running calls. It eventually blossomed into a security blanket stitched from predictable receiver screens and patches of rushing ineptitude. The Steelers lost their ability to run on demand, leaving their offense a bit one-dimensional.
Haley was hired to be his boss, not his buddy.
While many question whether or not Roethlisberger deserves the right to call his own plays, no one can debate how versatility breeds unpredictability. Haley was seeking to diversify the Steelers offense, and to do so, the run had to be established. Running games are not established by constantly changing out of running calls.
Haley's passing game is predicated on quick throw concepts. Quick slants and screens have been included, and as also pointed out by Gruden, some are automatically built into the offensive system based on the defensive setup. No audible is required for automatic changes.
Also, Roethlisberger was documented last year as having full control in no-huddle and hurry-up situations, thus debunking any notion the team stripped him of all control. A chain of command was being implemented, and the players were required to be subordinate to the coaching staff and work within the design of the systems put in place.
Now in 2013, the entire offense has acclimated to the system. Haley and Roethlisberger have begun working together on the offense, finding an agreeable middle ground. Had Haley just allowed the quarterback to keep steering the boat, the offense probably would've wound up back in familiar waters. Instead, the 2013 offense is multi-dimensional.
The rushing game is comprised of inside power and outside zone blocking schemes. The passing game is built on a base of quick throws with downfield attacks mixed in. Hot routes and checkdowns have become automatic reads instead of judgment calls, leaving little room for miscommunications or missed assignments. The offense had to learn to work as a team, not just a passing attack with an occasional draw play.
Roethlisberger has expressed nothing but approval for the offense under Haley in 2013. He was asked about the situation during the Redskins game by ESPN's Lisa Salters, and answered how much smoother Year 2 has been from Year 1.
"It's another year of being familiar with it and understanding it. We've done a good job of all the players and all the coaches kind of getting together and making this 'our' offense, and it's been good so far," Roethlisberger has said recently.
If Roethlisberger held any grudges against his new coordinator last year, those feelings have dissipated. He has never openly complained about not being allowed to call audibles, only terminology. The closest Roethlisberger came to questioning his coordinator was the Cowboys comments, which have been all but forgotten now.
When 2013 reaches its conclusion, the Steelers will have a better idea on whether their offense is capable of operating as a diverse unit in Haley's second season; or if their quarterback can only operate the way he was used to.