Big Ben is bedrock of 'Rosetta Stone' attack

May, 18, 2012
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One week, Ben Roethlisberger is being given a diploma after graduating from college. The next, he's being handed a new playbook from offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

"I joke and say that my final paper for Miami on Tibet was a lot easier than the Rosetta Stone we're doing now here," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week.

The Steelers quarterback might have been showing off with the reference to the the ancient hieroglyphic stone (and not the computer software that helped swimmer Michael Phelps learn some words in Mandarin), but you get the point of the punchline. Based on what he's seen of Haley's complicated offense so far, Roethlisberger estimated it's 90 percent different than the one run by former Steelers coordinator Bruce Arians.

[+] EnlargeRoethlisberger
Jason Bridge/US PresswireExpect to see the Steelers' offense again relying on the right arm of Ben Roethlisberger.
What should never change is the foundation of the Steelers' attack -- and that is Roethlisberger. Haley is the new playcaller, but this is still Roethlisberger's offense. As long as he's able to stand on two feet -- which has been a challenge at times after taking so many hits -- Roethlisberger should be slinging the ball 30 times per game to Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller.

If the Steelers want a top-10 offense, they have to throw the ball. The three teams that averaged over 30 points per game last season were pass-first offenses that relied on the arms of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

If the Steelers want to remain an annual playoff contender, their offense has to revolve around Roethlisberger. The top five passing teams in the NFL last season -- New Orleans, New England, Green Bay, Detroit and New York Giants -- all advanced to the postseason and two of them met in the Super Bowl.

There was talk this offseason that Pittsburgh needed to get back to "Steelers football" and run the ball more. But who said that -- Art Rooney II or Ray Lewis? Because taking the ball out of Roethlisberger's hands only helps the defense.

Haley has proven extremely adaptable in his last two NFL stops. As the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he installed a run-heavy offense with running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. As the offensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals, he put together a pass-happy attack with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston.

It doesn't take an ESPN analyst like Trent Dilfer to realize that the Steelers' personnel resembles the Cardinals more than the Chiefs. The Steelers have one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL and a handful of young receivers who can fly all over the field. Pittsburgh is also going to be without its starting running back (Rashard Mendenhall is recovering from knee surgery) and doesn't have a Pro Bowl fullback like Vonta Leach. There really should be no mystery in how the Steelers will attack defenses this year.

"Steelers fans and coach [Mike] Tomlin and the Rooneys apparently thought [Arians] was throwing the ball too much," Roethlisberger said last week. "But yesterday in Coach Haley's office, we were talking about using the no-huddle and throwing the ball and how much we have to use our weapons."

The Steelers have yet to line up as a full team this offseason, but you can imagine what they will look like on offense when they do. It should be three wide receivers split out wide and a single back behind Roethlisberger. The idea is to spread out defenses and keep them on their heels with the no huddle.

Haley won't be afraid to put the offense on the shoulders of Roethlisberger. He did it with Warner in Arizona. In 2008, the Cardinals had the highest called-pass percentage in the league at 66.1 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information's Allison Loucks.

The Steelers were never that one-dimensional under Arians, although it seemed like it at times. Last season, the Steelers called passes (includes sacks and scrambles) on 58.7 percent of their plays , which was 11th in the NFL but still under the league average of 59.4 percent.

The change from Arians to Haley was more than retooling the scheme. It's about getting into the end zone. There was no excuse for the Steelers ranking 12th in scoring in 2009 and 2010. And there was really no excuse for them to rank 21st this past season. Pittsburgh averaged only 20.3 points per game in 2011 and scored more than 30 points just three times.

Haley has to know the pieces are in place for a top-notch offense. Roethlisberger, who threw for more than 4,000 yards in two of the past three seasons, is proof of that. He can go deep to Wallace, hit Brown over the middle or find Miller down the seam. There are more options with speedy Emmanuel Sanders and veteran Jerricho Cotchery.

Perhaps one tweak is getting Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quicker. The Steelers already took steps to reduce the hits on the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback by drafting offensive linemen in the first two rounds. The biggest loss on offense, outside of Mendenhall, was the release and eventual retirement of wide receiver Hines Ward. However, that departure should allow Roethlisberger to take on a larger leadership role.

So, Roethlisberger's first challenge is to understand the "Rosetta Stone" playbook. His ultimate one is to take a good offense and make it a great one.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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