PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers came into their own in the second half of last season when the no-huddle attack became a staple of their offense and not just something they used when circumstances dictated it or as a change of pace.
But Todd Haley attributed the offense averaging just under 28 points in the Steelers’ final eight games to something more basic: taking care of the football.
The Steelers committed a whopping 11 turnovers in their first four games, all losses. They turned the ball over seven times in their final eight games, winning six.
“We just had to put an emphasis on protecting the football at all costs because when you turn the ball over in this league you really hurt your chances of winning games,” said Haley, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. “I think the guys just took to it to heart and focused on protecting the football.”
It is probably not a coincidence that as the Steelers started cutting down on turnovers Haley cut loose on the no-huddle attack, giving Roethlisberger more ownership of the offense than he has ever had.
Roethlisberger rewarded Haley’s faith, and in addition to his play it helped that Le'Veon Bell stabilized the running game and Fernando Velasco and then Cody Wallace filled in capably at center for Maurkice Pouncey, who was lost to a knee injury eight snaps into his season.
“We obviously had some adversity with injuries and things like that, but the turnovers stopped. That’s really when we started playing better football,” Haley said. “The second half of the season, we did a lot of good things, as we worked our way through adversity when you couldn’t see much light at the end of the tunnel. I think a lot of good came out of that. I think a lot of the guys that were here and are still here, feel that and know what we have to accomplish. We are all interested in building off of that finish.”
One area in which the Steelers’ offense will need to improve is starting games.
The Steelers managed just one touchdown on their 16 opening drives last season and 10 overall points.
A key to starting faster is the Steelers’ establishing the run, something that should be helped by the improvement Bell is expected to make in his second season, and the offseason additions of LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer and offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
“We have to run the football better, which we started to do in the second half of the season,” Haley said. “When you can throw it as well as we did with the run game not exactly where we wanted it (in the first half of 2013) that tells you that you have a chance to be good. When you are running the football it makes throwing it a heck of a lot easier. Running is a big part of what we have to do here going forward successfully.”