Spotlight on Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley versus Steelers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 16: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley of the Cleveland Browns looks on during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 16, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 16: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley of the Cleveland Browns looks on during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 16, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley returns to his former home in Pittsburgh, where he is expected to lead the offense, and possibly save Coach Hue Jackson’s job.

It is not going to be an easy task this weekend for the Cleveland Browns as the Steelers seem to have improved significantly since the season opener. Cleveland, on the other hand, is reeling from a succession of close, heart-breaking defeats. Another Browns defeat could push Coach Jackson over the edge, at three games under .500 at the midpoint of the season.

The internet is ablaze with rumors that coach Jackson will be replaced soon (3-35-1 being the primary cause of these rumors), and Haley’s name is frequently mentioned as a candidate to replace Jackson.

Anthony Sellers, co-host of the V-Log series Browns in our Blood, believes that the Browns have benefited by hiring Haley:

"“Overall the Browns are scoring more points than they have in twenty years, so some of the credit must go to the Offensive Coordinator. The offense has shown the type of improvement that was sought in the off-season.” — Sellers"

For their part, the Steelers seemed to blame Haley for their playoff failures, and specifically the failure to convert fourth downs against Jacksonville last year. The fan base wanted to call the quarterback sneak, despite the fact that they had Le’Veon Bell to run the ball.

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Sellers, who gets a lot of Steelers news since he is based in Morgantown West Virginia which is an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh, also believes that a reason Haley landed in the Steel City was to get the running game going again — thus limiting injuries suffered by Big Ben.

At the time that Haley joined the staff, Roethlisberger was well known for fighting through sacks and using the pump fake to extend plays. He made a number of plays that way but also took a beating.

Haley got Roethlisberger to deliver the ball sooner and greatly reduced the number of hits that Roethlisberger has had to take in the past few years.

In addition, Le’Veon Bell became a premier running back under his tutelage. In any case, the Steelers fired Haley as the scapegoat for the loss to Jacksonville, and have re-instituted the QB sneak for Roethlisberger.

Last year the Steelers had the third-ranked offense in the NFL with Haley as their offensive coordinator. This year, they are fifth, which is still very good, given that Bell is nowhere to be found this year.

With the Browns, Haley has instituted a run-first offense, which makes great sense for a team with a young quarterback. Carlos Hyde was the bell cow until he was mysteriously sent to Jacksonville, and Nick Chubb is now taking over that role.

Chubb has much better numbers than Hyde, although it might be offered that Hyde took on a lot of tough yards between the tackles, so the low numbers might be a bit deceiving.

Duke Johnson is one player who has not thrived under Haley. This is unexpected since the Duke excels at catching balls out of the backfield, which seems to have been a Haley trademark in Pittsburgh. Versus Tampa, Duke had 35 snaps out of a possible 68 on offense versus Tampa Bay, but had only 1 carry for -4 yards, and also contributed 4 catches out of 4 targets, but for only 23 yards.

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A glaring deficiency is that Baker Mayfield has been sacked 15 times in the past three games. This is simply not sustainable, and Mayfield will certainly be injured if he continues to be sacked at that alarming rate. Partly this is due to Mayfield sometimes taking too much time in the pocket, and also due to a lack of experience at the tackle positions.

It’s hard to fault Haley for not calling plays that reduce the potential for taking sacks but suffice it to say that anything deeper than a three-step drop is questionable with this O-Line.

Speaking of the O-Line, Haley was presumably a key reason for the free agent acquisition of former Steeler Chris Hubbard, who signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Browns. That’s not necessarily an All-Pro contract, but big things were expected out of Hubbard, and so far they have not materialized.

Haley and his young charges will be facing a Pittsburgh defense that has brought down opposing quarterbacks 22 times so far, good for third in the NFL. Chief sackmeister is outside linebacker T. J. Watt, who sacked Tyrod Taylor three times in the first meeting. Rookie Desmond Harrison gets a second chance to defend against Watt, hopefully with some help from the tight ends and running back Nick Chubb. On the other hand, the Steelers defense has only intercepted 4 passes this year, and they have given up more points and more passing yards than the Browns defense.

Thus if they can keep Mayfield upright, they should be able to get some yards. They will be facing a secondary led by Joe Haden. Incidentally, the Browns are still paying $3.6 million of Joe’s salary, for reasons that elude almost everyone except former GM Sashi Brown. Haden leads the Steelers in Passes Defended with seven and leads Steeler cornerbacks with 21 total tackles.

Haden has excelled against the big, physical AFC North type receivers, whereas Haley may be able to use plays that matchup quick speed guys like Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley, who might be able to give Haden some trouble. Mike Hilton, who is younger, smaller and quicker than Haden, might match up better against Browns receivers.

Haley’s offense is going to have to score some points against the Steelers, and if they don’t, it might very well be Coach Jackson’s last game with the team. Haley probably knows more about the Steelers than anyone this side of coach Mike Tomlin, which will help them draw up an effective game plan. However, Haley’s job may be further complicated by the fact that Coach Jackson has suggested that he might call the plays instead of Haley.

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Hopefully, that is just temporary insanity, since the Browns did not do so well in 2016 and 2017 when he was the play-caller and went 1-31 with a pass-happy offense that wasn’t very good at passing.