Todd Haley vs Bruce Arians – Ben Roethlisberger Is Better Under Todd

Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has taken the high road since he was forced out following the Steelers 2011 season. For those whose memories are fuzzy, here’s how things unfolded:

  • Defenders sacked Ben Roethlisberger on 9.47% of his drop backs or 215 times between 2007 and 2011
  • In 2011, Ben Roethlisberger gave up 40 sacks on 7.8% of his drop backs
  • Arians, aware of the issue, vowed to “Let Ben be Ben
  • After the Steelers Tebowing in Denver, Mike Tomlin said Arians would return
  • Art Rooney II opted not to renew Bruce Arians contract
  • Arians “retired” only to get hired within days
  • Mike Tomlin hired Todd Haley as his offensive coordinator

As noted prior to the Steelers victory over the Cardinals, things have worked out well for Arians, Roethlisberger and the Steelers since Todd Haley took the reins of the offense. Arians did however break kayfabe slightly at the NFL owners meeting recently, telling ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, “They are opening it up and not getting fired for it” referring to Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

  • Let’s begin by conceding that Arians does have somewhat of a point.

Despite engineering a successful Steelers offensive effort in Super Bowl XLIII, one year later Art Rooney II pressured Mike Tomlin to fire Bruce Arians following the Steelers 2009 that saw Ben Roethlisberger take 50 sacks. Tomlin held is ground, and Arians stayed, but with some strings attached.

  • Art Rooney publicly proclaimed the need for the Steelers running game to improve.

While Rooney later stressed that he was speaking in qualitative and not quantitative terms, Mike Tomlin got the message. Shortly after Arians departed he shared that at certain points in games, Tomlin would give him the green light to do what he wanted. The not too subtle implication was that Arians was free to pass at will.

  • Since Todd Haley was named Steelers offensive coordinator, the question of “run-pass ratios” has largely disappeared from the discourse in Steelers Nation.

That fact alone appears to justify Arians good-hearted needling. It really does seem unfair to Arians. Except there’s a catch as the numbers below reveal:

ben roethlisberger, passing statistics, todd haley, bruce arians, haley vs. arians, ken whisenhunt, roethlisberger offensive coordinator

Ben Roethlisberger’s performance under different offensive coordinators

The first thing that jumps out is that Ben Roethlisberger’s sack numbers have dropped by almost 60%. Given the amount of punishment Roethlisberger has taken, the reduction in and of itself could add a year or two to his career.

To be fair, the offensive line was a liability for much of Bruce Arians tenure as offensive coordinator, whereas it has been a strength under Haley. However, there’s question about whether that was a priority for Arians. Beyond the line, its also true that Ben took a lot of sacks because he held on to the ball too long. Arians knew that, but didn’t want to mess with that.

  • Todd Haley’s job was to get Ben to get the ball out more quickly.

The argument in Arians’ day was, letting Ben hold on the ball is what lets him hit Mike Wallace deep. Haley, however, designed an offense that allows Ben to get the ball out quickly while improving Ben Roethlisberger’s downfield passing game as opposed to hindering it.

To be completely fair to Arians, Ben’s sack % in 2011 was already dropping, and his yards-per game average in 2011 was higher than it was in his first two years under Todd Haley. So any discussion of Ben Roethlisberger’s performance under Todd Haley vs. Ben Roethlisberger’s performance under Bruce Arians must concede that there’s some “Nature vs. nurture” at work.

It is also true that under Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown in his prime, supported by budding receivers like Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey. Fair enough, but under Arians Roethlisberger had Super Bowl MVP’s Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Wallace and of course the ever dependable Heath Miller.

  • The one stat that is a little disturbing is Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 interception % of 3.4

That is well above his career average and was one worrisome sign during the final regular season stretch of 2015. It remains to be seen if Todd Haley can correct that in 2016 or if it becomes a tendency. But until then, the numbers don’t lie: Ben Roethlisberger’s performance under Todd Haley is better than it was under Bruce Arians.

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