It must seem like to some people we hear at HTTR24-7.com pile on Jim Haslett unfairly. That we let players off the hook, that even though the players aren’t playing well and that he’s dealing with injuries, we only want to blame Haslett. That Kyle Shanahan gets a pass for some bizarre play calls, that we’ve even been easy on Danny Smith.That we won’t call out receivers who drop balls or bad clock management and a whole host of issues.
So, to that charge, I say this; yesterday was a collective effort to fail to win a football game. Tackles were missed, balls were dropped, the last quarter of the game had a startling lack of tempo, Danny Smith sucked, Kai Forbath should’ve kicked that extra point, we missed an interception, DeAngelo Hall acted like a real jerk, and all around our teamplayed it’s worst game in a long time against a Steelers team that was good but beatable. You can’t make that many mistakes and expect to win football games.
That being said, I think it’s time for a change. Because as stagnant as the offense was, as baffling as some of the play calls were, the fact of the matter was that this team was screwed the second the defense stepped on the field and gave up that opening drive touchdown.
Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers offensive coordinator picked this defense apart in a way that wasn’t just bad; it was disturbing. Our defense is supposed to mirror that of the Steelers. It’s a defense that Big Ben plays against in practice every week. And what happened in the game was that we played a defense so vanilla, you could stick it in the ground and grow it.
Over the last few weeks, Haslett has morphed this defense from an aggressive, multiple look front that causes confusion by giving quarterbacks hard-to-decipher looks, to a cookie cutter, “My First 3-4 Defense” that refuses to get aggressive and uses the same concepts over and over again.
These are charges LL and myself have made in the past. I was prepared to do a whole film breakdown about how the Pittsburgh Steelers knew exactly what was coming based on their first drive of the second half, but I felt like I was just repeating myself. At this point, calling this defense “predictable” isn’t enough.
Haslett is calling plays scared.
He is terrified of getting beat deep. Yes, I know the secondary isn’t exactly world-class right now. But Haslett has abandoned time tested blitz concepts and instead chosen to play everything soft…and it’s still not working.
In the first half, with 6:24 to go, the Steelers had a long 3rd and Goal. Instead of being aggressive, Haslett chose to rush 3, and drop 8. He chose to rush 3, and drop 8, versus Ben Roethlisberger. Saying “if you give Big Ben enough time he’ll make a play” is a cliché used so often that he might as well get it inked on his forehead. And on 3rd and Goal, in a game that was still, somehow, within reach, we play the most bogus, passive coverage, against one of the games most well know scramblers.
Touchdown Steelers. It was like stealing.
This defense plays with no intensity, no swagger, no courage, because their defensive coordinator, their leader, simply doesn’t trust them to make plays. Haslett’s gutless play calling is a biting indictment of how he feels about his defense; a defense which that he has had a big part in building.
These are not players that Shanahan wanted that Jim Haslett has to put up with. Our first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft was defensive (Ryan Kerrigan), as was our second pick (Jarvis Jenkins). We added Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield, we signed Josh Wilson, we signed O.J Atogwe, a player who we signed not because he was the best safety on the market, but because of his familiarity with Haslett concepts. Kevin Barnes and Perry Riley both saw more playing time; those are Haslett’s decision. If Haslett didn’t want DeAngelo Hall here (and given the fact that they’ve gotten into a few behind the scenes squabbles, it’s not hard to imagine he wouldn’t), he wouldn’t be here. Hell, in 2010, we traded for Adam Carriker because Haslett was there when the Rams drafted him.
These are Haslett’s guys, people he picked for this defense. Money has been spent, draft picks have been spent to build his defense, to give his defense the best possible shot to be the best it could be.
Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson and Madieu Williams may not be high caliber players, but they were players that Haslett had to have wanted. The safety market was slim pickings after every team with a half-decent safety either franchise tagged them or extended them, but those were guys Haslett wanted and approved of.
No one is saying losing your best pass rusher in Brian Orakpo and an underrated defensive end in Adam Carriker is something to ignore, and put aside. Those losses hurt, undoubtedly. But even before losing them, the cracks were starting to show up in the armor.
After giving up 16.1 points a game over the first 9 games of the 2011 season, we’ve given up 27 points a game over the course of the next 15. This abrupt shift coincides with the offense going from scoring 16.1 points a game to 21 points a game over the course of the 2011 season, and 24.3 points a game over the last 15 games.
Needing to score at least 27 points a game in order to have a chance to win is no position to put a football team in, and the fact that despite increased offensive output our defense has gotten worse instead of better is an even worse sign of what’s going on with this defense. That’s not even getting into the fact that we have given up substantial leads defensively in 4 of the eight games we’ve played this season.
This is supposed to be the defense where the offense runs up the lead, and then the defense tees off and shuts down the opposing offense. Instead, it’s been the exact opposite, as the offense runs up a huge lead, and then we seem to go into “prevent” mode, choosing to passive.
At this point, claiming that we have more “4-3 personnel” and 4-3 coaches than 3-4 personnel and 3-4 coaches is a moot point. Ryan Kerrigan has turned himself into one hell of an outside linebacker; he was starting to become a much better linebacker than Orakpo. And even Orakpo wasn’t nearly as bad a linebacker as people tried to make him out to be, as he’d been a force in the run game and had improved greatly in coverage.
Who else is supposed to be a “4-3″ guy? Stephen Bowen came from a 3-4 defense. Adam Carriker was well on his way to becoming a bust in the 4-3, but revitalized his career as a 3-4 end. Chris Baker and Doug Worthington are clearly better 3-4 ends than d-tackles, Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson were middling (at best) defenseive ends, but Rob Jackson has shown himself to be a big time player maker. London has had a couple of his best season as a 3-4 middle linebacker, Perry Riley seems made for it. So who do we have left that’s not a “3-4 guy”? The secondary that has nothing to do with the front?
What we have is a defense in freefall, despite being stocked with guys that defensive coordinator likes. You can even blame Mike Shanahan for hiring him in the first place, as Haslett has always been a middle grade defensive coordinator when he ran 4-3 defenses. But we have given Haslett all the tools we possibly can to succeed. Money and draft picks have been spent. And he can’t get the job done. He’s been in the NFL for over a decade, and he’s coordinated a 3-4 defenses for six of those years. The claim “well he’s a 4-3 coach” shouldn’t apply. He’s been a 3-4 coach for 3 seasons now.
And you know, maybe Raheem Morris wouldn’t be any better. I pretty much can guarantee that Bob Slowik wouldn’t be any better. But at least it’s be something different. You can’t get much worse than “on pace to be a historically bad defense”. And it’s damn unfair to put the entire franchise on the shoulders of a 22-year-old quarterback because to have a half decent chance to win, we have to put up 30 points.
The offense will get it together. Oh, there will be many calls for Kyle Shanahan’s head after that end around pass to Robert Griffin III, and no one will mention the fact that he is now missing his number one receiver and his best tight end; the rules are different for Kyle, and they will be so long as his last name is “Shanahan”. There will be plenty of people in meltdown mode, demanding that DeAngelo Hall be fined, suspended, cut, and forgotten, and maybe burned at the stake too. Let them feel good about their righteous indignation.
But Haslett’s failures as defensive coordinator can not be ignored anymore. The lack of guts, the passive playcalling, and the startling lack of creativity have sealed his fate.
Will he be gone by the bye week? Who’s to say.
Should he be gone by the bye week? Well, I’ll leave that to my friend Daniel Bryan to answer.