PITTSBURGH -- No less a coach than Bill Parcells had little use for scripted plays at the beginning of a game.
“If he caught us sneaking a first 10 [in] he was after us,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who was an assistant under Parcells with the New York Jets in the late 1990s. "[But] as I’ve got into the coordinator business, I do think the players like the night before to hear and be able to think through those first couple. You like to give them just a little heads up, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re thinking,’ so they’ve got a chance to mentally go through it and go through the process before it actually happens.”
The script – it is about 10 plays – the Steelers take into games has come under scrutiny with the offense generally getting off to slow starts this season. Haley does not think the approach has been an issue in part because of how carefully constructed the script is.
Haley asks quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to give him plays the 10th-year veteran likes, and he puts together the script after collaborating with the other Steelers coaches following the final practice of the week.
The script isn't finalized until after Haley meets with Roethlisberger the night before a game.
“We’ve thrown [out] the first play if it’s like, ‘Ooh, I am not super comfortable with that being the first play, maybe we move it down to the third play and move the third play up,’ ” Roethlisberger said. “There is some altering going on Saturday nights.”
Haley dismisses any notion that the Steelers have been too conservative with their script, and he said feeling out a defense and trying to discern what formations it is using is something usually associated with West Coast offenses.
“I believe in you better run your best plays because you may not have another chance,” Haley said. “We’re running what we think are our best runs and passes.”
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders agreed.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve been conservative,” Sanders said. “Hey, sometimes it takes guys a little while to get into a rhythm. We need to do a better job of getting into a rhythm faster.”
Haley said he did some extra “research” this week to figure out why the Steelers have scored just two touchdowns in the first quarter this season. That includes poring over film of previous contests, and one conclusion Haley has made is that scripted plays haven’t held back the offense at the start of games.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Haley said of the script. “Who do we have where? Who do we need to look out for? Who do we need to protect? What are the matchups that we can win? Then, we’ve got to make that happen. We’ve got to just keep trying to dig and figure out what gives us the best chance to get out of the gates a little better.”