PITTSBURGH -- A QB sneak.
Nearly three months later and the merit of a Steelers QB sneak is still a major topic in Pittsburgh, just one example of an apparent lack of synergy between Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley, who's out as offensive coordinator.
Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show that he can't check into a sneak when the team isn't huddled up. If given the chance, Roethlisberger said he would "love to" run the play, a willingness he expressed when asked about the concept in late October. When told of Roethlisberger's take around midseason, Haley looked puzzled, saying, "Ben said that?"
Haley mentioned avoiding quarterback injury as a consideration with the sneak-play aversion, which came into question on the Steelers' failed fourth-and-1 try from the 25-yard line in Sunday's divisional-round loss to Jacksonville.
Instead of Roethlisberger pushing the ball up the middle, the Steelers were stuffed on a pitch play to Le'Veon Bell. At the least, Haley and Roethlisberger did not seem to form a unified front on the pros and cons of the sneak.
It wasn't one play that cost Haley, of course. His offenses in Pittsburgh were prolific, finishing four straight seasons in the top 10 for scoring for the first time since the 1970s. Roethlisberger threw for more yards (297.6 per game over the past four years) and was sacked less often (58 over three seasons) than at any point in his career.
But offensive stats didn't stop the Steelers from letting Haley, whose contract is up, look elsewhere.
Roethlisberger and Haley get a break that many believe is needed. The two had big moments together but did not seem to find a relational sweet spot for an extended period. The sneak story was not isolated. There was back-and-forth over the failed sequence in the closing seconds of the Week 15 New England loss and over what Roethlisberger suggested was an overcomplicated offense last year, prompting Haley to reference "Coach Ben" in response. And that's just what transpired publicly.
Two competitors can handle tension when winning big. Haley and the Steelers stayed married for six years, longer than most NFL relationships. And at least some level of friction is expected between quarterback and playcaller.
Still, Haley appeared outnumbered and without enough support inside the building to keep his job. It's well-known Roethlisberger is tight with quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, who is in line to become the new coordinator, according to ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen. Maybe Roethlisberger will be more comfortable with that setup.
This is a quarterback league first and forever. Mike Tomlin is not dumb. He knows this.
But Haley's legacy in Pittsburgh looms larger than a pitch play to Bell on fourth-and-1. Haley is a receiver wizard, maximizing the potential of Antonio Brown on the way to an NFL-record five consecutive 100-catch seasons while playing a key role in the draft evaluation and development of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant.
Despite the end nearing, the Steelers finished 2017 third in total offense and posted 545 yards and 42 points on the league's second-best defense in the playoffs. The Steelers consistently had one of the league's best attacks despite various injuries to key players Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown and Maurkice Pouncey.
Those are a few examples why Haley's tenure in Pittsburgh was successful.
The Steelers' playoff record of 3-4 since 2014 is a reason why it wasn't more than that.