Bruce Arians’ back story is now as well known as Ryan Fitzpatrick being a Harvard grad, and Julian Edelman being a former quarterback. Going from being “forced” to retire, to a two-time coach of the year has turned him into a lovable presence across the NFL. With his ability to shift from frank and vulgar to thoughtful and caring, Arians has a side that everyone can enjoy. How could the Steelers let this lovable character go?
The debate has ranged from national media to the local about whether or not it was a mistake to do what the Steelers did to Arians. Most will point to his success in Arizona as the reason why it was a bad decision. Heck, some even see him as a better head coach than Mike Tomlin. Arians was the offensive coordinator for five seasons, and Todd Haley is entering year number six in Pittsburgh. There is no better time than now to decide who has been the better coordinator. So what makes a great coordinator?
Putting the Bruce Arians vs. Todd Haley Debate to Rest
The number one goal on offense is to score points. Any argument concerning offensive coordinators starts there. Arians finished ninth in points per game in his first season, but the proceeded to finish 20th, 12th, 12th, and 21st.
Haley took over the 21st ranked offense in points, and while he dipped down to 28th in the league in 2012, his offenses have finished 16th, seventh, fourth and tenth since then. On average Arians offenses ranked around 15th in points per game, while the Haley offense ranked around 12th.
In terms of points per play, the Steelers ranked 21st in Haley’s first year. Since then he ranked 14th, fourth, seventh, and 15th. In Arians first year the team ranked ninth in points per play. They ranked 22nd, eighth, 12th, and 19th since then. Round one is close, but it goes to Haley.
The way to score points is to move the football down the field. When it comes to yards, Arians’ offense ranked 17th, 22nd, seventh, 14th and 12th. Haley took over and again had a rough start adjusting. His offense ranked 21st in yards per game and only jumped to 20th in his second season. However, over the past three seasons, the team has ranked second, third and seventh.
In terms of yards per play, Arians ranked 11th with 5.9, 13th with 5.4, eighth with 5.9, 24th with 4.9 and 18th with 5.2. The adjustment year shows again here with Haley who ranked 22nd in his first year as the offensive coordinator, but it was still 5.2 yards per play, which had them ranked 18th under Arians. Haley inched his team ahead to 20th with 5.3 yards per play in his second season. From there the Haley-led offense has ranked first, first and seventh with 6.1, 6.1 and 5.8 yards per play respectively. The season with the most yards per play in the past decade belongs to Haley and the Steelers season with the fewest yards per play belongs to Arians. Round two, Haley.
Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger were tight. This had a lot of people worried about the entrance of Todd Haley. It shouldn’t have. Under Arians, Roethlisberger was 1,446-2,281, a 63.4-percent passer. Under Haley, Roethlisberger is 1714-2619, a 65.4-percent passer. Roethlisberger is throwing the ball more and doing it more effectively over this five-year span.
The Arians air raid had Roethlisberger put up 18,060 yards, 7.9 yards per attempt. Under Haley, he had 20,235 at just 7.7 yards per attempt. Roethlisberger has a 4.9-percent touchdown rate to a 2.5-percent interception rate under Arians and a 5.2-percent touchdown rate with a 2.3-percent interception rate with Haley. That is 23 more touchdowns to just three more interceptions over the past five seasons. Arians got a few good shots in, but round three goes to Haley.
Speaking of Roethlisberger, the biggest factor to moving coordinators was trying to keep him upright. Many will bring up Mike Munchak deserving Todd Haley’s credit at this point. Munchak deserves all of the credit in the world for what he has done with the offensive line since taking over as the line coach. However, the increase in attempts and completion percentage to go with the decrease in yards per attempt tells you that Haley is creating an offense to get the ball out of the hands of Roethlisberger faster. In fact, under Arians, his sack rate was 8.62-percent, while it was 5.1-percent under Haley.
By year, Roethlisberger’s sack rate was 10.4-percent, 8.9-percent, 9-percent, 7.6-percent and 7.2-percent under Arians. His sack rate was 6.3-percent, 6.7-percent, 5.1-percent, 4.1-percent and 3.2-percent with Haley. Roethlisberger’s career high in sacks was 50 with Arians in 2009. His career low was in 2016 when he was sacked just 17 times. Round four goes to Haley and Arians is wobbling as he hangs onto the ropes as the bell rings.
Red Zone Scoring
While Haley has had better scoring offenses over the past five years, he has also had more yards. This likely means bigger plays that lead to touchdowns. So does it lead to less success in the red zone? The Steelers offense in the red zone has been a gripe among Steelers fans since Haley took over.
In the red zone, Arians offenses have converted touchdowns 51-percent, 53-percent, 48-percent, 56-percent, and 58-percent of the time. Haley has converted 55-percent, 53-percent, 52-percent, 57-percent, and 54-percent. Arians ranked 17th, 15th, 22nd, 14th, and seventh in red zone success. Haley offenses have ranked 12th, 16th, 19th, 13th and 16th. This is the closest round yet, Haley has the better overall percentage, Arians has the better individual year. You can understand why some would score this to Arians, but he is still well behind, and he certainly did not make up any ground here.
Even more devastating than failing to convert in the red zone would be giving your opposition the chance to make hay off of your own misdoings. The Steelers have committed 239 turnovers over the past decade. 118 were committed when Arians was the offensive coordinator, 121 under Haley. Haley is still winning, but Arians refused to take the knockout blow as he wins this round slightly.
The offensive coordinator does not have as much say as Mike Tomlin when it comes to drafting players, but you can bet that the Steelers coordinators gave their sign off to these draft picks before the selections were made. You can see it when Arians drafted Dallas Baker, and Limas Sweed and Haley drafted Dri Archer and Chris Rainey. They have a type.
Oddly enough, both coordinators have been around to see 19 offensive players drafted over their five years.
Arians’ draft picks include:
Matt Spaeth, Cameron Stephenson, Dallas Baker, Rashard Mendenhall, Limas Sweed, Dennis Dixon, Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Frank Summers, A.Q. Shipley, David Johnson, Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Scott, Jonathan Dwyer, Antonio Brown, Marcus Gilbert, Keith Williams, Baron Batch
Haley draft picks include:
David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Chris Rainey, Toney Clemons, David Paulson, Kelvin Beachum, Le’Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, Landry Jones, Justin Brown, Dri Archer, Martavis Bryant, Wesley Johnson, Rob Blanchflower, Sammie Coates, Jesse James, Jerald Hawkins, Demarcus Ayers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Connor, Joshua Dobbs
For every Justin Brown there is a Christ Scott. At the same time, for every Le’Veon Bell, there is an Antonio Brown. It is impossible to judge JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Connor, and Joshua Dobbs at this point, but when canceling out Brown and Bell, the best of Arians has been Pouncey, Gilbert, Sanders, Mendenhall and Wallace. On the other side, Haley has drafted DeCastro, Bryant, James, Beachum, and Wheaton.
You could argue about who had the better 19 or who is more top heavy for years, and with Hawkins, James, Coates, and Ayers on top of the rookies still having room to grow it would only take the time to truly assess these differences. However, the one thing that can be taken away from this is that Haley did not just use everything that Arians built. In fact, of the likely 25 roster spots that will go to offensive players, four at the most will have been drafted while Arians was an offensive coordinator.
While Haley has his arms up in the air as the referee counts down Arians laying on the mat, the Arians supporters do have one last argument to throw out. Arians has rings in Pittsburgh, one as a receivers coach and one as a coordinator. Todd Haley has not had an offense win a Super Bowl. You know what else Arians had in Pittsburgh that Haley hasn’t? A defense.
In the five years in which Arians was the offensive coordinator, the Steelers defenses ranked third, first, ninth, first and seventh. To the surprise of no one, the Steelers two AFC Championships with Arians as the coordinator came when the Steelers defense ranked first in the NFL. Under Haley, the Steelers defenses have ranked 13th, 19th, 30th, 11th and 11th. When the last gasp is blaming the offensive coordinator for things that the defense is doing it is time to call the fight.
The fact of the matter is that overall Haley has built a stronger offense with his own players and the one constant has been the franchise stabilizer, Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger has stayed upright and has been more efficient under Haley than Arians. Bruce Arians is a great person and has done excellent as a head coach for the Arizona Cardinals. However, for the Steelers offense, forcing him out to move to Todd Haley was the right decision.