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2018 Handicapping Chat Week 1: PIT at CLE (+4.5)

Date:
September 9, 2018

Savage:  I really want to talk about this game, and one person in particular. I have football reasons for liking Cleveland - talent on defense, a competent QB for the first time in franchise history, an opponent with a history of sluggish starts and no-shows as road favorites, no Le'veon. But I also like Cleveland for the same reason the some of you like Pittsburgh: Todd Haley.

If any of you watched Hard Knocks, I'd be interested to get your take on it. I went in expecting to hate Haley. I finished the series actually sort of liking and respecting him. He seems to be the only one in that organization that has a clue how to coach. I was confused by this, because usually coaches in these documentaries are even worse than you'd expect, even if your expectations were low. But then I thought about it - Haley presided over the great second act of Kurt Warner's career with a head coach who has been an abject failure everywhere else. They were a play away from winning the Super Bowl. He's the only person not named Bill Belichick that's been able to coach Matt Cassell to a winning season. The sustained success Pittsburgh and Big Ben have enjoyed on offense only happened after Haley joined the coaching staff. How sure are we that Todd Haley isn't actually a pretty good NFL coach? What if the aggressiveness we all appreciate with Pittsburgh offense are more Haley's influence than Tomlin's? What if Haley is the one insisting they feed Le'veon and Brown the ball constantly? As far as I'm concerned, there are enough red flags with Tomlin to suggest that this is possible.

Sure, Big Ben might want to put up 40 points on his old OC, but what if, in his mind, he's already gotten his revenge? Big Ben essentially got Haley fired and banished him to Cleveland. Haley has even more motivation for revenge, getting dismissed after his offense put up 42 points in a playoff game, and he has firsthand knowledge of how to attack Pittsburgh's defense. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think the Browns have a good chance to win this game.

Sorry about the novel, just pumped for football!!!



RC: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa...w-h-o-a.

Let's revisit some Todd Haley history...

Haley took over as O-C in Arizona in 2007, was the WR coach prior. As most future failed HCs and OCs often are, they are given credit for things having nothing to do withe them/being around Hall of Fame talents. Norv Turner with Jimmy Johnson/Antonio Gates/LaDainian, every O-C with Peyton Manning, Eberflus to Indy because he 'coached' Sean Lee, and Todd Haley 'coached' Larry Fitzgerald to great play and was thus elevated to OC in 2017...he had time to see everything. He decided to start 2007 with Matt Leinart over Kurt Warner -- that was his call. He couldn't figure out Leinart was a bust for two years...with an HOF QB RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF HIM!!!! Kurt Warner forced his way into the lineup and history was changed a year later...and full credit somehow went to Haley (see: DeFilippo and Shurmur and Reich all elevated for the supposed Foles miracle).

The offensive genius takes the Warner credit to land in KC as the head guy where his teams go #25-25-12-27 in scoring for four years. The blip 'good' year is lead by the NFLs #2 run attack with Thomas Jones and some guy named Jamaal Charles breaking out. After a blip 2010, Haley crashes and burns in 2011 -- so bad, so hated by people within the organization that he is fired before season end. I know a little behind the scenes here -- as the 2011 season was dying, midseason, everyone on his staff was begging him to make the move to the 'kid' Ricky Stanzi. He eventually went Tyler Palko.

Failed and scarred from being eternally hated in his KC stint, he lands with the Steelers because his dad was a long time executive there...when he was hired, Mike Tomlin acted like he wasn't even told; it just happened. Steelers nepotism charity.

The Steelers' offense is #21 and #20 in yards Haley's first two seasons. Ben and Haley are fighting always. Ben is talking of retiring. Something changed internally, Ben stopped talking to Haley and the offense took off from 2014 on. Haley riding the Antonio-Ben-Le'Veon coattails. By the final years for him in PIT, Haley is not allowed to talk to Ben. Ben will only talk to the QB coach. Everything Haley wants goes through the QB coach and then to Ben, and then Ben did what he wanted.

The Steelers were top 10 in yards/points 2014-2017, and they so valued Haley for that, that as soon as his contract was up they didn't renew Haley...as no one was basically talking to him anymore.

Who signs Haley? Multiply failed Hue Jackson. Not a ringing endorsement.

Every time Haley is allowed to do his thing...it's a disaster. When the stars take over, Haley rides coattails and gets credit for a bit, until no one can even stand him anymore.

Todd Haley is a joke. NFL nepotism to its finest. A failure with every instinct, a success only when a HOF player(s) rise up to save the day. Run out of every job because people despise him in short order.

I don't need edited Hard Knocks. moments..I got history on Haley.

Rabbitt: Honestly I came away from hard knocks wondering if they will go 0-16 again. I have never seen a more dysfunctional coaches meeting in my life... every time.  Oc and DC screaming at each other in practice? It was a %&$# show. I mean we saw 0 segments of coaches working on technique with players. We saw players trying to help players with technique. I spent the whole time wondering when Hue was going to do something at practice or a meeting other than aggresively posture.  I know its edited, but I felt like they made Jeff fishers rams look like a really well run organization. "This isnt browns football" is not useful coaching. "Light this F-word up" also not useful coaching. I am honestly considering the browns under, except Baker is so darn good.

Katz: Gregg Williams is legitimately the worst coordinator in the history of football. He flat out said he doesn't adjust his defensive scheme based on opponent. With that being said, I can't touch this game until we know the weather situation. If it's truly going to monsoon, then it could look like that ugly Bills game last year in the snow. I want no part of that.

Skol: Bring on the monsoon!  I took under 44.5 when I mentioned it earlier this week...really wish I had more on it now.  I would feel good about the Steelers in good weather...but I agree, who knows in a rainstorm - run fest with no Shazier.

Savage: Hahaha, I figured this game would get people riled up!

Look RC, I felt the same way as you about Haley a few weeks ago. Hard Knocks made me re-examine things a bit. Rabbit and Katz are right on - this organization is still a mess. Hue and Williams are complete morons who have no business being in charge of anything. But Haley seemed to be the one guy calling Williams and Hue on their BS.

I'm not saying Haley is great or trying to credit him for things he didn't really do, I just think some of the criticism he gets is unfair.  The way things went in KC, it seemed like Scott Pioli needed a scapegoat in order to save his own job and decided to throw Haley under the bus. If everyone really hated Haley that much, wouldn't John Dorsey be well aware of this and know not to hire him? He took over as the Chiefs GM shortly after Haley got fired, so presumably he would have heard some horror stories? If everyone loved Ricky Stanzi and Haley was the only one holding him back, why didn't they give him a chance to start after Haley got fired?

And if Haley is such a bad guy, why is Big Ben the one constantly airing their dirty laundry in the media and blaming Haley for bad play calls? Big Ben is a great QB, but I don't think particularly highly of him as a person. I think he's the type of guy who thinks he's above being coached at this point in his career, the type of guy who that doesn't handle criticism or take blame very well. I think the clashes with Haley as much about Ben's immaturity as they are about Haley's abrasiveness.

That said, bring on the monsoon!

RC: I may watch 2018 hard Knocks and eat all my rantings, but John Dorsey is the same person who came into Cleveland and retained Hue Jackson, so Dorsey endorsements aren't my thing...and Dorsey was also run out of KC in a 'we can;t take you anymore' way.

Why did Stanzi never get another chance? Why is Foles always trying to get banished for life? Why is Matt Cassel a backup QB on purpose today? Why is Ameer Abdullah still working in Detroit? Why did Blake Bortles get a big contract extension and why is Cody Kessler his backup? I really don't know the answer to many of football life's great mysteries, but if your start point argument is with the undertone of 'they did this or that and they're there and they should know best', then I'm not at your start point, so I'm definitely not taking any steps forward with you on people 'there' assumed to do smart things.

I've talked to two people with legit insight into KC 2010 season...and both said the same thing to me independently with different examples and takes. The NFL decision making and coaching is a circus behind the scenes in most all cases. No matter who I talk to I'm always shocked year after year by people on the inside who are reasonable to talk to.

Ben v. Haley -- Ben may actually be the one who knows what he's talking about and cant take it anymore and vents a la me on this Haley topic. As a start point...you've seen all the Hard Knocks/Amazon stuff, what O-C, D-C, H-C impress you? Like 1-2-3 of 100s? I'd trust Ben over Haley. If you're stuck with a Jeff Fisher or John Fox, as an offensive player...what can you do? Ben has the leverage to vent...rightfully or wrongfully. He got Haley gone, and if Ben's chatter did that -- Ben saved the organization in 2018.

Weather, note -- the weather hysteria is always overblown 99% of the time. I see hysterical headlines of 40+ MPH winds and 5-7+ inches of rain -- if that's the case this game will be moved to Monday. The reports I trust week-to-week have had this 10-20 MPH winds, more like 15 MPH (which is OK) and rain Sat night but by kickoff could be more on and off rains (not great). The weather in Cleveland (me in Columbus) shifts fast and when they usually get hysterical, reality rarely lives up to the hype going in. It's definitely something we have to monitor but I think weather people are trying to drive ratings (esp. Sunday morning/pre-kickoff) with the hysteria more times than not.


Katz: I'll be watching the broadcast at 12:30 and seeing what the field looks like. If things are bad - like really bad - I may have to consider benching AB. And I would be worried about the Steelers covering in such a low scoring game. But we will have to see.

Savage: Yeah, I'm not a huge Dorsey fan either, and he's another one that doesn't come off great in the documentary. It's just strange that his only connection to Haley is whoever they both know in KC, and Dorsey still thought he'd be a good hire. That said, I have no inside sources so I'll take your word for it.

And trust me RC, I stand with you in the "they don't know what they're doing" camp. Haley is probably just as bad as the rest of the league when it comes to talent evaluation. Really the case I'm making is for Haley as being semi-competent coach in a sea of incompetency. At this point, I think I might be overselling it and you might be disappointed if you actually watch Hard Knocks. Maybe the key for me was going in and expecting to hate him, and being surprised by how much I didn't hate him, because I've watched that show for 10+ years and I don't remember ever feeling that way. I'd say don't waste your time with it unless we see a big drop off in the Pittsburgh offense this year!

RC: Also needs to be addressed -- John Dorsey in that Browns sweatshirt I always see him in -- that's how you know he's clueless. He literally looks like he got that from Goodwill and he's roaming the streets as a homeless person in a butt-ugly sweatshirt 3 sizes too big. Maybe he was the street urchin who got Manziel drafted by the owner? It wasn't really a vagabond, just John Dorsey in an awful sweatshirt mistaken for a beggar outside that restaurant.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

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