Who's to Blame for the Pittsburgh Steelers' Slow Start?

The Steelers are 3-3 and are playing like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Why?

When an NFL team underperforms, fans place blame in a few predictable directions. They'll obviously look at the head coach, who controls and disciplines the roster. They'll look at the quarterback, because the position is most important on the field. And they'll often times look at the offensive and defensive coordinators, as they're calling the plays that end up creating the deficit.

For the 3-3 Steelers, it's nearly impossible for fans to blame their quarterback. Not only has Ben Roethlisberger been a top-10 passer since entering the league, but in 2014, any analyst can show that the team's problems are much deeper than the guy under center.

The coaching staff, however, is another story. Mike Tomlin's become known for making illogical decisions late in games (Anyone remember that Packers contest last year when Tomlin decided to score instead of draining clock close to the Green Bay end zone?), while Dick LeBeau's blitz-heavy system is doing the opposite of putting pressure on the quarterback.

And then there's Todd Haley. As a Steeler fan myself, I'm well aware that black and gold fans look towards the offensive coordinator first when placing blame. And that's no different in 2014 - Todd Haley's name comes up first when referencing the Steeler woes. Just ask Snoop.

But who's really to blame for this Steel City collapse?

Everyone is.

Haley's Job as Offensive Coordinator

There was plenty of skepticism surrounding Todd Haley as he took over for Bruce Arians as Steelers offensive coordinator in 2012, especially considering Arians was the offensive leader who marched the Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl victory. Below is a snapshot of Arians' work with the Steelers, all in terms of our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.

Passing RankRushing RankOffensive Rank

As you can see, with Arians calling shots offensively for Pittsburgh, the Steelers were consistently a top-half offense (all metrics adjusted for strength of opponent). Funny enough, Arians' best year coordinating the offense came during his final one in Pittsburgh - you know, because a sixth-ranked offense wasn't good enough for the Rooney family.

Arians' runs a vertical passing attack that requires some time in the pocket for quarterbacks. It's not necessarily a pass-happy approach, but it's a high-risk, high-reward offense that sees speedy receivers (Mike Wallace and, when Arians went to Indianapolis, T.Y. Hilton) put up monster numbers.

One of the issues with Arians in Pittsburgh was that, because of this vertical attack, Ben Roethlisberger was smothered by opposing defenses. Big Ben needed time in the pocket to throw it deep, but the offensive line, which has been notoriously bad over the last half decade, didn't provide much help.

As a result, Roethlisberger was one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the NFL under Arians. However, as you can see below, his Passing Net Expected Point totals didn't falter.

GamesPassing NEPPer GameSacksPer Game

To give you some perspective, a Passing NEP score of 80 is generally a top-10 one among quarterbacks each season. That shouldn't come as a surprise given Arians' team numbers above, which consistently ranked in the top half of the league when adjusted for strength of schedule.

How has Haley done in comparison? Not great, Bob!

Passing RankRushing RankOffensive Rank

In his two full seasons with the team, Haley's coached the 21st- and 16th-best offenses. Entering Week 6 against Cleveland, the Steelers ranked 14th in the league offensively.

Ben Roethlisberger's numbers have suffered, too. Take a look:

GamesPassing NEPPer GameSacksPer Game

Though Haley's doing a better job of masking the Steelers offensive line woes, he's clearly not bringing as effective of an offense to the table for Pittsburgh. And for reference, Roethlisberger's currently on pace to post a Passing NEP score of 56.02, which would be lower than his first two seasons under Haley.

It may not be fair to compare Haley to someone of Bruce Arians' caliber, and it does appear that there's clearly more going on than just the way Haley's coordinating the offense. After all, the team's 3-3 and analytically poor, so having an offense ranked 15th to 20th isn't the only reason for their struggles. But this all does bring up an important point: what in the world was management thinking when they moved on from Arians?

And why haven't they done anything to solve their defensive issues?

An Outdated Legacy

Dick LeBeau will forever be a hero to Pittsburgh fans, but there comes a point in time when a team needs to move on. That time is now.

Say what you want about injuries to the Steelers defense. The unit has been flat-out horrible in 2014, and it's been trending this way for a few years.

LeBeau's been the Steelers defensive coordinator since 2004, having coached the team back in the early- and mid-'90s as well. Once a defensive genius, LeBeau's watched his team fall dramatically since 2010.

Pass Defense RankRush Defense RankDefensive Rank

Once on top of the league, the Steelers defensive unit has dropped to the bottom in just five seasons. And so far in 2014, the team has a bottom-five defensive unit against both the pass and the rush. Keep in mind that the rankings above for 2014 don't even reference Sunday's beatdown, meaning they could end up being even worse once the week concludes.

The personnel and Dick LeBeau's scheme are no longer working. And now, we're all witnessing teams like Cleveland - respectable but beatable ones offensively - doing whatever they want to a once-dominant Steelers defense.

Everyone's at Fault

The team hasn't drafted well. The team hasn't been coached well. And now, the team just isn't very good.

With games against an improved Texans team, a talented Colts squad and the up-and-coming Ravens group, the Steelers could easily be 3-6 after the first nine games of the season.

At this rate, changes will certainly need to be made in Pittsburgh this offseason.