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No-huddle option not a full-time luxury for Steelers

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 10:06 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shouts orders to the offense against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.

It looks so easy.

Line up Ben Roethlisberger in a no-huddle formation, with minimal time between plays. Allow him to call his favorite plays — nearly all of them passes — and the Steelers' offense dictates to the defense, rather than the other way around.

What's not to like?

Only it isn't nearly that simple, Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin explained Tuesday — two days after the Steelers began their 37-27 win over the Lions by driving for two quick touchdown passes to Antonio Brown out of the no-huddle.

Because Roethlisberger often looks most comfortable calling his own plays in the no-huddle, he often gets asked why the Steelers don't employ it as their primary offense.

Tomlin said it's much more than a one-man operation.

“There is a menu of plays decided upon collectively during the course of the week, and he is simply picking from that menu,” Tomlin said. “We're not there unscripted, leaving him up to his devices, even though he's fully capable — that wouldn't be fair to him. ... It's not like it's a different set of plays.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley decided early last week to open up in the no-huddle as a way of jump-starting a team that had scored only 19 points in the first quarter all season.

Tomlin liked the idea because it meant the Lions' two large and dominant defensive linemen, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, were forced to play at a faster pace than they like.

“We drove down the first two series, and we stayed in it a lot throughout the game,” said Roethlisberger, who threw 25 of his 45 passes out of the no-huddle.

But the Steelers (4-6) didn't always stay in the up-tempo no-huddle they used to begin the game.

“There are multiple, different ways to run it,” Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show. “There's no-huddle that's just typical; you slow it down, you see things, you take all the play clock you need. There's the up-tempo where you're just calling a play and you're living with it. ... And there's the two-minute, which is how fast can you get a play off.”

The Steelers started off in the middle-paced no-huddle, then switched to the more deliberately paced version later in the game.

Roethlisberger's comfort level in the no-huddle is obvious, yet statistics show he is just as capable a quarterback while lining up under center.

For the season, he is 184 of 283 (65 percent) for 2,189 yards, 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 27 sacks out of the shotgun formation, which is always employed during the no-huddle and also is used on passing downs in the base offense.

When he lines up under center, Roethlisberger is 63 of 100 (63 percent) for 712 yards, six touchdowns, three interceptions and seven sacks.

When there are two minutes or less remaining in a half or the game, Roethlisberger is 37 of 57 (64.9 percent) for 416 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and three sacks.

Tomlin said no team can become overly reliant on a system that permits only minimal communication between the quarterback and coaches between plays. He also said defenses often adjust quickly to the no-huddle when they begin seeing it play after play.

“You've got to be very cautious about employing it, how much you employ it, how you change your verbal communication,” said Tomlin, suggesting that TV cameras can pick up play call signals from the bench. “There are a lot of things that are capable of limiting your ability to run the no-huddle, besides your willingness.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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