Strong finish has Roethlisberger enthused about no-huddle offense
The offseason officially arrived only hours before, yet Ben Roethlisberger already was eager to talk about the 2014 season with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
The topic: the no-huddle offense.
The idea: to begin next season with the no-huddle as the Steelers' base offense.
“We got to the point (of the season) where it was like, ‘OK, this is where we're at our best,' ” Roethlisberger said.
Looking at the numbers, he's right.
The Steelers began using the no-huddle far more frequently beginning with the Bills' game Nov. 10, which coincidentally began the second half of the season. The idea was to take elite pass rusher Mario Williams out of the game, and it worked; he didn't have a sack or even get close to Roethlisberger.
It probably worked even better than Roethlisberger, Haley and quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner figured it would.
“We've been tweaking things, changing things, adding things and taking things out,” Roethlisberger said. “I think it's come a long way. I think it's evolved for the better.”
Not only did the Steelers go 6-2 in the second half after starting 0-4 and 2-6, they scored 67 more points in the second half than they did in the first half (223-156).
Those 223 points were sixth in the NFL.
Roethlisberger didn't throw for as many yards in the second half (1,872) as he did in the first (2,145), but that's a byproduct of having the lead more often and not needing to throw as much, plus an upgraded running game.
The biggest statistical turnaround: Roethlisberger was sacked only 11 times after the no-huddle became the offense of choice, compared to a whopping 32 times in the first half. He also threw only five interceptions in the second half of the season, compared to nine in Games 1-8.
“(The) production has gone up, and I think that the mistakes have really come down,” said Roethlisberger, who calls the plays in the no-huddle. “I think the guys really enjoy (running the no-huddle). I'm sure if you ask the receivers, they like it. Le'Veon (Bell) likes it, mixing in the run and the pass so it's not so pass-heavy.”
All this with an offensive line that was changing personnel almost weekly because of injuries, including those to centers Maurkice Pouncey and Fernando Velasco. One major upgrade was Kelvin Beachum, a guard-sized lineman settling in and stabilizing the line at left tackle.
All but 26 of Roethlisberger's passing attempts out of the no-huddle came during the final nine games. Overall, he was 102 of 163 for 1,221 yards and 10 touchdowns in the no-huddle.
It also helped when Bell became comfortable with the pace and speed of the NFL and the necessity of making cuts and reads much faster than in college football.
With Bell finishing strong (214 yards in his final two games) the Steelers ran for 205 more yards in the second half of the season than they did in the first half.
The only time in the past 23 years the running game has picked up at such a pace during the second half was 2006, when the Steelers ran for 254 yards more in the second half of the season than they did in the first.
“We started off slow (on offense), but we continued to get better and better as the season went on,” Bell said. “If we'd gotten a chance next week, we were going to try to get better for next week.”
They won't have that chance, but they will have 2014. And it's why Roethlisberger already is eager for it to arrive.