After years of lobbying, Big Ben has Steelers running the no-huddle
To Ben Roethlisberger, the no-huddle is a no-brainer.
The Steelers' second-half resurgence in 2013 coincided with them regularly implementing the no-huddle offense, which allows Roethlisberger to execute plays in a rhythmic yet rat-a-tat style and limits defensive substituting.
“It gets (defenses) tired and wears them out and doesn't allow them to get their calls in,” receiver Antonio Brown said. “And it allows Ben to make his reads and get the ball to the open guy.”
Roethlisberger lobbied every offensive coordinator he has worked with — Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians and Todd Haley — to run it consistently. Finally, last season, he got his wish.
The results were startling, and they illustrate why the Steelers began working extensively on the no-huddle in the first couple of days of offseason practices in May, something they'd never done before.
“The no-huddle allows you to stay truly on the offensive and get in the right play more time than not,” Haley said.
After going to the no-huddle less than 5 percent of the time in every season from 2008-12, according to advancednflstats.com, the Steelers ran about 23 percent of their plays from it last season.
They ran at least 15 no-huddle plays in each of their last nine games, a stretch in which they went 6-3 and averaged 10 points per game more than they did in their first seven games. Sacks dropped from 31 in the first half of the season to 11 in the second half.
“When the season ended, we were playing at a pretty high level,” Haley said. “We stopped turning the ball over, (pass) protection was better, and some of that was a result of the no-huddle.”
Roethlisberger threw 442 of his 584 passes out of the shotgun last season compared to only 160 such attempts during his rookie season in 2004. His 3,275 yards passing in the shotgun were 755 more than he had in any season.
Roethlisberger throws almost exclusively out of the shotgun when in the no-huddle.
“It's something that, when it's working, can back defenses off,” Roethlisberger said. “They can't get quite as exotic, and that helps us. They're rushing only three or four guys and trying to drop and cover.
“We became a very dynamic passing team in the second half, which made teams bring in nickel guys and smaller guys. That then let us run spread running plays in which we have a big, powerful back (Le'Veon Bell) to do that.”
Offensive line coach Mike Munchak expects the no-huddle, in tandem with the zone-blocking scheme the Steelers plan to employ extensively, will result in fewer defenders to block and wider running lanes.
The Steelers now have two big backs, Bell and LeGarrette Blount, to throw at defenses.
“(The no-huddle) is an advantage because it wears down the defensive line and keeps them in the game more and more,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “As long as we can lock down all the plays and communicate really, really well, it's an advantage for us.”
Roethlisberger is talking with Lance Moore, a former New Orleans receiver, about how Saints quarterback Drew Brees successfully executes the no-huddle.
“Drew's a guy who really takes control, assesses the defense at the line of scrimmage and gets into a specific play call,” Moore said. “You definitely keep the defense off-balance.
“It's hard for them to get into their specific packages if they're constantly at the line getting ready to play (against a) fast-break offense.”
The no-huddle requires the offensive coordinator to put trust in his players to execute — especially the quarterback, who often makes the majority of the play calls.
“We've put in a whole offseason with some players who have been here, some new faces, and now the onus goes on some of the new guys to be in that (playbook) and earn that trust on a daily basis,” Haley said.
Haley calls some no-huddle plays even when the quarterback is under center, Roethlisberger said, “So it can help me think in the no-huddle, ‘OK, I remember that play' — to know different ways to call plays.
“It's a bunch of wheels that are turning for all of us, and we're trying to make it run smoothly.”