Steelers are hoping to mirror Eagles' full-bore, no-huddle offense
Ben Roethlisberger can't wait to see how the Steelers' no-huddle offense operates road Thursday night in Philadelphia.
He probably will be paying attention to the Eagles, too, because no NFL team is more at home in the no-huddle than coach Chip Kelly's team.
Partly because of Kelly's determination to bring a frenetic pace to the NFL — and also because of the Steelers — the percentage of no-huddle plays in the league nearly doubled from 6.6 percent in 2012 to 12.2 percent last year.
That number is likely to increase this year with teams such as the Browns, Chargers and, yes, the Steelers further embracing the no-huddle. Browns coach Mike Pettine calls it the future of the league.
“It's big for us,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “(It's) going to be a key for us this year to get things going fast and catch defenses off-balance and let Ben pick and read his reads, and it gives us the opportunity to play fast.”
Even if not as fast as the Eagles, who ran the no-huddle on 68 percent of their plays last season. Only the Broncos (48 percent) also used it on about half their plays.
But here's the surprise: While all the talk is how the no-huddle is about to become a focal point of the Steelers' offense, that transformation actually took place last season.
After running the no-huddle only 6.5 percent of the time while they started 0-4, the Steelers increased that to about 25 percent the rest of the season. Except for the Eagles and Broncos, only the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and Chargers ran the no-huddle more last season than the Steelers.
Roethlisberger's passing attempts out of the shotgun also jumped dramatically, from 262 in 2012 to 441.
Now, after further refining the no-huddle during an offseason in which the Steelers worked on it far more than previous springs, Roethlisberger said it's close to becoming a base offense.
“We practice it all the time,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “When we're in the no-huddle, guys are locked in and communicating at a high level. It's been very, very good for us, and we've got to keep building on it.”
Versus the Bills on Saturday, Roethlisberger and the starters produced 13 points and 210 yards out of the no-huddle in about 1 1⁄2 quarters.
The no-huddle not only allows the offense to push the pace, minimize defensive substitutions and keep a rhythm going, it also gives the offense more plays to work with. The Patriots average 6-7 more snaps per game than they did 10 years ago.
Not everybody in the NFL is a convert. The Super Bowl-winning Seahawks ran only 12 no-huddle plays last season.
Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount played for Kelly at Oregon, and he's not surprised the system is dynamically reshaping how the NFL plays.
“If he's got it rolling, he's not going to stop,” Blount said. “He's going to keep on letting his offense play.
“He gave Shady McCoy a career high in rushing last year, Nick Foles only threw two picks, DeSean Jackson had his best year. The offense, that's what it does for you.”
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and the rest of the defensive starters figure to play at least a half against Kelly's no-huddle, which produced 63 points in the Eagles' first two preseason games.
“They run a lot of plays. They get a lot of plays in,” Jones said. “They're snapping the ball, so you can see the referee just running out of the film and (already) the ball's coming out.
“They tried to draw up rules in college football to slow them, with (Alabama) coach (Nick) Saban and everything, and it didn't happen, so coach Chip brought it straight to the NFL.”
Now Todd Haley and Roethlisberger are bringing it to Pittsburgh, and it's quite unlike any offense the Steelers have seen before.