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Steelers No Huddle Offense Must Emphasize Balance in Personnel and Playcalling


What's all the fuss about the Steelers' no-huddle offense?

It's a tempo thing. It's rhythm. It also denies a defense the opportunity to substitute, so if an offense gets a defense on the field where it feels one particular package can exploit them, it theoretically gives the offense an advantage.

This is why a successful no huddle offense is more up to the coaches than the players, regardless of who calls the plays.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger loves running a no-huddle offense. It's a great situation for the skills he has as a wide-open kind of quarterback. Because he's able to make all throws from anywhere on the field, he can dig deep into the playbook to exploit the players on the field, all of whom will be on the field again the next play. He can also make a team pay for not shadowing him out of respect more for his willingness to run rather than his "blazing" speed.

He controls the game completely.

The Steelers should be able to run an effective no-huddle with the right personnel grouping, which depends on offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Haley's primary job when determining whether it's an appropriate time and situation for a no-huddle goes beyond simply recognizing there are less than two minutes on the clock and the Steelers are low on timeouts. He has to call no-huddle at least one play in advance, because substituting to another package will allow the defense to do the same.

He must also recognize match-up issues that would exist based on the defensive personnel.

Let's assume there's 7:38 left in the first quarter in a 0-0 game. It's 1st-and-10 from Pittsburgh's 27 yard line. It's the Steelers' second possession of the game. They move out their base offense - assume RB Isaac Redman with FB David Johnson, TE Heath Miller and WRs Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Logically, the opposing defense would be countering with their base package as well. A team's base defense is usually going to be their strongest, which would mean the Steelers may not quite have the personnel match-up they want.

But what the Steelers have is depth.

Substitute Redman, though, for, say, RB Baron Batch, a quality pass protector as well as a decent receiving option.

The question becomes whether the Steelers would be able to run the ball with him in there. A defensive coordinator will know which players the offense will put on the field, and what their tendencies will be when they're out there. It becomes paramount for Haley to know his opponent even better, and know ahead of time what situations certain players come into or leave the game.

Anticipation is the straw that stirs the drink of a no-huddle. To use Batch as an example again, does Haley notice his opponent brings in a certain package when Batch is on the field? Let's say on the first possession, Batch came into the game along with Johnson in the backfield. Upon seeing this, the defense countered by bringing in a smaller, speedy linebacker on the outside to contain him. Haley remembers this from the first possession, and makes a mental note of it.

Roethlisberger's probably already in his head, bugging him about using the formation often. Haley gives in, but this time, he adds Batch, keeps Johnson off the field and puts in TE Weslye Saunders. It's a run-heavy formation but with a speed back who probably isn't going between the tackles. The defense can either counter with their base defense, which would force a linebacker to either cover Batch out of the backfield (advantage Steelers) or a tight end (advantage Steelers).

Roethlisberger goes under center on the first play, a basic screen pass that goes for five yards.

He's immediately on the line, and calling the play. Ben and Haley both see how their opponent covered Batch, and can quickly go to a play that would drag either one of the Steelers' talented pass-catching tight ends into the same area where Batch would be. The defense would certainly be playing zone in that situation, but on top of that, drag a receiver to a deeper window than Batch (short) and Miller (7-10 yards). Roethlisberger has three windows to throw to on a simple pitch-and-catch. The deep receiver route can hold the safety, and get it in his head the Steelers can throw deep out of that formation.

Next play is maybe an outside draw to Batch. Get Miller to block down, then release up the field to seal the edge, thus kicking the tail of the undersized, speedy linebacker the opponent brought in to contain Batch in pass coverage. Miller destroys him, Batch goes off his hip for another six yards.

And the march is on.

That's a package that could work, and that's the kind of thinking both Haley and Roethlisberger need to be doing during training camp. Nothing trumps execution, but nothing helps execution like the right personnel in the right situation does.

It's a rich tapestry, but one that must be honed down to a point so fine, when they use it is far more scientific than based on a gut feeling.

Odds are good, if and when they practice it again, they'll want to emphasize the run to iron out the kinks, because if they find the right package, one in which they could run or pass with success, it will be a tough offense to stop.