We’ve all said it before.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense needs to use more no-huddle to get back on track. Well, in Week 11, the team did just that and it worked. Or did it? The no-huddle offense passed the eye test vs. the Titans, but I wanted to dig a little deeper into the success and failures of the no-huddle.
So, I put our local stat geek on the job (58Steel), and he did another bang-up job with his analysis. Take a look at his findings, and see whether you think the no-huddle has a new home in the Steel City.
I decided to take a look at the numbers from the "No-Huddle" offense, as compared to how the Steelers did while they operated from a huddle. Ben had suggested the offense might run more no-huddle offense on a short week heading into the Titans game. The Steelers wound up with their highest point total of the season by far. The assumption might be that the no-huddle offense was the catalyst. But you know how I feel about assumptions and false narratives. Let's see what the numbers show.
I counted "no-huddle" plays and "huddle" plays. I discounted any play with a penalty unless it didn’t affect the play (e.g. 5-yard offside penalty on AB's 41-yard TD). I also didn’t include two kneel-downs at the end of the game.
25 plays, 157 yards, 6.28 yards/play
41 plays, 195 yards, 4.76 yards/play
On the surface, plays run under no-huddle look markedly more productive than those run from a huddle. Only 3 of the 25 no-huddle plays were runs, however. Of the plays run from a huddle, 14 were runs. Running plays are naturally going to be less productive (in terms of yards) than runs, bringing the average down. Let's compare apples to apples.
No-huddle pass plays:
21 att, 11 comp, 52.3%, 152 yards, 7.23 YPA, one sack for -6 yards, 146 total yards, 6.64 YPP
Huddle pass plays:
24 att, 19 comp, 79.2%, 147 yards, 6.13 YPA, two sacks for -9 yards, one scramble for 10 yards, 148 total yards, 5.48 YPP
No-huddle run plays:
Three carries, 11 yards, 3.66 YPC
Huddle run plays:
14 carries, 47 yards, 3.36 YPC
The no-huddle plays were more productive on an average per play, on both pass and run plays. We all know about "averages," however. A play or two can skew the numbers. For instance, taking away the 41-yard TD play, the average for the rest of the no-huddle pass plays is 5.0 YPP. I'm not generally in favor of "discounting" plays. Chunk plays have real impact and need to be accounted for, even if they skew the numbers. There are other ways to look at the productivity of the no-huddle vs huddle.
We'll look at "successful" vs. "unsuccessful" plays. (As a reminder, the definition of a successful play is 40% of the yardage needed on first down, 60% of the yardage needed on second down, 100% of the yardage needed on third/fourth down).
No-huddle pass plays (22):
11 successful, 11 unsuccessful, 50%
7 first downs, one TD, 36%
7 plays of 10+ yards, 31.8%
Huddle pass plays (27):
15 successful, 12 unsuccessful, 55.5%
8 first downs, 3 TD, 41%
7 plays of 10+ yards, 25.9%
By this comparison, there’s little difference between the no-huddle pass plays and huddle pass plays. The percentage differences are small enough to call them virtually even. We'll look at the run plays to be complete, although there were only three no-huddle runs.
No-huddle run plays (3):
Two successful, one unsuccessful, 66.7%
One first down, 33.3%
Huddle run plays (14):
7 successful, 7 unsuccessful, 50%
Two first downs, 14.3%
It’s difficult to say the no huddle was significantly better than when the Steelers used the huddle. I dug a bit deeper. The offense operated much more efficiently in the second half than the first. Five drives resulted in three TD's, one FG, and a kneel-down. Let's look at the first-half splits:
No-huddle (14 plays, 12 pass, 2 run):
14 plays, 79 yards, 5.64 YPP
Huddle (16 plays, 12 pass, 4 run):
16 plays, 51 yards, 3.19 YPP
Here, the difference is drastic. The "huddle" plays were extremely unproductive. The no-huddle plays, while not fantastic, at least were better than the huddle plays. Again, the averages can be misleading. Looking at successful plays in the first half:
No-huddle plays (14):
Six successful, eight unsuccessful, 42.9%
Three first downs, one TD, 28.6%
Three plays of 10+ yards, 21.4%
Huddle plays (16):
Four successful, 12 unsuccessful, 25%
Three first downs, 0 TD, 18.8%
Three plays of 10+ yards, 18.8%
Again, the huddle plays were woeful. Let's break it down even further to get a sense of the flow of the game. I'm sure we remember the Steelers’ first drive. They came out firing and scored on the long pass to AB. Five of the six plays came from the no-huddle and four of those five plays were successful. After that initial drive, the rest of the first half saw nine plays run from the no-huddle. Only one was successful. We already know that the huddle plays weren’t productive. After their first drive, neither were the no-huddle plays.
It has been reported on several sites that Ben challenged "everyone on the offense, including himself, to step up and make a play." After the Titans scored on the first play of the second half, the Steelers’ offense rose to the challenge thrown down by Ben. Let's look at the second-half splits.
No-huddle pass plays (10):
10 att, 7 comp, 70%, 76 yards, 7.6 YPA
Seven successful, three unsuccessful, 70%
Four first downs, 0 TD, 40%
Four plays of 10+ yards, 40%
Huddle pass plays (15):
14 att, 13 comp, 92.9%, 109 yards, 7.79 YPA, 1 sack for -3 yards, 106 total yards, 7.07 YPP
11 successful, four unsuccessful, 73.3%
Five first downs, three TDs, 53.3%
Five plays of 10+ yards, 33.3%
Both no-huddle and huddle pass plays worked in the second half. The Steelers ran the ball just one time from the no-huddle in the second half (2-yard run). But the run plays from the huddle picked up steam, as compared to the first half (four runs for nine yards):
Huddle run plays (10):
10 carries, 38 yards, 3.8 YPC
Seven successful, three unsuccessful, 70%
Two first downs, 0 TD, 20%
Although the huddle plays were mixed in with the no-huddle plays, the offense hit a streak of 14 consecutive successful plays called from the huddle in the second half.
I'm going to look at one more breakdown of no-huddle vs huddle: third downs.
The Steelers were officially 4-of-12 on third down. The last one was a kneel-down, so I'm not including it here.
No-huddle third down plays (3):
3rd-and-11, sack for -6 yards
Huddle third-down plays (8):
3rd-and-7, complete for eight yards, first down
3rd-and-20, QS for 10 yards
3rd-and-11, complete for 12 yards, first down
3rd-and-10, complete for 20 yards, first down
3rd-and-1 (goal to go from 1-yard line), complete for one yard, TD
3rd-and-2, complete for one yard
All three of the no-huddle third-down attempts came in the first half. The huddle attempts were split with four coming in the first half and four in the second half.
In these Stat Geek pieces, I generally stick with providing numbers. It’s possible to put different "spins" on statistics. I will add some speculation of my own here.
Starting with the third downs, I feel a case can be made that two of the most important offensive plays for the Steelers came on successive third downs in the second half. On the first one, the Steelers faced a 3rd-and-11 from the Titans’ 17-yard line. The Titans scored on the first play of the second half to draw within two points (14-16). The Steelers’ ensuing drive gave them a chance to answer that TD. To this point, the Steelers had been 0-2 in the red-zone, failing to fully capitalize on two interceptions that provided them opportunities deep in Titans’ territory. Another miss on third down would see the Steelers settling for yet another FG. It would also extend their season-long futility in the red-zone. Ben converted on a pass to JuJu, where the youngster made a tough catch in traffic to secure the first down at the Titans’ 5-yard line. The Steelers scored a TD on the next play.
The next important third down came on the first series of the Steelers’ next possession. The Titans used another big play to get into scoring range. They likely "should have" scored a TD on a pass to TE Delanie Walker. The Titans had to settle for a FG that brought them back to within one score, at 17-23. The Steelers’ first-two plays on their next possession left them with a 3rd-and-10. Failure to convert would have them punting back to the Titans, who had hit big plays on their last two possessions. The game was still very much competitive, with the Titans gaining traction on offense. Ben hit Martavis for 20 yards and a huge momentum boost. The Steelers ran eight more plays, mixing no-huddle with huddle (four of each), scoring a TD on the first play of the fourth quarter. The score was now 30-17, and the pressure was all on the Titans.
Both of these huge third-down conversions came on plays run from a huddle. As we saw, all four of the Steelers third-down conversions came from huddle plays.
To use a Tomlinism, none of these plays occur in a vacuum. Game situation, offensive personnel, defensive personnel, results of previous plays, individual matchups, etc., all come into play. In analyzing the effectiveness of no-huddle vs huddle, all of those factors have to be taken into consideration. If forced to draw a conclusion, the numbers don't point to the no-huddle being more effective than the huddle plays. One thing the numbers tend to show is clear: the Steelers offense was significantly more efficient in the second half (69% success rate) than in the first half (30% success rate), regardless of whether they ran no-huddle or huddle. That leads me to point to one factor; Ben's halftime "speech."
I'm not going to discount the intangibles of players feeling "more comfortable" running no-huddle or plays that they prefer—or the fact that maybe having success in no-huddle plays leads to confidence. That confidence could then manifest itself in executing plays run from the huddle. Ben's words to his teammates, and their performance in the second half tells me, however, that execution of the plays is most important, regardless of how the play is called.
In closing, I feel that the no-huddle can be an effective tool for the offense. Used at the right time, it provides another way to attack defenses. But I think the analysis here shows that the no-huddle isn’t the magic elixir that some make it out to be.