They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that old proverb could certainly apply to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense last season.
With Ben Roethlisberger struggling to find the end zone, the running backs struggling to find holes, and the offensive line struggling to find themselves, the offense was in dire straits and desperately needed a lifeline by midseason.
That’s about the time that an offense that was averaging about 20 points per game turned to the no huddle in order to attempt to spark some life into a flaccid attack that was being easily vanquished by opposing defenses.
While it certainly wasn’t the sole catalyst, the inclusion of the no huddle helped drive the offensive engine during the second half of the season, which saw their points per game average shoot up by more than a touchdown.
The offensive uptick contributed to a literal reversal of fortunes, flipping a first-half 2-6 record into a 6-2 finish during November and December.
Roethlisberger certainly took notice of the role that the no huddle played in this turnaround. But, seemingly for the first time in his career, so did his offensive coordinator.
That is the angle that Associated Press writer Will Graves covered recently, documenting the manner in which offensive coordinator Todd Haley worked to integrate more of the no huddle into the offense for this upcoming season.
He writes that his exposure to the success of the no huddle “led Haley into a deep dive over the winter” to revamp the playbook:
“The playbook he handed his players earlier this spring included a broadened section on the no huddle that could have the Steelers running it at any time — with various personnel packages — when the season begins in September”.
Graves writes that the results from the second half of the season encouraged Haley, so he “pressed on with creating more intricate no huddle packages despite losing wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to free agency”.
Haley believes that defenses will learn from what the Steelers were able to do in the no huddle by the end of the year, which makes it imperative for him to be able to adjust and keep the defenses on a learning curve to catch up to their offense.
This begins with personnel. Traditionally, the no huddle for the Steelers has been a package run almost exclusively with three wide receivers.
To shake things up, Haley and Roethlisberger are creating a unit with which the quarterback “can work out of the no huddle regardless of who is alongside him in the huddle”.
We’ve already looked at how the Steelers are aiming to use Will Johnson and Dri Archer as moving chess pieces, but there’s a broader strategy here.
According to Roethlisberger, as far as the no huddle goes, “the menu has expanded as far as it can go”. This will include personnel packages that contain multiple tight ends and multiple running backs, executing both running and passing plays, from the no huddle.
The Steelers are working both of their top running backs in the passing game, even out wide, in preparation. Blocking tight end Matt Spaeth is focusing on his red zone effectiveness. Johnson is learning the tight end position to allow the offense to better take advantage of his receiving abilities.
Over the past decade, Steelers offensive coordinators and coaches have had a barrage of excuses as to why the no huddle must be a limited tool reserved for special circumstances in games to preserve its effectiveness. But unlike a literal tool such as a blade, lack of use could cause this tool to become blunted and dull.
Perhaps the no huddle is more of a learned skill, or a muscle. Leaving it sitting idle, paying it no mind, will cause it to erode and become uneffective. Perhaps it was the coaching and planning that has been the greatest limiting factor over the years. If the Steelers integrate the no huddle into the offense this season as much as they seem to suggest, we might see whether or not that is true.