The No Huddle And The Difference Between Tools And Skills

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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Benjamin Simpson

    I’m picking up good vibrations.. #PrimedAndReady


    The no-huddle is great inbetween the 20s, but if you can run the ball in the RZ, and the DEF has to truly respect it, then you have more opportunities to score TDs off playaction.

    As per norm it all falls on the OL to execute…we need some young players to step up (Wheaton) but at least on paper this season Ben appears to have a full slate of weapons.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I don’t understand what people think they saw last year. I keep hearing things repeated that just don’t fit my recollections.

    The no huddle is as effective as any scheme that has ideal personnel that know the system.

    It’s still just football but it’s played even faster and this means more mistakes are made simply as a result of this increase in speed.

    It took half of last year just to regain most of the season opening playbook. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was shorter at the end of the year.

    The no huddle is up to the players knowing and being able to execute the offense. You have to master it at normal speed before you even try it at full speed. The reason it works better is because you run it when you’re playing well.

    The difference between this year and last year is we have an ideal team for no huddle. Bell, Blount, Dri, Heath, Pouncey & Beacham are established starters now and only one of them played more than a few snaps in last years tragic start. They replace guys who might not even play in the NFL from here.

    I also think Ben hasn’t shown ideal self control for no huddle. He seems to have taken a step and hope he continues to take further steps but he hasn’t been doing extra to make it happen.

  • charles

    Agree with you on Ben. It appears that Ben has shown Haley no huddle and Haley has been able to focus Ben’s mind on quick read. This apparent emphasis on no huddle packages this offseason could be like Bill Walsh scripting first 30 plays regardless of down and distance. If Ben and Haley can pull this off, it will change the face of offensive football and stick more than 7th Heaven into the Steeler’s pockets. If you think about how Joe Montana used Jerry Rice, then it is possible to see comparisons of AB to Mr. Rice: quick slants with turbo takeoff speed after the catch.

  • Bob

    The biggest issue with running a lot of no-huddle is falling into a hurry-up mentality. The offense must not run too quickly or your defense will suffer from being on the field too much, but so long as they maintain the proper tempo in no-huddle it can be an excellent addition to the offense

  • pat

    Just because you run the no huddle doesn’t mean you cant let the play clock run down and take time off the clock the biggest advantage to the no huddle is because you like your offense package better than what the defense has and you see a mismatch. There’s a difference between an uptempo offense compared to a no huddle offense

  • Jonas

    Wouldn’t call Dri Archer an established starter yet..

    No-huddle might increase the mistake rate, but only if you can’t understand the calls – it is like in the huddle, you have to know the plays.. With an QB like BB it can be more effective than other systems, as it places even more value on pre-snap reads and mismatches – guys like Ben can read this and use their no-huddle personal for pretty much every direction of plays to disclose and exploit the defenses holes!