Because the first offensive possession was the only act for which Ben Roethlisberger was on stage against the Vikings the other night, the little burst of no-huddle pyrotechnics that defined the Steelers' only touchdown drive must, by state law, get analyzed 100 times more thoroughly than is necessary, and we aim to comply.
It's a relief, frankly, because had Big Ben not played at all in deference to an ouchy thumb, we'd be, by this point, reduced to contacting the five leading thumbologists in the Tri-State area, not to mention several of the trailing thumbologists, just to have them on stand-by.
But the no-huddle offense, thankfully, is most often pure form football talk, and with the first Saint Vincent summer in 26 years to feature a defending Super Bowl champion set to expire in little more than 24 hours, some actual football talk would seem nearly prudent.
"Most no-huddle offenses today are not hurry-up offenses," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who has seen, studied, and largely stymied every offensive innovation to come into the National Football League since, what, 1885? "In most cases, they'll keep a tight end on the field, so that if you load up with defensive backs, they can run the ball, and if you don't, they can get a mismatch somewhere else. Coaches have been doing that at all levels for a long time."
True enough, but few coaches who spent their August nights in a Latrobe dorm room have slept on the promise of huddleless attacks. Bill Austin seemed to experiment not with the no-huddle as much as the no-offense offense, Chuck Noll could barely be persuaded to deploy so much as the shotgun, even in one summer when the shotgun might have proven useful against the skunk population, and Bill Cowher, though he always has been receptive to innovation, isn't about to alter this animal's stripes.
As long as Cowher is here -- and you're talking at least, you know, four months -- the Steelers will apply the no-huddle sparingly. It has a vague West Coast look to it, which is not within the essential Steelers persona. Still, the Steelers call their no-huddle package "Texas," and sometimes, as the esteemed offensive coordinator Lyle Lovett has instructed us, "you're not from Texas ... [but] Texas wants you anyway."
Roethlisberger, for example, looked quite the gunslinger in his Saturday night drive through.
He drilled Cedrick Wilson for 7 yards, Quincy Morgan for 7 more, and Wilson again for 16 yards and a touchdown in the first 152 seconds the Steelers had the ball, all without leaning into a huddle. The Steelers were 100 percent touchdown free on 10 subsequent possessions, no doubt suggesting to the quick-twitch analysts among the fan base that the no-huddle was the way to go.
You folks can calm down.
"There are certain teams and certain situations for it," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said yesterday. "It's certainly not a kill-the-clock thing; it's just that you want to be as versatile as possible."
It would border on psychosis, for example, to go into a game against a demonstrably accomplished offensive club such as the full-strength Cincinnati Bengals, and run the no-huddle with persistence. Against a fully recovered Carson Palmer, against a Peyton Manning, the greater good is slanted more toward keeping them off the field than consuming the empty calories of short-range reactive passes. Against the Colts in the playoffs last season, for example, the Steelers won as much because Manning was only on the field for barely 25 minutes as anything else. In the AFC title game, the Broncos were on the field only 23 minutes. You don't want to tinker a lot with the engine that produced that kind of competitive torque.
But even then, the no-huddle remains a point of intrigue.
"It's no problem for [the offensive line], and I think it's better for the offense in certain situations," Max Starks said after lunch yesterday. "It puts a lot of pressure on the defense because it doesn't allow them to reconfigure. The defense has, like, three seconds to get a call in."
And obviously, if the defense is frozen with the wrong personnel package, which is the whole point of the no-huddle, it takes a lot more than three seconds.
"I know when teams are going to do it against us, it takes a couple of weeks," said Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend. "It's a lot harder for the defense to communicate. When you can get extra defensive backs into the game, you can disguise a lot of things. But when teams go up-tempo, that takes some getting used to."
The Steelers are simply looking for a way to deal their opponents a little more discomfort. This isn't Extreme Makeover Pittsburgh Edition.
Gene Collier can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1283.