Through three offensive coordinators over 10 seasons, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has begged to use the no-huddle offense more often.
All three declined. Oh, they let him run it here and there, sometimes to such great success that it put at least one Super Bowl ring on everyone’s finger.
In the end, though, Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians and now Todd Haley just weren’t willing to cede all of the control, all of the play-calling to their quarterback.
They all had their public reasons, too. Whisenhunt had a young Roethlisberger who wasn’t quite ready. Arians preferred to use it to change the tempo of a game, often when his team fell behind. Haley has had to deal with young players and injuries everywhere.
Yet, there was the no-huddle again, popping up right from the start of the game Sunday at Heinz Field, and it tore apart a good Detroit Lions defense for a 37-27 victory.
Every Steelers series featured some no-huddle plays, sometimes all of them. Some no-huddle plays were not recorded as such because of timeouts, penalties, replay reviews, official timeouts, etc. In the NFL’s official play-by-play of the game, however, 33 of the Steelers’ 73 snaps came without a huddle.
Those plays produced 238 of Roethlisberger’s 362 yards passing, two direct touchdowns and one indirect (an official measurement prompted a huddle). All three field goals also came after heavy no-huddle use on those three series.
And, if it matters, 23 of the Steelers’ meager 40 yards rushing came on no-huddle calls.
Only days after the NFL Network claimed that Roethlisberger was no Peyton Manning, he did a pretty good impression of him.
“He called the plays and executed to a high level,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “When you have a guy who is calling plays like that in the no-huddle, he’s the best in the league.”
Roethlisberger is the one calling the plays in the no-huddle. Arians used to suggest a handful of choices, talking to him through his ear piece, and Roethlisberger could pick one — or try something else.
Here is how Roethlisberger described how those plays are called under Haley:
“It’s a combination when we come to the sidelines. It’s me calling them out there, but on the sidelines I’m talking to all the receivers, tight ends, and running backs, coach Haley, coach Randy Fichtner, all the coaches.
“We are trying to brainstorm and see what is the best, so they can best prepare me when I am on the field to call the best play possible. We did a lot of no-huddle [Sunday] and I thought the guys did a great job. Emmanuel Sanders went down and Markus Wheaton came in. We had guys in different spots and I think everyone did a great job.”
Somewhat buried in that politically correct answer were these two statements: “It’s me calling them out there” and “best prepare me when I am on the field to call the best play possible.”
Like Gilbert, Heath Miller took all the guesswork out of it when he said Roethlisberger was calling his own plays Sunday.
The previous quarterbacks to call nearly an entire game themselves worked for Chuck Noll, who so believed in letting his quarterbacks call their own game that he did not hire an offensive coordinator until he gave that position to Tom Moore in 1983. Moore, by the way, was Manning’s coordinator in Indianapolis when the greatest no-huddle offense in NFL history was run.
Perhaps it’s time to take the reins off Roethlisberger and let him run it more often. He ran it with great success in college and repeatedly has pushed to run it more often with the Steelers.
“I think it catches a team off balance,” Antonio Brown said. “It allows us to get lined up and not let their defense in. It’s always a positive for us.”
Gilbert believes it gassed the Detroit Lions front and, indeed, the Lions replaced their starting defensive line after just four plays of the first Steelers series.
“We knew they wanted to rush the passer,” Gilbert said. “Once we got the up-tempo on them, they got tired and [produced fewer] hits on him. That’s what we need to do, we need to keep building on it. We’ll see this week.”
The Steelers play Sunday against the Browns at Cleveland.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.