Steelers, Roethlisberger appear comfortable in running no-huddle
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The most significant change in the new Steelers offense displayed Sunday night in Denver did not come in a more effective running game, better pass protection, more use of the short passing game or the advent of a rookie scatback who can break one at any moment.
The biggest change came in the huddle, or the lack of one. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's use of the no-huddle offense in the second quarter and throughout the second half in the opener signaled what might be the advent of a significant change in the way the Steelers play football on offense.
They have used it previously, most famously to win Super Bowl XLIII, but rarely for an entire half in the opening game in a noisy place on the road the way they did Sunday night. It was mostly effective right up until Roethlisberger threw that pick-6 to Tracy Porter with two minutes left.
"I was comfortable with the no-huddle attack and what we were doing in it," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Just not enough significant plays made, particularly down the stretch."
At times, Roethlisberger looked more like Peyton Manning than did Manning, running up and down the line, shouting instructions to his teammates, looking at the play clock. If he can do that in the noise and high altitude, it should only be easier to run before the more friendly atmosphere at Heinz Field.
"I thought we did pretty well in a hostile environment," Roethlisberger said. "They were loud, we played a lot of no-huddle. We mixed some things in. We hurt ourselves sometimes on penalties and certain things. Overall, I felt we were happy with the line and the way the guys handled it."
Roethlisberger has pushed for more use of the no-huddle since he landed in Pittsburgh after using it as his primary offense at Miami University. Former coordinator Bruce Arians let him run it on occasion and often talked about using it more, but never quite let Roethlisberger call his own plays for long stretches in games.
Todd Haley did that Sunday night, fulfilling a promise he made this summer. They did not use it much through the first two preseason games, then Roethlisberger went into it in the third game and directed a 98-yard touchdown drive.
Often, coordinators do not want to lose control by turning the play-calling over to their quarterbacks. Chuck Noll famously allowed his to call all of their plays right up until he retired. With the advent of the mic receiver in the quarterback's helmet, the game has become more micro-managed in its play-calling. But the no-huddle is one place where the quarterback is in charge and Haley seems ready to let Roethlisberger have more leash.
"We're all comfortable doing it," said tight end Heath Miller, who caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. "Ben is obviously comfortable doing it. Sometimes when you get into a groove in the no-huddle, it quiets the stadium down, too. Sometimes it simplifies the defense.
"It's a big part of our plans."
The ground game was supposed to be a big part as well. Run it more effectively was the mantra of the new offense; run it when they want to run it.
Haley did that early, at least as far as how often he ordered runs. They ran six of eight times on the first two drives, with Roethlisberger getting sacked on the ninth play of that first quarter. Problem was, they had 1 yard to show for those six runs.
They did a better job in the second quarter, but not a good job. They ran nine times for 31 yards.
The Steelers finished with just 75 yards on 26 runs (they tried 45 passes, including five sacks). Starter Isaac Redman had one good short-yardage run early when they needed 3 on third down and he got 6. After that, not so much; he finished with 20 yards on 11 carries -- or 14 on his other 10 carries.
Jonathan Dwyer again was a brighter spot. He had nine carries for 43 yards, had a touchdown taken away by a review and had another 20-yard run reduced to 11 because of a holding penalty by Mike Wallace.
Rookie Chris Rainey was a nonfactor with two runs for 5 yards.
It's obvious the Steelers need to improve the run, something they have been saying for several years. It's uncertain when Rashard Mendenhall might return, but it does not look as if it will be beyond the third game. Until then, the Steelers may keep their halfback-by-committee.
"This is what we're going to keep doing, go from there and hopefully we'll continue to get healthy," Dwyer said. "[Rashard's] coming along. Once we get him back, we'll be a really dangerous backfield."
It was difficult for Ryan Clark to watch another game on the sideline at Mile High in Denver, not so much because his team lost but he could do nothing about it.
Sunday, the Pro Bowl free safety will return to his spot when the Steelers play the New York Jets at Heinz Field.
"It's just tough to watch; I wanted to be out there," Clark said.
He did pick up on some things, and at least one he saw he liked. He saw Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis line up closer to the line of scrimmage late in the game, using more press coverage.
"Our corners jammed and were aggressive, they were successful," Clark said. "That's something I think that we were kind of lacking through the years, guys getting up and pressing and making plays. Ike would do it. Keenan started stepping up near the end of the game and doing it.
"I think that's something we can build on."
First Published September 11, 2012 12:00 am