The landscape of the NFL is changing.
Even though having a consistent rushing attack is important, and a smothering defense is a plus, the NFL is doing everything in its power to make itself a passing league. The Pittsburgh Steelers recognize this, and you can see them tailoring their offensive roster to account for this.
Even as far back as July, the writing was on the wall that this was the future. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sent this tweet out as a glimpse of the future.
Ben says the Steelers indeed plan to go with the no-huddle offense much more this year.— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) July 26, 2014
Aside from the roster, the Steelers are also making moves from a schematic perspective to help maximize their offensive efficiency. The key move we saw at the end of the 2013 season, and are seeing now is the inclusion of much more no-huddle offense.
Even looking at the two preseason games in which Roethlisberger and the new offense was on display, you can see its positive impact.
Before moving on to how this is going to benefit the Steelers, there needs to be a little clarity on what the no-huddle means and what it does not.
First, it doesn't necessarily mean a hurry-up offense. It is like the notion that all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs. A no-huddle offense is intended to create a rhythm in an offense, give the quarterback more autonomy and force the opposing defense into mismatches.
This can be done at a breakneck pace like the Philadelphia Eagles do or something more sedate. Last season, the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots both averaged more than 70 plays per game. A half dozen more teams were within two plays of cracking the 70-play barrier as well.
However, a no-huddle offense can dictate a slower pace as well. For the Steelers in particular, the no-huddle is less about putting their foot on the gas and more about keeping the defense on the field and allowing the quarterback to come up to the line and make his reads. It does offer the flexibility to control the pace, which can really wear on a defense.
In fact in some cases, a no-huddle offense will use just as much of the play clock as a traditional offense would, it is just that time is spent at the line of scrimmage instead of the huddle. Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote about the possibility of a high-octane version, but things so far have been a bit more sedate.
Here's a little history of the success the Steelers had with the no-huddle in 2013. Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review mapped out the distribution of the no-huddle offense during the Steelers' late-season run.
The Steelers enjoyed a lot of success with the no-huddle during the second half because Roethlisberger was able to call the majority of the plays at the line of scrimmage.
The Steelers ran at least 15 no-huddle plays in each of the final nine games of the season. The Steelers went 6-3 during that span and averaged more than 10 points more per game compared to the first seven games.
This wasn't just a hurry-up offense, it was a tempo offense. Giving an elite quarterback like Roethlisberger time at the line of scrimmage to make his reads and call the play made a world of difference. How much so? Here's another quote from Kaboly's article.
The Steelers ran 239 no-huddle plays last year, or 23 percent of their plays. Roethlisberger was extremely successful in the offense completing 102 of 163 passes for 1,221 yards and 10 of his 28 touchdowns.
When you consider that 135 of those 239 plays came in the final nine games, the writing is on the wall that the no-huddle is here to stay, and in a big way.
The Running Game
What does the no-huddle mean for the run game? It is hard to say. The Steelers continue to press with the outside zone-blocking scheme. However, the efficacy of this scheme with this offensive line is still a work in progress. And that is being kind.
If I were to hypothesize about how the running game will look in the new offense, the word I would use would be isolated. The Steelers must trust in Roethlisberger to step to the line and make the proper read. If he sees two deep safeties trying to stop to the pass, by all means he can check to a quick-hitting run play.
However, with the amount of four- and even five-wide receiver sets Pittsburgh is going to show this year, look for Roethlisberger to use the no-huddle primarily to get his reads right for the passing game. At that point, it will be pick your poison for opposing defenses with the number of weapons this team has to call upon.
Perhaps the most interesting dynamic in this whole thing has to do with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Any time a team transitions to the no-huddle to the degree I anticipate the Steelers doing in 2014, that removes control from the offensive coordinator and gives it to the quarterback.
The no-huddle offense might not lend itself to a power-running attack, but it will allow running back Le’Veon Bell to showcase his skills as a receiver out of the backfield. Bell caught 45 passes in 2013, and could see those numbers go up significantly as a safety valve in the no-huddle offense.
The no-huddle offense is here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier. Roethlisberger’s skills are no better utilized than when he can run the show. My prediction is that Pittsburgh ends up running around 25 percent of their total plays out of the no-huddle.
If they can stick to that with around 64 plays per game, this should work out very well for the Steelers offense.